Plan your work… work your plan.

September 7th, 2020

Along The East Fence

We’ve left the trimming of the rhododendrons along our east fence until now.  The last chore of summer.  They are definitely out of control and require some sawing in additon to the use of several types of clippers.  But… we have a plan.


It goes something like this: when I go out to feed the chickens and let them out of jail (but only if someone laid an egg on the previous day!), I take my clippers with me.  I begin on the “next rhodendron to the south” from where I left off the day before.  I clip as much as my arthritic hands will allow, tossing my clippings onto the lawn for later collection and bagging.  Later in the morning (or, perhaps right after lunch) Nyel and I will go out with saw and clippers and “fine tune” what I have done.  Then we bag all the debris in heavy-duty “outdoor” garbage bags and haul them into the garage.


There are at least two dozen rhodies along the fence.  Our goal is to cut them down so that the top of the fence can be seen.  Left to their own devices, those rhodies would soon be obliterating our view of the bay and, unfortunately, we haven’t done our due diligence for several years.  Now there are Dorothy Perkins roses and Morning Glory in the mix and it is a real drag.

The only glitch in the ointment is getting rid of the trash bags.  We can fit two at a time in the dumpster and our guess it that we will have 36 to 48 bags in all.  That’s a lot of weeks to wait to return the car to the garage… but Nyel has a plan for that, too.

We do keep in mind Robbie Burns’ admonishment about best laid plans, however.  We hope ours aren’t among those that “gang aft a-gley.”  After all, our view of the bay is one of the best parts of all!

Shoulda… Woulda… Couldn’t

September 6th, 2020

A Sign of Summers Past

In a normal world (and, hopefully, in the new normal world, whenever that arrives) this should/would have been the last Sunday of Music Vespers at the Oysterville Church.  Without our usual three o’clock Sunday services, it has seemed a strange summer, indeed.

To us, it has been the most noticeable of all the oddities of this Sheltering Summer.  Not only because we have attended since “the beginning” (some 40 years ago) and not only because we have often participated in the programs, but also because we are right across the street in the once-upon-a-time parsonage.  There is an almost visceral connection between this house and the church.

Vespers July 15, 2013

I’m sure it has always been so.  The church, funded by R.H. Espy was completed in the fall of 1892 and was dedicated on October 9th of that year.  In June 1893, the first full-time pastor arrived.  Rev. Josiah Crouch and his family were ensconsed in this house which Deacon Espy had purchased for the purpose.

For the first time since the Baptist Church had been established in Oysterville in 1871, the little congregation had both a house of worship and a parsonage for their minister.  Heretofore, they had met at Deacon Espy’s home each week and, if an itinerant minister was not available, one of the congregation led the service.  When the Crouch family arrived there was great rejoicing on the part of the Oysterville Baptists.

Susan Waters, PhD – at Vespers, June 23, 2019

Now, of course, the little church is owned by the Oysterville Restoration Foundation, it is ecumenical and no longer denominational, and it is used for many purposes.  The only regular services occur on summer Sundays from Father’s Day through Labor Day Sunday.  Except for this year when they couldn’t.

The Blessings of Becoming Old

September 5th, 2020

Dale Espy Little – “Mom” 2010

My mother used to talk about “the secrets of old age” which were mostly those by-products of aging that people in her generation never talked about — chin whiskers and thinning hair for women, for instance.  But, she never really talked about the blessings of becoming old.  Not in so many words, anyway.

One of the greatest blessings, as I see it, is the opportunity to “know” your children as they march toward their own “golden years.”  And, of course, if you are blessed with grandchildren and great- grandchildren and even great-greats, seeing them grow up and take their place in the family and in the community is a peek into the future that is the best kind of blessing of all.

