Posts Tagged ‘Espy Family’

Bracelets, Belts, and Knights of Old

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Sydney’s Many Charms

The Ronco Family – Abby and Dan with Virginia (Gin), 8, and Silas (Si), 10, — came by last night dispensing hugs and laughter and family news in equal measures.  They are among our many Oysterville Red House cousins and it’s not very often that we get to see them on their home turf (Seattle, not the hospital).  Usually, our visits occur in Oysterville and we see them the most often of any of ‘the relatives.’

While Ab and Dan caught up with Nyel, my charm bracelet caught the attention of the kids.   Si was interested in the gold content of the charms – what did fourteen-carat mean anyway? and was the gold nugget from the Yukon pure gold or not.  Questions I had a fairly tough time answering right off the cuff, so to speak, but not nearly as difficult as the questions posed by Gin.

Chastity Belt Charm

In her typically thorough style, Gin went charm by charm, wanting to know what each was, where it came from and, sometimes, why I chose it.  When we got to the pissoir I was hard-pressed to explain, even though Gin has spent time in France and even in Paris, I think.

Pissoirs, of course, are long gone and I had to compare them with porta-potties, but for men only.  I told her how men could see over the ‘privacy wall’ and often doffed their hats to passing ladies as they were relieving themselves. She responded with a semi-smile and a shrug — “It must have been a guy thing,” she seemed to say.


But, her questions about that bit of ancient history paled before those about the chastity belt.  “A belt?  How did you wear it?”  She saw how it could go around your waist “but where did this part go?”

“Your crotch,” chimed in her mom, at that point.  “Why?” both kids asked.  “So you couldn’t have sex,” was Abby’s answer.  “But what was the hole for?” asked Si.  “So the lady could pee,” answered Dan.

The conversation continued long enough for us to cover how the chastity belt was attached (“locked or welded” said Abby) and when they were used (“during the Crusades” said I). But Ab said they’d reserve the big “why” question for car talk on the way home.  I wish I’d have been along on that ride! I think I’d have learned a lot about good parenting in the 21st century – effortless with love, laughter and straightforward information.  Was I ever that smart with my own kids?

Would Julia have considered it a sin?

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

Julia Jefferson Espy c. 1895

All evidence I have is that my great-grandmother Julia was a God-fearing woman.  To the max.  She was raised a Methodist but was duly baptized (in the bay, I think) into her husband Robert’s faith after they were married.  She went to church every Sunday and was, for years, the clerk of the Oysterville Baptist congregation.  Her letters to her children were full of prayerful admonitions like “Keep yourself pure, do not ever listen to vile conversation, but remember your body is the temple of the Living God…” which she wrote in 1892 to her 16-year-old son Harry (who would one day be my grandpa).

So, yesterday, as I sat in Vespers having a rip-roaring, glorious time listening to Double J and the Boys, I wondered… Would Julia have considered my enjoyment of their rollicking, secular music, a sin?  I’d like to think not, but I’m unsure.  The only evidence I have about how she might have felt concerning music comes from one of her son Harry’s early memories:

Judy Eron, 1971

From 1878 to 1880 Reverend W.F.M. James, with his home in Centralia (then ‘Centerville’) was pastor, making his quarterly trip by trail up the Chehalis valley, down the Willapa by horseback, and by boat to Oysterville, taking three days for the trip.  As though it were yesterday I can remember his taking from his saddlebags several copies of Gospel Hymns No. 1, passing them out, and illustrating the new ‘swing’ of the tunes, which by many were considered then as too giddy for church.  I, less than four years old, always called for “Pull for the Shore Sailor” and “Onward Christian Soldiers” because they had more ‘go’ than those the grownups thought rather too fast.

Double J and the Boys, 2016

Perhaps if her young son felt comfortable calling for the hymns with “more go,” Julia was inclined to be tolerant concerning ‘appropriate’ music for singing on Sundays.  Of course, that was in the days well before the Oysterville Church was built and the Baptists were still meeting at R.H. and Julia’s home.  Who knows what she would have thought of today’s selections!  But I’d be the first to tell her that my absolute hands-down favorite was “Sharp Snappy Snake Boots” – with or without her approval!

