Posts Tagged ‘Dale Espy Little’

Weather, Climate Change, or Deer People?

Monday, March 25th, 2019

This year’s first camellias, March 25, 2019

For sure the Deer People (as Nyel calls our hoofed ruminant friends) have been super active in our yard this year.  We know that because they have left their calling cards EVERYwhere and have eaten every bit of deer candy within reach – roses bushes, apple twigs and branches, primroses, camellias, tulip (we only have one – a volunteer who didn’t know better) and probably a lot of other stuff we’ve not yet discovered.  The only thing that I really dislike sharing are the camellias… they have a special place in my heart.

We have two very old camellia bushes – probably dating from my grandmother’s time.  Ever since I can remember, each year’s very first bouquets from those bushes were presents given to me on my birthday, February 28th, by my mother.  Some years, that was the only gift.  Some years it was in addition to something else.  No matter what, it was my favorite gift of all.  “Here they are, Sydney!” she would announce.  “The first of the season!”

This year I gathered the first bouquet today – March 25th!  Almost a month late!  On the other hand, in 2015, the first blooms came in December!  Go figure!  I’m not sure what any of that portends.  I only know that from 1947 when I celebrated my 11th birthday here in Oysterville rather than at home in California, until 1997, the last year mom was able to live in this house, the first camellias came on my special day!  For fifty years!  And, as my mom would say, “That’s quite a many!”

I know that weather cycles come and go.  I know that we are in the midst of serious global climate change.  And, I know that the deer people are more prolific now than they were in my childhood here.  Undoubtedly, one of those factors has to do with the blossoming time for our camellias…  I don’t really care about a definitive answer… yet.  As long as they keep blooming, I can celebrate my camellia birthday after or before or during my natal day.  Whenever it is, I’ll think of my mom!

The Anticipation Factor

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

Dale Espy – 1916

I’ve been wondering… is anticipation the opposite of memory?  When you begin to lose one, does the other disappear too?

I thought I’d check the internet to see if there might be a study or two on that relationship.  OMG!  Try dozens!  With fancy titles, too.  “Synchronization of map-based neurons with memory and synaptic delay.”  Or “The effect of anticipation and the specificity of sex differences for amygdala and hippocampus function in emotional memory.”  Got that?

Okay.  So, it seems clear that I didn’t make up that connection between memory and anticipation.  Once again, I am reminded that Mark Twain was probably right when he said, “There is no such thing as a new idea.”  I am also reminded of the experts’ proclivity for parsing and analyzing and examining every possible phenomenon to the nth degree (a mathematical term dating back to 1752, in case you wondered.)

I first noticed the connection between anticipation and memory with my mother.  In her late eighties and until her death at almost 98, she suffered increasingly from dementia.  One very stormy evening we picked her up from the nursing home in Long Beach to bring her home to Oysterville for dinner.  As always, she was delighted to see us and let herself be bundled up in rainhat and waterproof coat.

Dale Espy Little at 95

But in the few steps between the doorway and the car, as the rain pelted her from all sides, she became terrified.  She began to cry uncontrollably and we were hard pressed to get her into the car and out of the weather.  Never mind any reassuring promises and urgings on our part.  She simply could not understand that the situation would change for the better once she got into the car.  Every moment of ‘now’ was forever.  As soon as she was situated in the passenger seat, her tears stopped and she became interested in the process of getting her seat belt fastened.  Just like that!  No wailing.  No tears.  No memory of her distress.

It was a visceral realization to me that without a past, there is no future.  And when our own present becomes interminable, it behooves us to surround ourselves with sunshine and chocolates and with people we love. If we can only remember to plan ahead…

About those birds and bees — mostly bees.

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

Dale Espy – 1916

I wonder if Jimmy Kemmer knows that we were supposed to be brother and sister.  Our grandparents – mostly the women I think – had it all sorted out that Jim’s father, Roy, would marry my mother, Dale.  I don’t think romance was ever on the horizon for the two of them, though.  When they were growing up in Oysterville in the nineteen teens and twenties, mom was the tag-along tomboy and only girl out of the fourteen youngsters of about the same age.

“Thirteen boys and me!” she used to laugh. “They must have grown very tired of me tagging along!  But mostly I was included in all their adventures.”

Her most vivid memory of trying to keep up was a time when she was six or seven and the last in a long line of kids running through the woods up on the ridge (where Douglas Drive is now.)  “The boys must have disturbed a beehive along the way.  They raced by unscathed but by the time I got there, those bees were mad.  I was stung all over my face!  I ran home but I didn’t cry – not until I looked in the mirror!  I thought my face would stay that way forever!”