Charlie and Marta – September 22, 2019

Both my son Charlie and my step-daughter Marta are now into their social security years, and I couldn’t be prouder or more delighted with either of them!  Both have “turned out well” as they say.  They are socially and politically astute, have pursued their individual talents, are independent in all respects, yet have kept their ties to family and long-time friends.  Even more importantly, we enjoy being with each other and, now that I am approaching my own dotage, I am happy to seek (and mostly follow) their advice, especially concerning this rapidly changing world that they now understand far better than I.

Dale, Sydney, Charlie – 1959

I’ve been thinking of our relationships, our gradual role reversals (perhaps), and of how proud I am of both of them.  This is the weekend of the Williams Family Reunion — an annual affair here on the Peninsula which is now in it’s 80th-something year.  For the first time ever, it is going to be a zoom reunion and, therefore, for the first time ever, Marta and Charlie can attend — Marta from the S.F. Bay Area and Charlie from L.A.  I’m so pleased that I will be able to introduce them to a whole new side of their family and vice-versa!

Marta, c. 1959

So… I really have to say that this will be a kind of back-handed perk of the pandemic.  In person, up-close-and-personal reunions are the best, of course — but maybe this taste of Williams inclusiveness and hospitality will get the two of them up here for the next one.  And that would be yet another blessing!

In retrospect…

September 4th, 2020

So, who to believe?  I’ve just finished reading The White Rose by Jan Westcott and am beginning The White Boar by Marian Palmer.  The first is the story of Edward IV of England and the second is about his successor, Richard III.  Both books were written in 1968 and are works of historical fiction.  Each presents opposing views of the kings and of the tumultous times which put them in power.  And, already, I feel biased.

My knowledge of that period of English history — the War of the Roses (1455-1485) — is a bit sketchy, at best, and comes mainly from Shakespeare’s four plays: Henry VI, Parts I, II, and III and Richard the III.  He wrote them in the early 1590s, about one hundred years after the actual events depicted.  My own impression has always been that Richard was the bad guy.  Reading The White Rose certainly did not disabuse me of that attitude.

Richard III

But now I find myself immersed in The White Boar which puts Richard III in a wholly different light.  Although I’ve just begun the book, I find him a sympathetic character, at least as a young man.  But, as I read further, I think it’s going to be difficult for me to fully become engaged in author Palmer’s viewpoint concerning Richard.

It occurs to me that it won’t be many years before the John Kennedy assassination will have happened 100 years in the past.  I wonder how playwrites and historical novelists will view that occurrence with all its conspiracy theories and conflicting  viewpoints.  Presumably, the contemporary documentation will be more available to writers than was such material about King Richard accessible to Shakespeare.

Trump Statue in Seattle, August 2016

And one hundred years from now, what will be written about our current president?  There should be no dearth of information — even plenty in his own words.  Unless, of course, we continue to purge our history as we seem to be doing in recent years.  Maybe all we’ll have left will be a few TV serials and twitter messages.  The mind boggles…


Stand up and be counted? Hmmm.

September 3rd, 2020

Knock! Knock! Who’s there?

The U.S. Census Taker came to our door four or five months ago — “just to ask a few preliminary questions” she said.  “You can do the rest of it online.”  And so we did.  Months ago.

Monday there was a card in our mailbox addressed to someone that I assume was me.  “Cidney L. Stevens” it said.  The rest of the address was correct.  All my life (and that’s a fair amount of time, now) I’ve been Sydney M.  Granted, I’ve had several surnames — the part they got right.  But I’ve never spelled my first name differently and I’ve never used a middle initial other than M.  The card was a “reminder” to complete the 2020 census.  What a waste of time, paper, ink, etc.  Even in an automated world, good help is hard to find.

I also think it’s noteworthy that the 1920 census got my mother’s information wrong.  Her birth name was Helen-Dale Espy but, she went by “Dale” so there would not be confusion with her mother who was also a “Helen.”  At the time of the 1920 census, she would have been eight years old.

1920 Census

According to the census that year, Helen and Harry’s youngest child was “Allandale ” and was a son.  I didn’t come across that information until after my mother could no longer tell me what she knew about it, so I can only conjecture.