Great Aunt Verona

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

Mossy Marker

As I scrubbed the moss from her gravestone, I idly wondered if everyone had a ‘Great Aunt Verona’ – a forebear shrouded in mystery, beloved yet not much talked about.  She was the eighth and youngest of R.H. and Julia Espy’s children, and although my mother and her brothers and sisters remembered her, no one spoke about her much.

She was born in 1889 here in Oysterville, as far as I know an unremarkable birth.  She was named Ida Laura Verona and, although her mother referred to her in letters to the older children as “Laura,” the rest of the family always called her Verona.  Only the name ‘Verona Espy’ appears on the tombstone that was placed over her grave in 1923 – perhaps because her mother was no longer living and couldn’t have her say. I don’t really know.

Aunt Verona – c. 1900

The references to her in that early correspondence indicate that she was a spirited little girl, perhaps slow to talk or to pronounce words correctly.  One of the family stories concerns three-year-old Verona and her older sisters meeting their mother at the train in Nahcotta.   Julia had been in Portland for a few weeks and Verona apparently was quite upset that she came home in a new “set.”  A year or so later, Julia wrote to the older children, “Ida says to tell you that she can now say “dess” instead of “set.”

When Julia died (at 49 of a cerebral hemorrhage) in 1901, Verona moved to Portland with her twenty-three-year-old sister Susie.  From that time on she lived with one of her sisters or with other relatives and grew progressively worse from a disease which was subsequently described as “similar to multiple sclerosis.”  In later years, she lived with a companion/nurse and, as far as I can tell from contemporary correspondence, was doted on by family and friends.  I want to make some Butter Scotch for Verona, as she is so fond of homemade candy and does not get any, my grandmother wrote in 1908.  And another time, Remember to send Verona a card.

At The Oysterville Cemetery

There was more moss on Verona’s stone than on any of the others.  The logical reason is that her grave is the most northerly in the Espy lot and is often shaded by the stand of spruce trees nearby.  But, as I peeled back the soft, encroaching layers to reveal the lettering on the old grave marker, I couldn’t help but think that it was wrapping Verona’s memory in a protective layer – much as the family safeguarded and nurtured her when she was living.  I had mixed feelings about leaving the gravestone bright and shiny…

Of bonnets and bunnies and Easter bounty…

Sunday, April 16th, 2017

Easter Sunrise

This morning’s sunrise over the bay was a gentle glow, not a spectacular splash like sometimes.  The new flags in the churchyard waved in a breeze that promised one of those ‘variable days’ weather-wise for this Easter Sunday of 2017.  A veritable hang-onto-your-hat day during that imaginary Easter Parade at the Beach.

At least, I think it’s imaginary.  Although the Easter Parade still happens in New York and in many other cities besides, it’s one festival I’ve never heard of here at the beach. Church services and clam digs and egg hunts, yes.  But no Easter Parade.  Probably the iffy-ness of Eastertime weather is the reason.

Churchyard, Easter 2017

Now that there aren’t any regular services in the Oysterville Church – not since the 1930s my mother said – and nothing special planned for Easter, we won’t even get the pleasure of seeing a procession of fancy hats going past our house for a service.  Not that most women actually wear hats anymore – not even to church.  Every once in a while, someone wears a hat to our Music Vespers services in the summer and I always hope it’s a fashion statement that will make a resurgence.  So far, though… not so much.

However, I’m happy to say that my cousins at the Red House are planning a little egg-hunt-around-town for later today.  Our girls in the coop even contributed some of eggs to that endeavor – three brown eggs collected by eight-year-old Ginger first thing Friday morning!

Oysterville Bounty!

Like her mom Abby, her late grandma Beeg, and her (before-she-was-born) great-grandma Barbara, Gin is one of the ‘visiting’ cousins.  I’m never quite sure if it’s the chickens or her elderly cousins she really wants to see, but she never fails to ring the bell, accept our invitation to come into the house and then sit in the library for ‘a good and proper visit’ before she checks the nest boxes at the coop!  What a gal!