Dale with Jim Kemmer on her 95th Birthday – 2006

Of course, it didn’t, thanks to my grandmother’s good nursing skills and mom’s own strong constitution.  I don’t know what the common remedy for beestings was then.  Years later when my own two-year-old son was stung while we were on a picnic, we plopped a handful of cool mud on the sting and that relieved the pain, but I doubt that my grandmother plastered mom’s face with mud.  Or, come to think of it, maybe she did.  My mother grew up to be a great believer in facials.

On the subject of bees – here’s a little bit of folklore to think about from the book, Akenfield, by Ronald Blythe:  Billy was one of the old people.  The old people have gone and have taken a lot of truth out of the world with them.  When Billy died, his wife walked down the garden and told the bees and hung black crêpe on the hive.  My grandfather did this, too.  He said that if you didn’t, the bees would die as well.  Bees are dangerous to some folk and a gift to others.  You’ll get someone who’ll get stung once and perish and another who’ll get stung all over and get cured of all manner of things.  There were a rare lot of bees in the village in those days.  When they swarmed we used to all rush out into the garden with the fire-irons and scuttle and bang away; that brought them down.

Definitely food for thought.

Depending on the Kindness of Strangers

Monday, 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?

A Frazzle Dazzle One Step!

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Dale at 16, Oysterville, 1927

The use of colorful language runs in our family.  Not the colorful sort that seems to rage rampant in print and behind those bleeps on television.  I mean expressive without being offensive.  My grandfather Espy, for instance was pretty famous for never swearing but for getting his point across, nevertheless.

“Dad burn it!” I’d hear him say.  Or maybe “Dad gum it!”  and I knew he was more than a little frustrated about something.  Sometimes it was “Son of a sea cook!” or “Consarn it!” or perhaps “Ding Bust it!”  But the ultimate in epithets from Papa was “Devil!” and, lest you think those are all pretty tame, you had to be there.  As those of us who knew him well remember, those words came bursting from his mouth like thunderbolts!  Not often, but certainly memorable.

Mona at 7 or 8 — Oysterville, 1911

My mother’s colorful speech was a bit different from her father’s.  She wasn’t substituting the acceptable for the unacceptable.  Far from it.  She was simply being her usual, inimitable self.  “She just wore me to a frazzle-dazzle one step” she often said after being cornered by a particularly irksome neighbor.  Or, she was known to refer to women of questionable moral character as “woo woo girls” and when I’d asked one too many ‘why’ questions, “Why’s a hen” was the only answer she’d give me.  Or when she was wanting me to make up my own mind:  “You’re the doctor; I’m only the nurse.”

Charlie at Three – Claremont Day Nursery, 1959

Too, there were many stories about my Aunt Mona’s childhood expressions – words that became part of the family lexicon.  “I piddly stimbled!” was what we all said after almost falling down.  It must have been young Mona’s way of saying, “I practically stumbled.”  The best Mona-ism, though, is what I say to this day when I’m refusing seconds after a big dinner: “My shimmy shirt and pants are full” – Mona’s little girl understanding of the colloquialism, ‘my sufficiency is sophonsified.’

My son, Charlie, was also inventive word-wise.  He worried that the water in the bathtub might overfloat, and once commented on his well-endowed grandmother as being volumptuous.  My all-time favorite, though, was his three-year-old answer to “What do you call it when two people sing the same song at the same time?”  “A coincidence,” came his prompt reply!  Spot on, say I!

The Secrets of Old Age

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016
More Words to Live By

More Words to Live By

Now that I have reached a somewhat venerable age, people have begun to ask me what my secret is. I flatter myself into assuming that they mean I seem oh-so-much-younger than the numbers suggest – “Younger than Springtime” Gordon used to say – and, when pressed, I’ve been giving answers. Of sorts.

The other day Wayne Downing asked and I rather flippantly responded that I long ago decided to “just say yes.” That’s not altogether true, of course. The ‘deciding’ part is recent. I’ve been trying for years to learn those other words to live by: “Just say no.” What my recent decision has been is to stop fighting my natural inclination to try to do it all. It’s far easier and much more me to say “yes” to almost everything that comes along (much to Nyel’s distress, I often think.)