I know that she was a Tomboy, that she wore rompers or coveralls when she was playing with Willard (11 months her senior) and Edwin (3 years older than she) or the 13 other boys of Oysterville who were the only children near her age.  No little  girls.  I also know that she sometimes wore a cap to cover her curls — for bellying under the barn for eggs or climbing and running and hiding in the woods with all its stickery threats to a little girl’s hair.

Willard and Dale, 1914

Too, when she was very young — three or four — her hair was quite short — a curly cap.  When strangers came to the house to see my grandfather on business matters and came across Helen-Dale with her brothers, they often remarked, “What a fine group of boys you have, Mr. Espy.”  An enduring family story was my mother’s indignant reply:  “I’s not a little boy!  I’s a little gill!”

So… how much faith should we have in the census information when it comes out?  Two big errors in the same family within a hundred years probably isn’t a big deal.  But by how many times should we multiply it and with how many grains of salt should we accept the results?



Plums! Plums! Plums! — Plum Delicious!

September 2nd, 2020


Last year we didn’t get any plums.  I think we were otherwise occupied with Nyel’s recovery from his hip removal.  (Yes… not replacement.  Removal.)  So the plums went to the birds, or perhaps to bright-eyed visitors as they walked by.  At least we hope so.  The whole picking season went by without a thought from us.

This year, though, Nyel had been out on an “orchard” inspection (if one apple tree, one pear tree and one plum tree constitute an orchard) in his wheelchair and saw that those plums were ready.  “The first good crop since we planted the tree,” he said.  That was about ten years ago.  Actually, they are Italian prunes, not really plums, and they are probably my all-time favorite fruit.

Amelia and Tucker at Work

So Nyel called Tucker and, before you could repeat the title of Judy Eron’s song, “I Picked His Plum Tree Bare,” he and his granddaughter Amelia had done just that.  They gave us half (maybe more!) — certainly enough to eat and eat and eat.

Nyel is looking up recipes, too.  He found one for plum cake which sounds really good.  And also for plum tarts, plum cobbler, and plum turnovers.  What’s more, he thinks we have enough plums to make each recipe with plenty left over for fresh fruit snacks!  And that’s plum perfect by my way of thinking.  Yes!  Plum Perfect!



September First! It’s a fact!

September 1st, 2020

Sunrise Over Willapa Bay, September 2012

It’s an absolutely perfect day today in beautiful downtown Oysterville.  By eight o’clock this morning the risidual fog had burned off, a slight breeze was blowing, and only a few tourists had yet arrived in town.  It promises to be a glorious September — the kind  that we often have in this part of the country.

Actually, September and October are usually our best months — not June, which tends to be drizzly and wet; not July or August which can have uncomfortable hot spells.  But, September and October can be glorious.  And if today is any kind of harbinger, this month will be fabulous, indeed.

 Bust of Aaron Burr as Vice-President (1801-1805)

Historically speaking, though, September 1st is a bit of a mixed bag.  It was on this day in 1807 that Vice-President (our 3rd) Aaron Burr was acquitted of treason against the U.S.   He had been accused of trying to create an independent country in the center of North America including the Southwestern U.S. and parts of Mexico. Burr claimed he was just trying to farm 40,000 acres in the Texas Territory that had been leased to him by the Spanish Crown. He had organized an armed militia of about 60 men. Historians still debate Burr’s true intentions.  Since he had killed the former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804, I tend to think he was probably guilty of the treason.  Of course, I may be a bit biased, because Hamilton was one of my forebears.

It was September 1, 1873 that the first cable car began service on Clay Street in San Francisco.   My grandmother (1876-1954) grew up in San Francisco and then in East Oakland, California.  She used to tell me about riding the “trolley” but it never before occurred to me that she might have included cable cars in that description.

