Posts Tagged ‘Chinook Observer’

Preaching to the Choir

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

Chinook Observer, August 9, 2017

I don’t know what amazes me more – the number of people who are so well informed about local happenings because they “read it in the paper” or the number of people who don’t even subscribe to the Chinook Observer.  It’s not a new realization, but one that has been underscored for me these last few weeks –  ever since the ICE arrests of our Hispanic neighbors have caught the attention of the Big City media.

Now that the Seattle Times and the BBC have picked up the story, people in our own community are saying, “I had no idea.”  Yay!  I couldn’t be more delighted that their attention has been captured.  But it is a little disconcerting that they are just now noticing.  It never occurred to me that my “Stories from the Heart” that ran weekly from July through October would go completely unnoticed by so many of the people I know.  Or that they would be picked up by the mainstream media before some of my own friends had read them!

The BBC Weighs In

It was thanks to my friend Erin with her deep connections to the Mexican community that people opened their homes to me and allowed me to interview them for those stories.  They shared their once-upon-a-time dreams with me – their hopes for a brighter future, their reasons for risking everything to come here to America. They spoke of the impossibilities of going back and of their fears of arrest.  I was overwhelmed by their courage and dignity and that they allowed, actually wanted, me to tell their stories.

I wrote those stories in the hope that they would shine a little light on the very big problem so many of our local families are facing. Because of the increased activity by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) this past year and the apparent ‘targeting’ of the Long Beach Peninsula, family members have been deported to Mexico, children have been taken out of school, employers are hard-pressed to replace workers who have been arrested.

Rosas (Courtesy Gladys Diaz) – From the Seattle Times

Too, it seemed so wrong that our neighbors were living in fear, keeping to the shadows, when I knew that there were so many people right here on the Peninsula who would reach out – if only they knew.  And, they have indeed come forward — to help and support, to offer financial assistance or information about legal help, to provide child-care when the only adult left in the family must work.   So much compassion!  So much practical, no-nonsense community involvement.

So… now the little candle that was lighted in our own Chinook Observer has reached far beyond our Peninsula and Pacific County.  Yay!!  And people right here in our midst are saying, “I had no idea.”  They probably also have no idea what a gem they have in our local weekly, either.  But… I’m undoubtedly preaching to the choir here!

An Emotional Meeting

Thursday, August 31st, 2017


There was frustration, there was anger, there were tears but, understandably, no laughter at last night’s ACLU People Power meeting in Long Beach.  The group gathered to assess the month’s progress with regard to assisting Hispanic neighbors as they struggle with the continuing ICE crackdown in our area.

First was a report about particular families who have been targeted – those whose members have already returned to Mexico – either voluntarily or by deportation –  those who have been bonded back to the community, and those who have been recently arrested.  The two latest arrests were both grandfathers – men who have been here long enough to raise children and whose children now have children.  According to the report, there has been no let-up in the surveillance of the Peninsula by ICE.  The number of those taken to date is 32 – “perhaps more.”  Over half have been arrested since January.

At the Northwest Detention Center – Photo by Stephanie Serrano

Another report dealt with those who had joined in a protest earlier this month at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.  Again, for the benefit of first-time attendees, the ‘process’ of arrest/detention/deportation was reviewed and it was pointed out that all of those arrested here are taken first to the Portland ICE office, for reasons that are unclear.  The Seattle office has no apparent presence in the process for our neighbors who are under arrest…

That discussion led to the article in yesterday’s Chinook Observer by Amy Nile.  “I’m so embarrassed by it,” said the ACLU volunteer who writes press releases for the group.  “I can’t tell you how many conversations she and I had.  Even so, there was information that was printed in the paper that was wrong.  Don’t they realize that we’re talking about people’s lives here?  I feel so responsible…”

“But at least they are doing some investigative reporting,” said another person.  “It’s just too bad they couldn’t get all the facts right.  Hopefully, they’ll do more and it will get better.”  Especially disturbing to the group was the statement in the article that arrests were being made in South Bend.  As far any South Benders at the meeting knew, there have been NO arrests in North County – a fact which has been noted many times at previous meetings “and even in the Observer’s own ‘Stories from the Heart’ series.  All the ICE arrests have been on the Peninsula. I spoke to the reporter and she did correct the story online but, of course, it’s too late for yesterday’s print version.”

