Two Barbaras, One Larry and…

June 13th, 2017

Barbara Poulshock- Cate Gable Photo

…a new roof in progress!  All that and more (as they say) at this Sunday’s Music Vespers service at the Oysterville Church!  As always, Father’s Day marks the first of the twelve summer vesper programs at the historic church.  In addition, it will herald the beginning of our fortieth vesper season here in Oysterville!

Forty years!  “Quite a many!” as my mother, Dale Espy Little, would have said.  I wonder if she realized, when she and dad first conceived the vespers idea, that those services would become synonymous with summer Sunday afternoons in the village.

Dr. Barbara Bate – Sydney Stevens Photo

That vespers keep the ecumenical use of the church alive; that vespers would bring in a good portion of the money needed to maintain the old building; that musicians and audiences would be overjoyed at the acoustics in the little structure – all these things were what mom and dad hoped for.  They would be so pleased that their vision has continued all this time.

I think they would also be pleased about the new roof in progress.  Never mind that it probably won’t be completed by Sunday!  Just the fact that the Oysterville Restoration Foundation was awarded a $15,000 grant by the Kinsman Foundation of Oregon would delight them.  And I have no doubt that they would already be planning a fundraiser to make up for the $5,000 shortfall that seems likely!

Larry Freshley, c. 1951

Meanwhile, I know for a fact that Sunday’s ‘headliners’ – composer and renowned piano and voice teacher Barbara Poulshock, interdenominational minister, author and pianist Barbara Bate, and Oysterville School alumnus Larry Freshley – would more than “fill the bill” for the opening service in the eyes of my folks. And, they would heartily approve of the mysterious (yet, for Barbara Poulshock ‘traditional’) program note, “Barbara and Friends,” that tempts speculation right up until the service begins.

Roof Progress as of 6/11/17

Most of all, how pleased they would be that the entire vespers idea and its yearly planning has taken on a life of its own.  This marks year three that Carol Wachsmuth (bless her!) is doing all the scheduling.  The Espy family is finally out of the church loop – “as God intended” say I!  Vespers at the beginning of its 40th year has definitely come of age.  It has taken a village… and will continue to do so!   On behalf of R.H. Espy — who had the church built back in 1892 — and on behalf of all his descendants who kept it going, I for one couldn’t be happier!

Talent duly noted! Applicant accepted!

June 12th, 2017

Willapa Bay AiR, the artist in residency program located at the south end of Douglas Drive in Oysterville, is now in its fourth year.  There is a ‘waiting line’ for residencies – only about ten percent of applicants are invited to one of the coveted available spots.  Six lucky ‘emerging and established artists’ each month, March through September!  Applications for 2018 are now being considered.

Visual artists, writers, scholars, singer/songwriters, and musical composers apply from all over the world.   Of special note in February this year was the early arrival of writer Aida Moradi Ahani who managed to get here from Tehran during the initial confusion of Trump’s travel ban.  But a few days ago, there appeared, in person, an ‘applicant’ who may have surpassed even the determined Aida in his forthright bid for inclusion at Willapa Bay AiR!

He walked right up to the wall of glass doors at the main lodge and, though he spoke not a word, demonstrated his artistic merit unlike any other applicant has done before – or is likely to do again.  He came alone, having lost his mate somewhere along the way, according to local gossip.  Although he (and she) have been seen around the Nahcotta area for some time now, no one seems quite clear about where they came from or even their exact arrival date.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind, however, that he is “in” as far as the residency program goes.  Though AiR founder Cyndy Hayward’s dogs seemed a little too interested in him (and were quickly spirited away), current residents offered immediate friendship (and apples!) hoping he would find the residency to his liking.

Fortunately, in case he decides to apply elsewhere instead, Christine Herbert, a visual artist from Brooklyn, managed to get three marvelous pictures demonstrating 1) his confident stride onto the patio, 2) his approach to the main lodge, and 3) his full-blown display of talent – and never mind that it was documentation from behind.  Hopefully, he’ll become so comfortable in his surroundings that he will reveal his glorious talents from all angles many times during his residency!