Judy Garland with Terry, 1939

Sadly, it was on September 1, 1945, that American female Cairn Terrier, actor, Terry died.  Terry played Toto  in The Wizard of  Oz (1939). Known for doing her own stunts, she broke a foot when she was accidentally stepped on by a Winkie guard during the the filming. She appeared in 16 films, including as Rags in the Shirley Temple movie Bright Eyes (1934). Originally named Terry, she changed her name to Toto after the filming of Wizard of Oz.

I wonder what today will bring to the historic happenings of September 1st.  I hope it’s good news to accompany this beautiful day.


“… a heap of news…”

August 31st, 2020

Sydney with Second Grade Student, Southgate School 1962

As the start of school gets closer, my thoughts turn increasingly to my own school days, to the years I taught, and to the school experiences of my own children.  This morning I took a few minutes to look back even further — to 1908 and an exchange of letters between my mother’s oldest sibling and my grandmother.

Medora was eight and was at home in Oysterville with Papa and with her two younger sisters while Mama was in Portland waiting for the birth of their next child (who would turn out to be Edwin.)  Although Mrs. Matthews of Ocean Park was staying at the house to oversee things, it was Medora who get Mama informed of the day-to-day doings in the Espy family.  Often, her closing remark was: That’s a heap of news, isn’t it?

Medora, c. 1906

Thursday, Nov 12th 1908
My dear Mama:
          The teacher has made it a rule that if two children are out of their seats at once, there name will go on the board and we will have to stay in.  It doesn’t matter if we go to our class, then she doesn’t put our name on the board then, but if we go up and ask her something when she is busy with a class, then our name is put on the board.  I was trying not to have my name on the board but sure as I live it was there.          I’m going to send a little poem that I have to learn, don’t you think its pretty.

Harvest Song
Summer is gone, autumn is here
This is the harvest for all the year.
Corn in the crib, oats in the bin,
Wheat is all threshed, barley drawn in.
Carrots in cellars, beets by there side.
Full is the hayloft, what fun to hide!
Apples are barreled, nuts laid to dry,
Frost on the garden, winter is nigh.

Father in Heaven, thank Thee for all,
Winter and springtime, summer and fall.
All Thine own gifts to Thee we bring
Help us to praise Thee, our Heavenly King.

With love from all,
Medora Espy

A few days later Medora wrote that her name had not been on the board “since Tuesday” and sent a copy of her grades:

Compare both months’ work.  You saw last months but I ask you to compare them for me please
                                                   Last Month      This Month
Deportment                                           80                 80
Arithmetic                                             82                 80
Reading                                                 92                 92
Geography                                            88                90
Spelling                                                  94                 95
Writing                                                  92                 94
Lang                                                        92                94
Scholarship                                           89+               90
Days Attendance                                  20                 14
Days Absent                                          0                  0
Times Tardy                                         0                  1

Mama soon wrote back:

Helen Richardson Espy, c. 1908

Dear Medora:
          I was glad to get the standing of your report card the other day, and hope you will continue to raise in scholarship each month.  Then too I was happy to know your name is staying off the board.  We can not always understand our lessons, and it takes hard work to get them perfectly, but there is one thing every little girl can do and that is behave like a lady and not add to the trials of her teacher.  Mama wants her little daughter to lead as the best example in behaviour like she stands for the highest in her lessons.

I can’t help but wonder if the students, parents, and teachers of today, in our strange and constrained circumstances, will have anything close to the relationships disclosed in these precisous old letters.  I fervently hope so.

Déjà vu During the Pandemic?

August 30th, 2020

Even The Propoganda Posters Are Similar

I doubt if I’m the only old person during this pandemic who is having occasional flashbacks to the days of World War II.  During the early forties, there were many similarities to the sheltering that we are experiencing nowadays.  Scarcities of some foods and basic supplies come to mind, certainly,  but thankfully not to the extent of rationing.  Not so far.

The focus on home gardens and growing our own produce is another similarity.  We don’t call them Victory Gardens these days as we did during “the war,” though.  (And do you notice how many of my generation still talk as though World War II was the ONLY war despite so many since then?)  These days, perhaps we are putting our efforts into our gardens because of long months of “sheltering.”  It seems a positive thing to do even if not absolutely necessary.