As for Easter Dinner… we’ve been invited out!  “We’ll start with oysters, hors d’oeuvres, bubbles and bloodies” wrote our host, and then proceed to a meal “loosely based on the Easter feasts I remember growing up, but with about four fewer courses.”

I can’t wait!

Only in Extremis

Monday, November 14th, 2016

plimptonThey say “never say never” so I’ll say “only in extremis (feet first) or in the wake of a disaster (a tsunami)” would I move away from Oysterville. Maybe the word “willingly” should be in there somewhere.

Those thoughts occur to me periodically and, I have to say, oftener as I age.  It’s not just the thing about proximity of medical assistance and convenient transportation that are siren calls to move away from the isolation of our rural area.  There are all those day-to-day difficulties that crop up as we slowly lose our independence.  Getting someone to do the heavy lifting, change the lightbulbs in the fixtures on our eleven-foot ceilings, get down on hands and knees in the garden (and to scrub the shower stall, for that matter.)

Freddy Modeling Paris Review T-Shirt, 1960s

Freddy Modeling Paris Review T-Shirt, 1960s

And then there are the daily irritants such as not having enough oomph or whatever they call it to be able to stream Netflix on our TV.  So we get our DVDs the old-fashioned way and, even though they come within two days, we’ve often lost interest or don’t have time or whatever…

So it was last night that we finally saw “Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself.”  It’s been sitting on the shelf near our DVD player for six months.  At least.  And before that it had malingered in my Netflix queue for maybe a year.  I think I’d ordered it shortly after my cousin Freddy’s death in February 2015.  I knew there were clips of her in the film and I hadn’t seen her for ten years or so.  I felt the need.

Freddy was George’s first wife and also the mother of his oldest children, Medora and Taylor.  It had been even longer since I had seen them and their appearances in the film were an extra bonus.  Even their grandfather (my uncle) Willard showed up in one scene.  It was lovely to see them and to feel a reconnection (of sorts.)

Freddy and Sydney at 1947 Fiftieth Anniversary of their Grandparents

Freddy and Sydney at 1947 Fiftieth Anniversary of their Grandparents, the H.A. Espys

I wondered if I’d have felt any more pleasure from the film had I been able to stream it live a year and a half ago.  Probably not.  And surely not worth the tradeoff of living in the speedy hustle-bustle of the big city (or even five miles south where CABLE is available) rather than in slow-time Oysterville. At least that’s my current thinking.

Thank you again, Virginia!

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016
The Keith Jone Family, 1947 - Virginia, Kathy, Kris (in front), Keith, Bruce

The Keith Jone Family, 1947 – Virginia, Kathy, Kris (in front), Keith, Bruce

Kuzzin Kris Jones has been going through her mother’s things – the sad but necessary activity by a loving and dutiful daughter following her mother’s death. Virginia Williams Jones (variously known as ‘Virginia,’ ‘Ginger,’ and ‘Gin’) died three years ago at the venerable age of 97.  As you might expect, considering her advanced years, she left behind a lot of “stuff” – quality stuff, for she was “a watercolor painter, a pianist, bridge player and much more.  Hers was a full life with humor and a keen intelligence” according to her obituary in the Portland Oregonian and, more importantly, according to all of us who knew and loved her.

Plus, she was born and raised in Ilwaco and remained in close contact with the Peninsula for her entire life.  After all, as my grandfather often said, the Williams family are related to almost everyone on the beach!  Among the treasures that Kris has come across are bits and pieces of both Williams and Ilwaco history.  Some things have gone to the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum and some have come to me!

"Ilwaco's Early Finns"

“Ilwaco’s Early Finns”

Among those items that I have happily received is a charming booklet called “Ilwaco’s Early Finns, Pacific County Washington.”  It was published by the Finnish American Historical Society of the West in January 1992 and contains reprints of many old photographs and recollections by old-timers of the early days in Ilwaco.

Among the articles, for instance, is one titled “Aksel Seaborg, Ilwaco’s Entrepreneur Finn” with a photograph of him – a handsome, bearded man who had changed his name from Sjöborg shortly after arriving in Astoria in 1873.  He was the founder of the Aberdeen Packing Company – the first salmon cannery on Ilwaco’s docks.  Here at the Peninsula’s north end he is remembered as the founder of the short-lived community Sealand which was on the other side of the tracks (literally) from Nahcotta.