Screen Shot – An Investigative Report by Amy Nile

There were questions, too, about the coverage given to Seattle and the statistics out of that office.  “As far as we know,” said one of the ACLU members, “any statistics concerning our area, would logically come from the Portland office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  That’s where our detainees are first taken for ‘processing’ and for all the initial ‘paperwork.’  They are taken there in handcuffs but leave from there for Tacoma in shackles – wrists, waist, ankles, chains.”

The need for money, for Spanish-speaking attorneys, for assistance with guardianship papers were discussed. There will be another meeting next month, date yet to be decided.  Those interested in attending or who can help in other ways are asked to contact Ann Reeves at

Just Call Me “Queen of the Sidebar!”

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

Sidebar in Jailhouse Stories

If I were to be known for a particular journalistic style, I would choose to be called “The Queen of the Sidebar.”  Not the sidecar with a ‘c’; the sidebar with a ‘b’.  The ‘c’ kind is a drink – made with bourbon, I think, and, not being much for alcoholic beverages, I could care less about sidecars.  (And if this WordPress blogging program would allow it, I’d insert a sidebar right here to give my readers the history of and a recipe for a sidecar.)

The sidebar, on the other hand, is 1) a short news story or graphic accompanying and presenting sidelights of a major story, or 2) something incidental to the essay’s central theme.  To someone who writes about history, they are one of the most useful journalistic tools imaginable.  There are invariably related bits of information, not necessarily germane to the main thrust of the story, but interesting and illuminating. nonetheless.

I use sidebars often.  In fact, I’m a bit of a pain in the tush sometimes about them.  I used them liberally in Dear Medora, Child of Oysterville’s Forgotten Years and, as I remember, their use sometimes posed layout problems for my wonderful editor at Washington State University Press.

Several years later, my History Press editor for Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula flat out told me that they “didn’t do sidebars.”  I argued like that proverbial Dutch Uncle and finally convinced them of the necessity for sidebars in my book.  They may have even changed their policy a bit after our ‘go ’round’ because there were no questions asked when I submitted my sidebar-filled manuscript for Jailhouse Stories from Early Pacific County.

Article and Sidebar in 8/9/17 issue of Chinook Observer

At the present time, I’m finding sidebars to be a marvelous way to illuminate my “Stories from the Heart” series in the Chinook Observer. Through them, I can present some factual information and insights through interviews with knowledgeable community members and experts in particular areas – so far, a neighbor, an employer, a teacher, a priest.

I’ve been surprised, though, that readers who comment to me about the series don’t often realize that the sidebars are also written by me and are an extension of the main stories.  I believe the lightly colored background for each sidebar, as well as its adjacent placement to my bylined story is an effort by the editor to indicate that the sidebar is part of the whole.  But, if you are among those who have been confused, perhaps this explanatory blog will help.

About that hole in my doughnut…

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

Garage Door

“Why do you always look at the dark side?” he asked me.  Why, indeed?  We were having a discussion.  Actually, an argument.  Over, of all things, the garage door.  After forty-five years of faithful service, it had finally given up.  Off its trolley… Motor dead…  Halfway up…  Halfway down.

It wasn’t that either of us opposed getting a new garage door.  We are agreed that it’s high time.  In fact, we’ve been putting it off for years and the poor, old, tired mechanism apparently decided to make the decision for us.  We lost no time in calling for help but it wouldn’t be forthcoming until Friday at the earliest. The ‘discussion’ centered around what to do in the meantime.  Leave the car out and the garage door stuck in the open position or…

My Dad – Bill Little, 1981

I, of course, skipped directly to the “but that would leave our house vulnerable” scenario.  That was the dark side to which my practical husband was referring.  And… I had to agree with him.  I do always look at the worst-case scenario.  I think it must be some sort of insulation against disaster if and when it comes and, of course, the great relief (usually) when there is a much better outcome than I have imagined.  Plus, I come by I naturally.  My grandmother was a worrier.  So was my dad.