Victory Gardens – A Patriotic Duty

Home and family being the focus of our lives is another similarity — but for different reasons.  During the war scarcity of goods meant that “shopping” was done for necessities only.  Plus we were just coming out of the Depression and “extra” anything wasn’t a part of the picture.  We had not yet “invented” shopping malls or fast food restaurants or other ways to flaunt our excesses.  I remember that going out to the soda fountain at Woolworth’s for a hot fudge sundae was a Big Deal.

Another difference is that most parents were working “for the war effort” and many of us had relatives in the service.  My father was General Manager of the catalog order division for Montgomery Wards and was considered an essential worker (though I don’t recall that terminology — just that he had a draft deferment) and my mom went to work as a pipe-fitter’s helper for General Engineering shipyards.  Like almost everyone we knew, our lives changed drastically after December 7, 1941.

Different Reasons – Same Need

I remember that right after the war both my mother and father became manufacturer’s representatives — my mother for a potter named Vadna and my father for brass items from India.  They had so many orders, my dad truly thought “our ship was coming in.”  Unfortunately,  the manufacturers could not keep up with the demand and orders couldn’t be filled.   “The shops had been empty or closed for years,” my dad later reflected.  “Buyers were hungry for everything.”  Our ship never made it over the horizon.

The biggest difference I notice between then and now, though, is in attitude.  During the war, at least from my child’s perspective, most people willingly sacrificed for the “war effort.”  We were full of patriotism and helpfulness and wanted to please Uncle Sam.  Now?  Sadly, not so much…  In fact, does Uncle Sam still exist?  I haven’t heard about him for years.

When Helen Thompson came to town…

August 29th, 2020

Helen (Thonpson) Heckes, 1927

Young Helen Thompson arrived in Oysterville at the beginning of the school year in 1926.  Oysterville School, District #1 was to be her first teaching assignment.  Mrs. Dewit Stoner, clerk of  the Oysterville School Board, had met her at the train in Nahcotta and had helped her get settled at the little house a few blocks away from the one-room schoolhouse.

“It was the Captain Stream House,” Helen told me more than half a century later.  “It should have been perfect, but I was from Olympia — a city girl — and I had never lived alone before.  And never in the country where it was so dark at night and you could hear the coyotes howling!”

She stuck it out for a few weeks but. finally gathered her courage and went to see Mrs. Stoner.  “I think you’ll have to find someone else…” she began.  Mrs. Stoner (probably thinking about the difficulties in obtaining a teacher in out-of-the-way Oysterville) said, “give me a day or two and let me see what I can work out.”

Helen Thompson with Students, 1926

And so it was that Helen went to the Heckes Boarding House to live.  It was a busy, bustling place in the summers but in the winter was occupied just by Mr. and Mrs. Heckes and their big, handsome, and oh-so-shy son, Glen.  He was immediately smitten.

As time went by, Mr. Heckes decided to play matchmaker.  From the wooded near the barn across the street he gave a low wolf whistle just as Helen was on her way to the school one early morning — and just as Glen was leaving the house to go split wood for the schoolhouse stove.  One thing led to another and, eventually, Helen gave up teaching to marry Glen.  She’s the only person I know who was given a shivaree by the community.

Helen was not completely through with teaching however. In 1950 when her own children were teens, Helen returned to school, herself.  Prompted by the birth of a relative with special needs, Helen took classes to qualify as a special education teacher.  She developed a vocational-style curriculum — one of the earliest in Washington — at Ocean Park School, where she taught for many years.

The Heckes Place, 1920s

For those of you who often pause as you drive by the John Crellin House in Oysterville, it’s Helen’s bottle collection in the windows that you are admiring.  Until a house was built between the Heckes Place and our house in 1987, Helen was our family’s “next door neighbor.”  I still miss her and often think of her on those dark nights when the coyotes howl.