An article of particular interest to me, though, is called “Going to School in Ilwaco.”  It begins, “The first public school in Ilwaco was built in 1882…” and continues with a fascinating history of the many schools that pre-dated the present-day Hilltop School and the (fairly recent) Ilwaco High School.  Much of it was ‘new’ information to me!

In fact, the 48-page booklet is chock-a-block full of great stuff and I am not only thankful to Kris for thinking of me when she ran across it, but also I’m grateful once again to Virginia for her love of Ilwaco history and for saving this particular treasure.  Some years ago, she had shared a memoir that she had written at age 80 when she was immobilized with a broken ankle.  She called it “Gin’s Tonic” and generously allowed me to edit the material for the Summer/Fall 2007 Sou’wester. So… for all of this and so much more, thanks again, Virginia!


Papa, My Bull Moose Grandfather

Friday, July 29th, 2016
Papa's Souvenir Bookmark

Papa’s Souvenir Bookmark

On June 22, 1912 my grandfather wrote home from Chicago:  The convention is over – or maybe I should say conventions are over – and both Taft & Roosevelt are nominated.  I had a hand in the latter but none in the former.

H. A. Espy — “Senator Espy” to his Pacific and Wahkiakum County constituents, “Harry”to his friends, and simply “Papa” to his seven children – had been an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention.  It was at that convention that Teddy Roosevelt tried, but failed, to win the presidential nomination and, in consequence, founded his own party, the Progressive, so-called “Bull Moose” Party.  Papa was a Bull Mooser.

I couldn’t help thinking about Papa last night as I watched the balloons and confetti rain down on Hillary Clinton after her acceptance of the Democratic nomination for President.  The differences between Papa’s situation in 1912 and mine in 2016 couldn’t be more extreme and yet it was the similarities – especially the ones that didn’t happen – that I thought about.

Senator H. A. Espy, 1912

Senator H. A. Espy, 1912

As a Bernie supporter, I held out a faint hope that he, like Teddy Roosevelt of Papa’s time, would somehow be nominated, possibly right along with Hillary, as Roosevelt was with Taft.  But, as pleasing as Roosevelt’s nomination was to his Bull Moose followers, it was that split among Republicans that enabled the Democrats to win both the White House and a majority in the Congress that year.

All these years later, Sanders knew better and, no doubt, took a lesson from history.  His goal, was to unify, not split, the Democratic Party and so he and his followers remained on the convention floor last night.  “Never Trump” said the signs; “Hold your nose and vote for Hillary — and hold her feet to the fire,” said one of the delegates.

Last Night at the DNC

Last Night at the DNC

I wonder what Papa would have said, had he been watching the convention with us last night.   Just like in 1912, he’d have seen history being made but also, perhaps, he would have had some words of wisdom about historic lessons learned.  I wish I could have that conversation with him.

Labor Day Weekend 2018

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016
Cousiin Barrett

Third Cousiin Four Times Removed, Barrett Gwinn

The  next Kearnes/Gwinn/Espy Reunion seems to be headed west for Oysterville!  Tentative Target Date: Labor Day Weekend 2018.   It’s possible that it will coincide and overlap with the with the 74th (I think) Annual Williams Reunion (which also includes Espys) traditionally held on Labor Day Sunday, sometimes in Oysterville, as well.  It could be the sinking of the little historic village on the bay!

Typically, the Kearnes/Gwinn/Espy group numbers 85 or miore!  The Williams could number about as many which would bring the total to about ten times the usual Oysterville population.  I’m not sure, though, if it will be the Red House Williams’ turn to host that year — they move around from place to place.  There are Williamses who live in nearly every Peninsula community from Ilwaco to Oysterville and take on the hosting duties by turns.

Marilyn with Harry ‘Buck’ Espy, Third Cousin Twice Removed

I talked with third cousine twice removed (maybe) Buck Espy about the possibikity today.  He’s my senior by three and a half years,  “Do you think we’ll still be around” I asked.