A prime example of my usual attitude is the “Stories from the Heart” series I’m writing for the paper.  I almost dreaded seeing the first one in print.  I had visions of all the bigots and racists coming out of the woodwork in response.  I cannot tell you how gratified I am that the reaction is the exact opposite.  Concern, and requests to help have come pouring in –, by phone and email to me, personally, and on FaceBook in ‘conversations’ between people I don’t even know.  I am so glad!

My purpose in writing the stories has been to shine a bit of light on those in our community who are desperately afraid and are feeling confined to the shadows.  It never occurred to me that readers would respond by sending money or by asking how to help.  For the record, though, there is a group (working title:  People Power Immigrant Advocacy) who are trying to get a GoFundMe account up and running for the families in need here in our community.  In the meantime, contributions for families in need can be sent to “Stories from the Heart,” 12912 N Alley, Long Beach, WA  98631.

As for the garage door – in a mighty burst of energy, Nyel managed to get it down after the car was safely in last night.  I, of course, am already trying to figure out how to keep various commitments at the other end of the Peninsula if the car is now trapped. And maybe I need to go to the bakery for a doughnut hole or two…

So Much for Feeling Smug!

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

Sydney Works Against Deadline, 1970

It doesn’t pay to relax for a minute.  Not for me.   Not when my writing is concerned.  But, it seems to be a lesson hard to come by and, once again, I am reviewing those same old Words to Live By – “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.”  Or, in this case, until the paper comes out.

It’s Wednesday, August 2nd.  The first Wednesday of the month.  It is the day my column has been published in the Chinook Observer for the past five years.  It’s not a big deal, a once-a-month column.  Not like having a deadline every single week. (Or, god forbid, every day like in the Big City.)  With a month in between each column, I have the leisure to think about what I want to say and I have plenty of time to meet the ‘deadline’ which is the weekend before publication.  I usually try for Friday or Saturday and for half a decade all has been well.

Dinnertime at Emanuel Hospital 7/25/17

For this week, I chose to write about Pacific County’s proposed zoning change for Rural Residential and Rural Lands.  My column urged readers to attend tomorrow’s hearing on that issue – 6:00 p.m. at the Long Beach County building.  The decision that will ultimately be made will affect every single resident in Pacific County and I wanted to express a few words of concern.  In my column.  In today’s paper.

I wrote the column last week while sitting at Nyel’s bedside at Emanuel Hospital in Portland.  I had lots of time on my hands and it seemed a good way to use it ‘wisely.’  I even had the opportunity to research parts of the zoning proposal I was feeling fuzzy about and ‘talked’ (via email) with an expert or two.  I fine-tuned, found the perfect illustrative photo in my files, wrote a caption, and turned it all in on Saturday morning.

Matt Winters by Damian Mullinex

Imagine my surprise (as they say) when I received an email from the editor yesterday saying that there had been a mix-up and Ruth’s column was being used instead.  Mine will go in next week, he said.  When I went in to see him, a bit later, I asked him to pull the column permanently.  Depending upon how the hearing goes tomorrow night, I’ll rewrite it for next week.  Or not.

Life Lessons revisited:  #1 Never Feel Smug and #2 Think Twice about Time Sensitive Material Destined for a Weekly Paper.  Oh… and that old standby (which should probably be #1 in this household):  #3 Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch!

See you tomorrow evening at the hearing!  And do read Ruth’s column.  Far more interesting than mine would have been.

I Stand Corrected!

Thursday, 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.

Our North Beach Peninsula

Friday, April 7th, 2017

“The North Beah Peninsula” by Paul Staub

I’m not always happy about an editor’s changes to my pearls of thought.  In fact, I’ve been known to get quite snarky about word substitutions or adjustments to phrasing.  However, the addition of a dozen words to an otherwise dull caption in this week’s paper pleased me inordinately.  Definitely one of those why-didn’t-I-think-of-it things.

The caption accompanied the photograph that accompanied (got that?) my column.  I didn’t much like it when I wrote it:  Looking north from First Avenue and lake Street in Ilwaco, July 4, 1910.  The carriage, train tracks and automobile are good indicators that it was a period of transition on the North Beach Peninsula.  But a good ‘fix’ didn’t readily come to me, so that’s how I left it.  The edited version changed that final period to a comma and added: as the Long Beach Peninsula is still formally known to some mapmakers.