No, No, Nannette!

June 11th, 2017

If you have been following the saga of our totaled Prius, you may remember that the police officer at the site of the accident was Chief Workman of the Warrenton Police Department.  As I ‘reported’ in my May 31st blog, he was “especially” lovely to us – a really nice man.  I did not comment on his stenographic competencies, however.

Or perhaps, it was a “clerical error” back at the office that resulted in the accident report (which finally arrived yesterday) stating that Nyel L. Stevens is married to Nannette Lou Stevens, born February 1, 1944.  Come again???  All I can say is, if you’re out there, Nannette – you are one lucky gal!  We are really curious as to how Chief Workman (or his clerical staff) got this confused, he having copied, as he did, directly from my drivers’ license.  Granted, there are two similarities – our last names (which, in my case anyway, is actually Nyel’s last name) and the month of our birthdays (February).

Otherwise… not so much.  Nannette (with three n’s) Lou doesn’t bear much resemblance to Sydney Medora – in fact not even a whispery similarity.  Her 1st of February is an entire month away (usually) from my February 28th and 1944 makes her eight years younger than I.  I’m not at all sure how such a glitch can happen.  Some sort of weird computer error?

Nyel doesn’t seem too concerned about it.  Nor am I, really.  It’s just that Chief Workman did emphasize that our part of the paperwork needed to be submitted to the State of Oregon within 72 hours of the accident – or as soon thereafter as possible – or we risked Oregon notifying our non-compliance to Washington State which  could then result in Nyel’s driver’s license being rescinded.  A little simple math tells me it’s been ten days already – more like 240 hours than the requisite 72 – and straightening out this “little glitch” could take a while if the stories about identity theft and proving who you are and all of that stuff come into play.  Just sayin’…

I did check out “Nannette Lou Stevens” on Facebook and found a very attractive “Nannette Stevens” in Bend, Oregon.  She appears to already have a handsome husband and appears much younger than that 1944 date would indicate, so I’m not bothering to share this information with her.  No, no, Nannette!

The Queen of Flowers – Fit for a King!

June 10th, 2017

Peonies from Stephanie

Our Friday night gathering had already begun by the time Nyel and I arrived yesterday, thanks to our neighbors Tucker and Carol.  They had graciously agreed to be surrogate hosts when, suddenly, yet another test was scheduled for Nyel. In Portland. Yesterday afternoon.

We knew we’d get home a little late, plus we knew we’d be tired, having travelled from Seattle to Portland to home…  It was definitely one of those everything-happens-at-once times.  (We seem to be having a lot of those lately.)

It was lovely to arrive to a houseful of friends – and with several more coming through the gate just behind us.  It felt warm and welcoming and cheerful.  “I hope that’s how our usual Friday night guests feel when they come through the door,” was my fleeting thought.

Red Peonies c. 1850 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

It was a few minutes before I had occasion to go to the kitchen for something and there, on the counter, was a bouquet of white peonies, still wrapped in their florist’s paper!  Stephanie!  I knew they were from her.  She often arrives at this house with flowers.  The part I also knew (but she didn’t) is that peonies are Nyel’s all-time, top of the list, favorite flowers.

Nyel’s grandmother grew peonies.  She and his grandpa lived just a few blocks away, in Montpelier, Idaho, and Nyel has fond memories of those peonies – memories so vividly described to me that this morning I asked him for “that picture of his grandmother in her peony garden.”  I swear I’ve seen it, but Nyel says that, as far as he knows, there never has been such a picture!

Peony, by Chinese artist Wang Qian, Yuan dynasty (1271–1368)

Our own attempts at growing peonies have been dismal.  Teresa at the Planter Box says it’s because our winters are too mild (which, Nyel says, was certainly not true of Idaho) and she suggested that we take ice outside every morning for a few weeks in winter and place it around the plants.   (Like that’s going to happen…)  So, we are content with the one or two blossoms that come to fruition each spring.