Along those lines, for March my lovely ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ mini-calendar says, “A person has to be busy to be alive.” It doesn’t say “and vice versa” but I’m sure it’s implied. Those of us living on the Peninsula have no trouble with busy. In fact, the opposite is true. I try to limit myself by following a self-imposed rule to accomplish three things every day – two of the maintenance sort (like do the laundry or weed a flower bed) and one brand new thing. Of course, if an unexpected opportunity comes along, I don’t limit myself to three! I just say ‘yes.’

My Role Model!

My Role Model!  Mom (at 92) with Bear.

I do believe that my mother is my Old Age Role Model. She was trying new things well into her nineties. Nyel and I came back from a trip once to see her picture in the paper under the headline “Motorcycle Grandmamas burn up the Peninsula Blacktop.” And there was mom in a motorcycle helmet hanging on to Bear and laughing in delight! What a gal!

For me, the ‘new’ thing I try to accomplish each day usually has to do with writing. (I did my motorcycle thing in my 20s and 30s.) And, no, my daily blog doesn’t count. There are some activities – like breathing and brushing teeth and a daily blog – that don’t really fall under the ‘maintenance’ or ‘new’ categories. For my friend Te, it’s walking 12,000 steps a day – it’s just what she does no matter what. As I see it, those are the ‘being alive’ trappings that don’t necessarily move things along. So just do it, shut up about it.

I think the calendar says most of it – be busy. As in keep moving forward, kind of like sharks. (Oh, wait! – That’s coming up for July. “Just keep swimming” it says.) But, I think those words to live by should include ‘meaningful’ and ‘fun,’ too. And, no, eating an extra piece of left-over birthday cake doesn’t count.

Here comes the rain!

Thursday, October 8th, 2015
Sydney in Yellow Rain Hat

Sydney in Yellow Rain Hat

Yesterday was a Yellow Rain Hat Day here at the beach. It was the first time in ages, and it felt good. It seemed forever ago since I had wakened to that familiar pitter-patter on the roof and the banging of a loose something-or-other out by the garden shed. As much as I cherish the sunshine (and miss it from my California years), rain with a bit of wind feels more like Oysterville.

The change from the 83° on our porch of a few days ago to rain with a bit of chill in the air wasn’t a surprise. It’s not only our techno-ability to get a weather forecast at the touch of a keyboard that told us the rain was coming. Those of us who have been around a while recognize a ‘weather breeder’ when it arrives. And Monday was definitely one of those! It was an unseasonably warm, windless, beautifully clear sunny day. It didn’t take a trained meteorologist to predict a change.

Dale Espy Little, The Queen of Hats, 1999

Dale Espy Little, The Queen of Hats, 1999

I was glad for the rain and glad for a chance to clap that yellow hat on my head in celebration. My mom, “The Queen of Hats” gave it to me twenty years or so ago. It was not the first hat she had given me in my lifetime, but it was the last. Not only that, it is the only hat that I have ever really liked.

As much as I loved my mom, and as much as people say I remind them of her, our interest in clothes – from hats to shoes – couldn’t have been more opposite. To her, every outfit was a “costume”; to me, clothes are more like a socially required necessity.  The yellow hat is the perfect answer to both mandates. It gets lots of compliments, fashion-statement-wise, and it serves several practical purposes – it hides my humidity-challenged hair and protects me from the onslaught of Northwest ‘precip,’ from drizzle to downpour.

Hooray for rain and for my yellow hat and for my mom!

A Date that Lives in Infamy

Sunday, December 7th, 2014

Kilroy Was HereWe are getting fewer – those of us who actually remember December 7, 1941. I was five-going-on-six and not only do I recall the date clearly but I have indelible memories of many of the peripheral things that came along with World War II – like the slogans than became part of our everyday lives and have now all but faded from memory.

In a radio broadcast to the nation on the following day, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt began his speech, Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date that will live in infamy the United States was suddenly and deliberately attacked… Soon every man, woman and child in the country was saying, “Remember Pearl Harbor” and quoting the opening phrase of FDR’s “infamy” speech.

Rosie the Riveter

Rosie the Riveter

We quickly picked up the “V for Victory” hand signal popularized by Winston Churchill and we planted “Victory Gardens” and saved our allowances to buy “War Bonds.” I wonder how much association with World War II any of those expressions have these days.

And how about “Kilroy Was Here?” I don’t remember having a clue what that meant but the Kilroy drawing and slogan popped up everywhere – the graffiti of the 1940s. Now, 70 years later, Kilroy’s origins are debated. One theory identifies James J. Kilroy, an American shipyard inspector, as the man behind the signature.