Promotional Map, c. 1942

             Perfect!  In fact, I love explaining to people that the official name of our Peninsula, according to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (which shares its responsibilities with the Department of the Interior) is still the North Beach Peninsula.  Despite several attempts over the years to change the name – a change advocated largely by tourism promotors – the Board has always concluded that there is no overriding reason to exchange ‘Long’ for ‘North.’

I took a look online to see what maps are available that still correctly identify the North Beach Peninsula and was gratified to find that there are quite a few.  The very first one that popped up is the best one, in my opinion!  It was done by my cartographer neighbor, Paul Staub.  I commissioned it for my book Legendary Locals of the Long Beach Peninsula and I think it’s perfect!

Promotional Postcard “With Views”

My favorite story regarding our Peninsula’s name has to do with artist Joe Knowles.  During the years he lived here on the beach, his paintings and etchings had become quite collectible but, even so, he never got paid for his twelve-by-three-foot oil “North Beach Peninsula,” though it was displayed prominently in the Washington State Exhibit at the Chicago’s 1933 Century of Progress Exposition.  The city fathers of Long Beach who had commissioned it refused to pony up, claiming it was incorrectly named.

So… thanks for those dozen words, Editor Winters!  They made all the difference (and gave me a blog to boot!)

A Point to Ponder

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

“If the County is so damned broke, why are they continuing to pursue Dan Driscoll and Oysterville Sea Farms?  How much drain is their current court appeal on the county?”

We ‘ve been asked that question many times since last week’s banner headline in the Chinook Observer:  Money cliff nears for Pacific County with the sub-head Top official: Worst situation in her 30-year career.  I imagine there will be some letters to the editor in today’s paper asking the same questions.  I hope so.

We’ve certainly been pondering that question ourselves.  But not out loud to anyone who could give us an answer.  We gave up on that long ago.  There is undoubtedly some cosmic law regarding perfectly intelligent, well-meaning people saying one thing when they run for office and another as soon as they are sworn in.  Those of us who ask questions are suddenly ‘outsiders’ and don’t understand the full implications yada yada yada.

Pacific County Courthouse

Personal Privacy vs Full Disclosure?  Maybe something like that.  Whatever the reason/excuse/pretext is, it seems endemic to public officials and public employees in general to begin their jobs with good intentions and end up giving us folks outside the loop answers in governmental gobbledygook.  Like ‘these dollars’ can only be used for ‘this purpose’ or that the State makes increasing demands of Counties without commensurate financial compensation.

But I don’t think the Oysterville Sea Farms situation comes under those sorts of budget constraints.  Nope.  This is a home-grown affair and, as I see it, it’s sucking up a lot of our tax dollars.   Money that could go toward keeping staff positions that may otherwise be threatened with layoffs.  It seems a no-brainer for the County to drop their appeal and save the money

Dan Driscoll

As a result of this blog, I’ll likely hear from both sides of the OSF equation.  I hope not. We’ve had ten long years to listen to the pros and cons. We’re tired of the bureaucratic answers.  In fact, we’re tired of the bureaucracy – the entire convoluted process.  And we are dead tired of wondering how much money the County has spent on this unpopular pursuit of one of our most popular Oysterville residents.

Whatever happened to the of, by and for the people?  You’d think in a County the size of ours, we could get it right.  But, no.  We ‘outsiders’ seem destined to just keep pondering…

Living Vicariously

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

In This Week’s Observer

I’m so glad my friend Ruth Chamberlin is writing a column in the Observer!  And I’m even happier that it is about her amazing family.  I love love LOVE reading whatever Ruth writes and I have an almost visceral reaction (in the best of all possible ways) to learning more about her remarkable life with husband Burt and their eight (count ‘em EIGHT) adopted children – an international, multiracial group of kids, now ‘grown and gone’ (or as ‘gone’ as any of our children ever are.)