And here was a whole bouquet!  Until I buried my nose in them, I had no idea of their delicately sweet fragrance.  No wonder the Chinese call the peony “Queen of Flowers!”  They are said to remind people of wealth, fortune, and prosperity.  I don’t know about that, but peonies definitely make me think of Nyel… and of his grandmother who I never met.

“The Mighty Franks”

June 9th, 2017

With Author Michael Frank

By the time we arrived, the room was a-buzz – probably thirty-five or forty people, glasses of Perrier or wine in hand, milling around with one eye on author Michael Frank, the star of the evening.  Michael moved easily from group to group, dispensing handshakes and hugs and looking for all the world like the sophisticated host of a cosmopolitan cocktail party.  We’ve seen Michael in that role many times before — whether or not he is hosting and whether or not there’s a party.

No, wait!  Not a ‘role’ at all.  It’s just Michael! To the manner born, you might say.  It doesn’t even seem surprising that his first book, a memoir, is taking the world by storm.  Yes, the world!  “The Mighty Franks” was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, just two or three weeks ago – published simultaneously in five (count ‘em five) languages!  It has received high marks from the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic and on and on!

“The Mighty Franks”

Already Michael has done book talks and signings in Los Angeles and San Francisco to say nothing of a fabulous ‘book launch’ at the home of a friend in New York City.  If all the attention has turned his head, it doesn’t show a bit.  As we entered the room and he spied us across the way he gave a wonderfully surprised greeting – more hugs and exclamations (You came all the way from the beach?!!) and made sure we had something to drink and connected with his brother, Dan.  The best host ever — as always!

Then it was “show time.”  Michael was introduced, took center stage, eschewed the mic, and told us about the book.  It centers on members of his extraordinary family – some of whom Nyel and I have known almost as long as we’ve known each other.  Michael and his two brothers and his parents were all at -ceremonythe 3rd Annual Oysterville Croquet and Champagne Gala (a fund-raiser we put on in our garden for 19 consecutive years) in 1987.  At that particular event, two important things happened – Nyel and I were married in an unannounced-until-then-ceremony, and we first met the Franks. “The Mighty Franks” as it turns out — or part of them!

Elliott Bay Book Company

During the Q&A portion of the evening, someone asked Michael how he was feeling about all the attention he and his book are getting.  Michael’s response was along the lines of loving it but it’s only been two weeks so it’s too early to tell.  I made a mental note to ask him a similar question in August after some of the dust settles.  He and his immediate family (who live in NYC) will be in Seaview then for their annual family get-together.  “I’ll call you,” he said.  “I want you to come to the house for dinner.”  I didn’t say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. By then you’ll be too famous for the likes of us.”  Actually, I didn’t even think it.  I’m pretty sure Michael will always be Michael – a mighty Frank, to the manner born!

I Stand Corrected!

June 8th, 2017

From the June 7, 2017 Chinook Observer

I was expecting a call from my friend Linda so, when the phone rang, I answered with a little bit of a goofy-sounding “hello-o-o.”  (It could have been worse!)  Imagine my surprise when a pleasant sounding male voice said, “Sydney Stevens?  This is Sheriff Scott Johnson.”  Actually, he may not have said the “Sheriff” word but there was no question in my mind who he was.

There was also no question in my mind concerning why he was calling.  The Observer came out yesterday.  And, since it was the first Wednesday of the month, my column was on page four in all its glory.  “Is Pacific an ersatz* county?” was the title and it was poking a little fun (I thought) at a few of the more peculiar (in my opinion) occurrences, historically and recently, in Pacific County.  I might also mention here that the asterisk referred readers to synonyms for ‘ersatz,’ some of which in the context of Pacific County might not be too politically correct.

Right at the start of the conversation (which, I hasten to point out was friendly, low-key, and almost enjoyable), the Sheriff said he’d like a chance to talk to me and offered to take me to lunch.  I don’t know exactly how I responded, but I demurred and he went on to other things.  Mostly, we talked about the MRAP which Scott (I think we are now on a first-name basis) pointed out was all about the safety of his officers – a point I don’t take exception to in the least.  But, when the County is poor-mouthing and raising taxes, I do take exception to spending 8K on a war surplus vehicle that might be too heavy for certain of the 62 bridges of our county.