According to Wikipedia: During World War II, James worked at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts where he claimed to have used the phrase to mark rivets he had checked. The builders were paid by the number of rivets they put in. A riveter would make a chalk mark at the end of his or her shift to show where he had stopped and the next riveter had started. Dishonest riveters would erase the previous worker’s mark and chalk a new mark farther back on the same seam, giving themselves credit for part of the previous riveter’s work. Kilroy stopped this by writing “Kilroy was here” at each chalk mark. Ships were being sent out before they had been painted, and when sealed areas were opened for maintenance, soldiers found his unexplained name. Thousands may have seen Kilroy’s name on the outgoing ships and his apparent omnipresence created a legend.

Dale Espy Little. "Miss Safety" in 1944 on a PR Trip to Lockheed to promote their new P-38

Dale Espy Little. “Miss Safety of General Engineering” in 1944, on a PR trip to Lockheed to promote their new P-38

Another cultural icon popularized in the factories and shipyards, of course, was “Rosie the Riveter” who represented the nearly 19 million women who joined the work force for the first time during World War II. The name is said to be a nickname for Rosie Bonavitas who was working for Convair in San Diego, California. I always thought, of course, that Rosie was based on my mother who was a pipefitter’s helper at General Engineering in Alameda, California, and when she was chosen “Miss Safety” and was sent to Hollywood,  I was sure of it!

“Remember Pearl Harbor!” Yes, some of us still do.

Almost Three Months Early!

Friday, December 5th, 2014


December 2, 2014

December 2, 2014

Both Nyel and I remember when my mother arrived at our house on the bay clutching a bouquet of camellias just beyond bud stage – small bright blossoms full of the pink promise of spring.

“These are the first of the year,” she said. “They always come out just in time for your birthday.”

It was February 28th, probably in 1993 or 1994. My dad had died a year or two before and, though mom was in her eighties and ‘a bit forgetful,’ she was still driving, at least on the Peninsula. I remember being so touched at her thoughtfulness and, at the same time, rather surprised that she even took notice of anything in the garden. That had always been my dad’s bailiwick.

Last year in February

Last February

So, with that memory still firmly in place, it came as a great surprise to me the other day to notice that the old camellia bush by our east porch is beginning to bloom! By my count, that is almost three months early! Granted, I’ve been noticing for several years that the blossoms are now coming out before my natal day, but usually it’s a matter of days or weeks early, not months!

I expect that people will tell me that we’ve had a mild fall or that the frost came earlier than usual. Maybe they will talk about a warm weather cycle or climate change or some other complex scientific phenomena. And no doubt they will be right.

Bottom line: in this instance I really don’t care about the ‘why’ of it. I am simply delighted that there is color in the garden right outside my window and that this lovely memory of my mother hasn’t waited until my birthday to resurface. Thanks, Mother Nature, whatever your reason!

Dale’s Hat Comes Home

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
Home from Birmingham

Home from Birmingham

Yesterday I received a package by priority mail. I’d like to say “a mysterious package” but it wasn’t really. Susan Haynes had written me an email (subject line: Dale’s Hat Coming Your Way) from her home in Birmingham, Alabama that said:

Dale’s Hat” sounds like a theater production, I think! But I wanted to alert you that I have boxed up Dale’s white fur and sequined hat to return to you.
I LOVE that hat, and had so much pleasure from having it in my possession ever since the 2009 memorial service at your house, when you allowed several of us to take with us the hats we wore in honor of Dale.
But I am trying to downsize the items in my house, and I think this is one thing that I should part with and return to you.
So it’s in a box and ready to take to the post office tomorrow. This alerts you to watch for it.

So, I knew what exactly that package contained. Bit I had no idea that the hat would be nestled in a silver ‘tin box’ of exactly the right size, surrounded with tissue paper and looking as if Susan (or my mom) had just lovingly put it away until the next grand occasion!

Marta, Sydney, Susan, Katherine

Marta, Sydney, Susan, Katherine

I do have to laugh… I never expected to see that hat again. Or any of mom’s other hats. I had hung them all up along our porch and asked each of the women to wear one home. I knew I’d never wear them and I hoped some of her friends would. And besides, it was a grand way to do a bit of downsizing of my own!

This little fur and sequined number is the only one that has come home, though some of others have kept me in the loop with their shenanigans. When Bette Snyder wore her bright red picture hat to tea, I received a picture. Ditto when Barbara Christian cleverly used a pink cloche as a flower basket!

I’m thinking I should get gussied up and wear that little fur and sequined number since it went to all the trouble of coming back to Oysterville. Mom would be so pleased…