Posts Tagged ‘Espy Family’

Thanksgiving 1947 – History Remembered

Thursday, November 22nd, 2018

1947 Golden Wedding Thanksgiving

My grandparents were married on November 25th – Thanksgiving Day – 1897.  I was lucky enough to be among the celebrants for their Golden Wedding Anniversary fifty years later, in 1947.  I don’t remember now whether we celebrated on their actual anniversary or on Thanksgiving which, that year, was on November 27th.  Or, in the interest of family members getting to Oysterville for the grand occasion, perhaps it was on the Saturday just before or just after the holiday.  I don’t remember.

Helen Richardson, November 25, 1897Saturday just before or after the holiday.  I don’t remember.

I do know that the time and place of their 1897 wedding had to be changed at the last minute.  They were scheduled to have a large church wedding in Oakland, California where my grandmother had grown up and where the young couple had met at California College a few years beforehand.  But young Helen’s mother became very ill at the last minute, and the church plans were cancelled.  The wedding took place at my great-grandmother’s bedside on Thanksgiving Day.  I’m not sure if that was before or after the originally planned date.

Fifty years later, all of their surviving siblings and spouses plus their four surviving children and spouses, plus many of their grand nieces and nephews, plus most of their seven grandchildren, plus a few close family friends, gathered at the Moby Dick Hotel in Nahcotta.  It was the only venue at the north end of the Peninsula large enough for the celebratory dinner.  I don’t remember much about it except that I was placed next to my grandmother at the table and I felt almost like the guest of honor, myself.

50th Wedding Anniversary Celebrants

I also remember that my cousin Freddy was the only one of Willard’s four little girls to attend.  She sat across from me, next to our grandfather.  Her three sisters were all home with the measles (I think. It might have been mumps or chicken pox.)  As I look at those pictures now, it saddens me to realize that I am the only one still living – even darling Freddie is gone.

The H.A. Espys On Their Fiftieth – 1947

I wouldn’t trade my years and my memories for anything.  I am thankful for all of it.  Even for the realization that this, then, is another of what my mother called, “the secrets of old age.”  If you live long enough, there is no one who left to share your memories.  I guess the flip side is that there’s no one to contradict your version of the events – the revisions of that 1947 Thanksgiving will be left to history.  Just like the corrections that are being made now to the very first Thanksgiving in 1620… but that’s another history lesson altogether.

Or is that an oxymoron?

Thursday, September 27th, 2018

Reference Books

One of my go-to places when researching local history is the two-volume set of books, History of Pacific Northwest: Oregon and Washington that sit on one corner of our library mantle.  They were published by the Northwest History Company of Portland, Oregon, in 1889 and, together, weigh 19 pounds.  Not that you can learn about the past by the pound, mind you, but they are certainly impressive, beginning with their size!  They belonged to my great-grandfather R.H. Espy.

One of the reasons for my frequent visitations to these tomes is their abundance of illustrations.  Beautiful lithographs, mostly of people but, also, of notable places, can be found every few pages.  Unfortunately, they are not indexed nor is the artist credited.  Looking for the likeness of a specific person requires a page-by-page search – a time-consuming operation which I usually undertake as a last resort.

Fabric Swatch

During a recent perusal for information about an early resident of Washington Territory, I ran across a swatch of fabric tucked between the pages of Volume II.  A scarlet and white checked pattern, perhaps from a woman’s dress or skirt. My first thought was of my great-grandmother Julia’s wedding dress.  Her wedding photograph, of course, is in black and white but, for whatever reason, I’ve always thought that the color was red.

Somehow, it made sense to me that she might have saved a bit of the fabric.  They were married in 1870 and, in the thrifty was of our pioneer forebears, it is likely that she saved any left-over fabric or even remade her wedding dress for her own use or for one of the children.  I know for a fact (well… as factual as family lore can be) that after nineteen-year-old Julia had said “yes” to Mr. Espy’s marriage proposal, she finished out her teaching contract at the Oysterville School and went home to Salem “to sew up the family” for her impending wedding.  That was her responsibility as the eldest of Delos Jefferson’s eight children.  (Her mother, Matilda, “remained unbalanced” after the loss of two young daughters to diphtheria within two days of one another.)

Julia Jefferson Espy on her wedding day, 1870

Julia’s wedding photograph shows her in a checked dress – probably made for the occasion but, possibly, simply her best dress which was the still customary attire for many brides in those days.  (Dressing brides in a special gown of white did not become de rigueur until sometime after the Civil War here in America; in the American West practicality overrode fashion for some years after that.)

But, when I checked the fabric against the photograph, I realized that the pattern was much smaller and more delicate than young Julia’s wedding dress.  And, then, in one of those déjà vu moments, I remembered that I had “discovered” this fabric swatch once before and replaced it for someone else to find someday.  In all, I prefer to think of this “re-discovery” as a sort of oxymoron rather than a failing of my aging mind.  Or… is it possible to really discover the same thing twice?

Not only had he been to Oysterville, but…

Saturday, February 24th, 2018

In Seattle Yesterday – Definitely Fake Sky

It was about three o’clock yesterday when the doctor came in to talk to us before Nyel’s ‘procedure’.  We were back at the University of Washington Medical Center, this time for a long-planned implant of a cardio mems into Nyel’s heart.

“It’s essentially an antenna,” said the doctor.  “It has no battery, no moving parts, nothing to go wrong.  It will stay with you forever.”  In conjunction with the pillow-like device (in its own rolling suitcase) that Nyel will rest against each morning, the CardioMems device will send information back to his doctor in Seattle concerning the pressures in his heart.  It’s a way to keep track of his congestive heart failure without those frequent trips to the hospital – a management-by-long-distance-method.  Or so we all hope.

The doctor had a sample one to device to us and explained how it would be inserted into an artery in Nyel’s heart.  They would go in through the right side of his neck and the device would be placed in an artery on the back of the left side of his heart.  The process would take about 45 minutes.  No anesthetic required; just a bit of numbing at the insertion site.  Wow!

CardioMEMS Sensor


“Will I be able to drive afterwards?” Nyel asked.  “Sure,” said the doctor.  “Where do you live?”

Usually, we respond “the Long Beach Peninsula.”  We’ve found that people from the big city are more likely to have heard of the general area – not necessarily our little corner of it.  But for some reason I said “Oysterville” and Dr. Wood’s eyes lit up.  “Have you been there?” I chanced.  “Actually, yes,” he said “a friend of mine has a house there.”  And I thought to myself, “Probably not.  Probably out in Surfside.”

Dr. Gregory Wood

Imagine my surprise when he said his friend was named Lexie.  “Lexie Hook Bemis?”  I asked.  “Yes,” he said.  “Brock and I were colleagues.”  We chatted then about my Red House Cousins, their wedding at Timberline Lodge (which we found we had all attended back in 2007), and how the Bemis family had moved to Sun Valley a few years back. And how things weren’t the same anymore.

It was one of those small world moments to the max.  There’s nothing like a shared memory to make you feel bonded – unless it might be having someone look (literally) right into your heart!  Wow!  What a world we live in!

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.