Aaahhh!  There was the problem.  Scott told me that he was unaware of that problem (I right away declined to reveal my sources, though truth-to-tell he didn’t ask) and went on to explain that he’d been around dump-trucks all his life and many of them, when loaded, weigh more than the 18-ton MRAP.  I thanked him for pointing that out.

We went on to talk about the problems, logistically, of law enforcement coverage in the County.  And we established some ‘mutual points of agreement’ (for lack of a better description). He told me how he had driven through Oysterville just recently (“with my window down”) and how he had finally met Dan Driscoll (“seemed like a nice guy”) at a meeting at the Ocean Park Firehall.  For my part, I told him of the years I was involved in the D.A.R.E. program as a teacher in the Ocean Beach School District. And I told him how, a long time back, Nyel and I had hosted a community gathering in our home for then Sheriff John Didion and Deputy Ray Harrison to talk with us about better coverage here – the idea of neighborhood watches etc.

Sheriff John Didion – 2003

The conversation ended with Scott saying I’d given him one concrete idea: he intends to add a bit of information about the MRAP to other subjects in future talks with the community.  I’m not sure if he said he had no idea people were interested in the vehicle or if he was indicating that he wanted to straighten out any misinformation about it ‘out there.’  Probably a little of both.  He also reiterated his lunch invitation.  I can’t imagine ever taking him up on that but, as they say… never say never.

Say what you mean – Mean what you say

June 7th, 2017

It often comes as a surprise to me that someone I know ‘only in passing’ reads my blog now and then.  Take the technician at my eye doctor’s across the river.  Susan.  When I was there the other day, we talked about my latest trauma – our totaled Prius.  “You must have a story that goes with that,” she said.  “You are a great story-teller; I read what you write.”

On reflection, I do have a ‘sort of story’ about that car crash.  Before the dust had settled and the fluids had stopped leaking, an EMT showed up at the driver’s window.  “Are you hurt?” he asked Nyel.  “No, but I think my wife might be,” was the answer.

The uniformed young man (maybe in his 20s – I can’t really tell anymore) came around to my side, asked for me to open the door and then knelt to talk to me.  He asked me some questions about what happened and how I was doing.  My answers were “I’m not sure, I had dozed off” and “I’m sore in the seatbelt area.”

“May I see your chest?” he asked.  And, being a literalist as I am, I pulled up my sweater and exposed by lacy 34-D bra in all its glory.  I wish you could have seen his face.  Not horror exactly – but on the dismayed side of surprise.  “No, no, no,” he said quickly.  “I just meant that I would…”  I think he was going for “…like to feel…” but thought better of it.

I pulled down my sweater, he gently pushed around on what I would call “the upper sternum (bony) area” of my (now) well-covered front, as he repeatedly asked, “Does this hurt?”  “Just a little,” I kept saying, all the time thinking “so now you know what your grandmother’s underwear might look like…”  Wisely, though, I said nothing.  Only asked how he got to the accident scene so fast.  “I just got off duty,” he said, “and I was on my way home.  I thought I might be able to help.”

 I think we were still chatting when all the emergency vehicles and personnel began to arrive – the Warrenton Chief of Police, the fire department, the ambulance, the EMTs.  Lots of young men being solicitous and helpful.  I didn’t flash any of them, though.  Probably they didn’t ask exactly the right question.

Susan loved my ‘story.’  So, I offer it to my readers for their reading pleasure and with profuse apologies to the wonderfully sincere and helpful young EMT who stopped, on his own time, to help.  I hope he chalked up my behavior to an old lady’s addled and literal response to his solicitous inquiry.

Lest We Think Otherwise

June 6th, 2017

Nest at our Front Door

No matter how vigilant we are, our ‘feathered’ friends seem to be having their way with us.  Much like our current ‘leaders’ in the Other Washington?  Well, the comparison is probably a stretch – a flight of fancy you might say –  but the thought occurs all too frequently.