“Sure,” he answered.  “One way or another!”  I wasn’t sure just what that meant and decided I wouldn’t go there.  Instead, we laughed and promised that we’d try to get our kids to join the fun, too.  With two whole years to work on it, we might have a chance at success!


Where have all the flowers gone?

Saturday, May 28th, 2016
Memorial Day 2009 - Oysterville Cemetery

Memorial Day 2012 – Oysterville Cemetery

There’s something ironic about not having flowers in the garden ready-for-the-picking on this particular weekend of the year.  Today (the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend) is traditionally the day we take flowers to the cemetery.  For the first time in the thirty-eight years I’ve been decorating our family’s graves, we have no flowers in the garden.  None.

Not that they’ve “gone to young girls, every one.”  Not like in Pete Seeger’s lyrics.  They have simply finished their blooming several weeks earlier than usual.  And now we are hard pressed to find anything at all beyond greenery.  And, believe me, our cemetery has plenty of that already.  In fact, it’s the splash of color midst all the evergreens on “Decoration Day” that makes the statement of remembrance special.

I took a walk around the garden yesterday, stewing about the dilemma.  Should we actually go and buy flowers?  It seemed wrong somehow.  Like commercializing the day.  Bad enough that we’ve managed to take spirit out of every other holiday we celebrate.  Somehow, this one day of remembrance should be honored with a little effort and ingenuity – not by throwing money at it.

"That Bush"

“That Bush”

And then my eyes fixed themselves on “that bush.”  We don’t know what it is.  It grows just at the southeast corner of the house.  It’s been there all my life.  I’ve always thought that my grandmother planted it in the 1920s but it could have been planted by Tom Crellin and his wife back in the 1870s.  Or maybe even by a Baptist preacher back when this was the parsonage.  The defining thing about it right this minute is that it’s yellow.  Bright lemony yellow!  The only spot of non-green in our garden.

I’ve been thinking for some time that we really need to trim “that bush.”  What could be better than to arrange the trimmings in our Memorial Day containers and take that bit of sunshine up to the Espy family plot?  So… that’s the plan for this afternoon.  “Gone to graveyards, everyone”…

But what would the chickens say?

Sunday, March 13th, 2016
Yesterday on Facebook

Yesterday on Facebook

The suggestion on FaceBook that some branch of the military make Bernie an honorary colonel seemed perfect to me – not even a joke. I asked General Nyel of The Honorary Oysterville Militia (THOM) what he thought and he checked the hat box. Yep! There it was! The Colonel’s hat waiting for occupancy!

Readers may remember that THOM was organized at the time of Oysterville’s Sesquicentennial in 2004. It was Nyel’s idea that the village should have a cannon to replace the one that was used here in the early days on ceremonial occasions.

General Nyel

General Nyel

According to all accounts, R. H. Espy (who had been accorded the rank of Major in the briefly formed Oysterville Militia of 1855) donned top hat and linen waistcoat to give the starting signal for the Oysterville Regattas. It is also duly recorded that sometime in the ‘80s (the 1880s, that is) a few of the celebrants got a bit overly enthusiastic one night, loaded the cannon with too much black powder, and blew it to smithereens. Years later (like about a century) Pete Heckes found a part of that cannon down on Oysterville’s waterfront and, for a time, it was mounted on the hood of his pickup.

Ready for Bernie?

Ready for Bernie?

Well… these days cannons are expensive, so we formed The Honorary Oysterville Militia and offered friends and family the opportunity to buy commissions. We raised enough money to purchase an 1842 replica of a mountain howitzer and have it shipped from the factory in Coolville, Ohio. It, like its long-ago predecessor, is fired only on ceremonial occasions and only with blank charges.

Never mind that Major Espy and most of the other movers and shakers of 160 years ago were probably political opposites of today’s Democrats, not to mention the more progressive party representatives. And the entire fast food bucket thing would be completely lost on them. Time marches on, as they say. Making Bernie an honorary colonel in THOM seems too fine an opportunity to pass up. Colonel Sanders of The Honorary Oysterville Militia! Perfect!

But what would the chickens think? General/Farmer Nyel has it on his agenda for today’s roll call.