I can’t remember when I first met Ruth.  Probably ten years or so ago.  Diane Buttrell introduced us over coffee and blintzes at the Full Circle Café and I was soon reading her book, The Dancing Finn – a book of fiction, Ruth claims, but clearly drawn from her own rich experiences.  A few years later came the sequel, Laughter Left Over. I was already in love with her family if ‘in love’ is the right choice of words to describe your feelings for a remarkable group of young people you have never met.

The Dancing Finn

Summer before last, Ruth and Burt’s eldest child, Jordan, came to Ocean Park to visit.  He brought his young and very pregnant wife, Innocensia, for whom Ruth had a baby shower.  (I idly wondered if anyone had given Ruth a shower when Jordan was expected.  Or, for that matter, for any of the children.)  And, was it last summer, they all came visiting here in Oysterville with baby Errol just on the verge of walking?

Laughter Left Over

Ruth and I still meet for coffee.  We talk about our lives – our difficulties finding time to write, how our families are doing, our struggles with the aches and pains of aging (though Ruth is at least a decade younger… I think.)  But I still don’t feel like I know much about the hows, whys, and wherefores of her young life with eight incredibly diverse youngsters.

Next time we talk, I hope I remember to ask if she’s going to continue writing about their lives in her column.  I hope so.  And I hope her monthly articles are the beginning of another book – this time non-fiction.  It’s not a stranger-than-fiction story but it’s definitely a more wondrous-than-imaginable one!  Thanks, Ruth, for sharing a bit of your enormous, loving heart with all of us.

Jim Crow and the… – Part II

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

Dick Wallace Examines Artifacts

Yesterday’s 2016 Community Historian class was everything a culminating event should be – lively discussion, more questions than answers, laughter, and even food!   (Make-your-own deli sandwiches, chips, lemonade and cookies!  What could be better?)

The day’s main activity centered on the contents of black storage bags – items in the museum’s collection that await cataloging and/or placement in the permanent storage area.  People worked singly or in pairs examining, analyzing, and using their powers of deduction to identify a variety of items.  Great fun!

But, it was the discussion at the top of the day that I enjoyed the most.  Instead of a “homework discussion” (there had been no assignment) I asked what the group thought about yesterday’s Chinook Observer headline story: “JIM SAULES, NOT JIM CROW –Effort underway to change racist names in Wahkiakum County.”   No one had yet seen the newspaper, although at least one class member had read elsewhere that State Senator Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, recently proposed changing 36 Washington place names that contain racial slurs. (“Oh,” was one remark, “another, urban do-gooding outsider…”).

April 20, 2016

April 20, 2016

Commentary ran the gamut. One woman, brought up in the south, said the present Jim Crow name conjured up the days of her childhood when, as a white child, she wasn’t allowed to ride in the back of the bus “where all the fun was.”  She was definite that the name should be changed.  At the other extreme were several folks who thought we risk losing our history by obliterating names from the past.  “Our attitudes change as our culture changes, but we shouldn’t erase the story of how we got here,” someone said.

Anne LeFors Sets Up a Portable Clothes Dryer

Ann Lefors Sets Up a Portable Clothes Dryer

Mostly, though, the group felt there were many questions that need answering before a final decision is made.  Why was that name given to that particular point of land?  Does it commemorate something that happened there or, perhaps, an individual who lived there?  And why substitute ‘Saules’ for ‘Crow’?  What connection did Jim Saules have with that area of the river?  (He is known to have ‘squatted’ for several years at Cape Disappointment, but association with the areas upriver are a bit vague.)  And, if Jim Saules does not have an historical association with the area, why choose his name as a replacement?  Because he’s black?

There was commentary about the changes to school names and boulevards after the JFK and MLK assassinations  as well as about the recent announcement of replacing Andrew Jackson’s likeness on the twenty-dollar bill. What do we gain by such replacements?  And what do we lose?  Is it true that one of the factors in making the Jim Crow decision is pure economics – that potential tourists are scared away from our area because of the name?

Bottom line:  everyone agreed that more research was needed to find out why Jim Crow Point was so named in the first place.  Even more importantly, whether the name stays the same or is changed, the Community Historians said over and over that “interpretation is the most important ingredient of all.  It’s all about putting the story back in history.  Without the story, why bother?”