Take our local visiting barn swallows.  They have been trying for a month or more to build nests on our house.  Usually, we have allowed them to do so in the back-forty just outside the kitchen window.  But this year that area is scheduled to be painted, so every day Nyel hoses down the first nest-building efforts.  And every day, the swallows – three pair and three nests – go back to work within minutes.  Cheeky little critters.  And they don’t get it that they are not welcome.  Not at all.  Public opinion means nothing to them.

Nest Close-up — Hurriedly done?

They’ve also been trying to build on the lintel directly above our front door.  Ditto all the above concerning Nyel and his Garden Hose Discouragement Program.  On Sunday when we were gone for the afternoon doing necessary new car business, those Front Door Swallows managed to build their entire nest.  By the time we got home it was a “done deal” and they were sitting proudly (and threateningly) nearby.  Persistent (if a bit stupid) to the max.

There is some dissention in the main household about taking down a completed nest – it’s a Venus vs Mars thing.  I think that once the nest is complete and the eggs about to be placed within, we humans have to let nature take its course.  Nyel… not so much.  We’ll see how it plays out.  I keep mentioning that the swallow couple have actually made a few compromises – the nest is not exactly over the main in-an-out traffic area.  So far, I don’t think I’m being heard.

Svetlana Checking Out Compost Area

Then there are the chickens.  We have been keeping them in their run, locked away from the rest of the garden during this tender-new-plant part of the year.  But yesterday, here came the Russian Orloff, bold as bold.  An inspection of the run revealed a big hole in the hog wire, probably the accomplishment of our local henhouse hacker, Rocky Raccoon.  The other three girls (perhaps not quite as bright as Svetlana) had not noticed and were still where they belonged.

While Nyel repaired the damage and made things secure, I tried to entice Ms. Svetlana back to the coop, but she was having none of it.  She successfully evaded me from one area of the yard to the next and it took Farmer Nyel to finally trick her back into the run.  I’m not sure if détente with the Russian will last – she’s a sneaky one.

Hummingbird Vigilante

Meanwhile, the hummingbirds have taken to looking for us when their feeder is empty.  They come to windows all around the house – wherever we are, they show up with their hovering trick.  And, as if that isn’t enough, they sometimes tap their beak against the window pane!  Of course, we drop everything and all but salute and click our heels.  I wonder how much sugar we go through in a season.

Peaceful co-existence is difficult here in the Springtime.  We can only hope that it doesn’t escalate during the long, hot summer.  One thing though… it’s never dull.

Depending on the Kindness of Strangers

June 5th, 2017

Dale Espy Little, 1999 — “Mom at 88”

My mother gave up driving when she was about a year younger than I.  She cut up her driver’s license and sold her car and became a big believer in Dial-a-Ride.  She also took advantage of every “do-you-need-anything-at-Jack’s” offer made to her by friends and neighbors and wasn’t at all hesitant to ask a stranger (most likely a tourist visiting the church) for a ride (most likely to the post office.)  I worried and admired in equal parts.

Mom’s leap into ‘Dependence on the Kindness of Strangers’ was occasioned by a fender bender that she had in Ocean Park.  No one was hurt and no one was ticketed but she felt it was a wake-up call to quit driving.  I have been thinking about that a lot since our own mega-mishap last week.  In fact, one of the first things Nyel said was, “Maybe it’s time I stop driving…”  Yikes!

We actually considered that possibility – weighed the pros and cons of living far off the beaten track where just getting groceries entails a 15-mile round-trip by car.  We decided that between the two of us and with a spiffy new mega-safe vehicle, we could probably manage for a while longer.  But totaling our little Prius definitely gave us pause.  And it made me think of my indomitable mother and how gutsy she was and so soon (within a year) after my dad had died and she was living on her own for the first time in all of her 80 years!

Helen Richardson Espy, 1947 – “Granny at 69”

I also thought about my two grandmothers, neither of whom ever learned to drive.  Granted, cars didn’t “come in” until they were middle-aged.  I doubt if it even occurred to either of them to learn to drive.  They had managed their households (one in Oysterville, one in Boston) and raised their families without ‘machines’ and just riding in one as a passenger was a big step.

My Oysterville grandmother did have a buggy – a used one sent to her in 1914 by her father who lived in Berkeley.  The day it arrived, she wrote to her daughter, Medora:

It is the nicest looking buggy on the Peninsula – just what I wanted – a low, high-backed seat phaeton – rubber tired, roll back top.  Eva told me it was dilapidated but there is nothing wrong except a piece out of one tire.  It is not so shining new looking as the big buggy but it looks like the city and home to me…

Mary Woods Little, c 1955 – “Nana at 75”

There are not pictures or other references to that conveyance.  I don’t know who hitched it up for her, where she went in it, or how long she had it.  I doubt very much if she went grocery shopping in it.  After all, in those days there were vegetables and fruits in the garden or ‘put up for winter’ in the pantry, there were kids at home to run to the Sam Andrews’ store just up the street for dry goods and, in the summer, Theophilus Goulter came house-to-house, once a week, with his meat wagon.

I’m unclear about my Bostonian grandmother.  She and my grandfather lived in the West Roxbury neighborhood.  Perhaps there were shops nearby or perhaps my grandfather took her into town once a week.  Whatever arrangements she made, she carried on independently in her own home, even after she was widowed.  Though I was well into my twenties by the time she died, I was too young and too far away to pay close attention to the details.  Isn’t that always the way?

From a Loser’s Perspective

June 4th, 2017

From Another Point of View

We’ve all given lip service (perhaps a bit smugly) to the truism that winners write the history.  I’ve never given that particular platitude much beyond a cursory thought until very recently.  I’m reading Kenneth Roberts’ Oliver Wiswell – a total eye-opener regarding our American Revolution!  Narrated in the first person by the title character, Yale undergraduate Oliver, it is the story of the little-known and profoundly misunderstood loyalist cause.  It is the story of some of my ancestors – fictionalized to be sure, but fully believable.

The book was recommended to my father by his Bostonian mother back in the 1940s.  She urged him to read it for a better understanding of our forebears – the McGees and the Woodworths and probably others – who, I always heard, “went” to Canada in 1776 or thereabouts.  It’s a long book (836 pages) and I am only about a third of the way into it, but already I fully understand that “went” was not the operable verb.  More like “driven out.”  They were loyalists – not completely satisfied with things under British rule, but committed to making changes through orderly means and the rule of law.  Not through violence.  The patriots thought differently.

Samuel Adams, Patriot or Rabble-rouser?

I don’t know about my particular loyalist ancestors but Oliver Wiswell describes what happened to others like them.  They were the unwitting victims set upon by mobs of “patriots” (or “rabble” as they were known).  Loyalist homes were ransacked, pillaged, and burned; ‘suspicious  characters,’ perhaps the owner of a printing press, were tarred and feathered.  Community leaders and their erstwhile friends, were sent packing – on foot, in the dark of night, never mind the sick or the old or infirm.  Out! Out!  Out at gunpoint.

The men I grew up to revere – Samuel Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other heroes of our Revolutionary War – take on a wholly different (and downright sinister) character.  And yet… I had ancestors on the Patriot side of things, as well.  Undoubtedly, there were family schisms.  Brothers against brothers.  Cousins against cousins.  Fathers and sons in pitched battle.  It’s a look at our beginnings that I’ve seldom considered.  I think the book should be a must for those who are concerned about the current state of things here in America.

British General William Howe, Brilliant or Inept

Though written in that detailed style of the early-to-mid-twentieth century which makes it a little slow-going, many of the attitudes and situations seem all too relevant today.  Where are we headed in this land where our leaders scoff at ethics and change the rules to allow themselves to prosper to the detriment of our planet?  How many racist killings, ICE raids and other travesties are we to endure?  And how will these chaotic times be interpreted 250 years hence?  Oliver Wiswell is slow going in places but worth the effort.  Let me know if you read it… I’d love to get your take on this fictional account of our history as seen through the eyes of the losing side.