Posts Tagged ‘Espy Family’

Caught Up in The Moment

Sunday, February 17th, 2019

Willard at 20 (1930) — Family Resemblance?

Last evening Max and Micah came for dinner.  It was a momentous occasion – at least for me – and I promised myself I would take lots of pictures.  More importantly, I promised my cousin Mona, I send her some.

Did I remember to capture a moment or two?  No, not even one picture.  My camera was in my back pocket the entire evening and I never even gave it a thought! I tell myself that I was too much ‘in the moment’ which is true as far as it goes.  But, let’s face it… my memory is getting wonkier these days.  Damn!

Max is my 24-year-old first cousin twice removed.  To put him in context with Espys and Oysterville, he is Willard’s oldest great-grandson – grandson of my first cousin Mona and son of her oldest son Alex.  (If my remeberer is correct.) Micah is his beautiful girlfriend of seven years’ standing.  It was the first time we had met her and the first time we’d seen Max since he was here with his mom in 2004 for Oysterville’s sesquicentennial.

He remembers that occasion… barely.  “Something about coonskin hats, I think,” he laughed.  That triggered a memory of a picture of him and his three younger brothers – on our lawn with their mother, Kathleen.  I should have dug out the album then and there.  It might have made me think to take a picture then and there.

The Schreiber Boys and Their Mom, 2004

Max had made one other visit here with his brother Sam (the next oldest) and his dad.  They came to my classroom at Long Beach School way back in the ’90s, and Alex did a great presentation on frogs for my 1st/2nd/3rd graders.  His research (he’s a biologist/professor) had something to do with adaptation and genetics and applications for cancer research – I only remember my fascination with the idea that whatever makes a tadpole’s tail disappear when it becomes a frog could have implications in making tumors disappear.  And the fact that the kids were entranced by the slide show of ‘exotic’ frogs that could be found right here in the Northwest.  I think there were many forays out into the swampy areas of the Peninsula following that visit.

We spent last evening catching up.  I had no idea that Max had gone to the “U” and that he is a computer game designer and works for a small company in the Kirkland area.  Or that he’s a percussionist.  Or that his brother Sam is a fine jazz/blues musician and has just completed an extensive interview process with Google.  Or that his brother Jack, a senior in high school, has been accepted into the army’s cybersecurity program.  Or that the youngest brother, Ben, is the one who Max thinks will become an attorney.

Ben, Max, Sam, Jack — 2016

And Micah?  A yoga instructor as well as a para-professional in a self-contained classroom for middle-schoolers with special needs. She is itching to get out of the city and back to a rural area – more reminiscent of the farm she grew up on.  She LOVES to work in the garden which she misses in the small apartment where they live.  Needless to say… they have a standing invitation to Oysterville!  “I can hear the garden calling you already, Micah!” I told her.

Now, if we can just arrange for peaceful co-existence between their rescue puppy Shanti and our chickens…

Listening in Our Stairwell

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2019

I wonder how many times I’ve said, “If only these walls could talk.”  And yet… they do.  Not the walls, perhaps, but the likenesses of the many people who have lived within them over the years.  Or, in some cases, people who have visited or who have made a difference in our lives.  Sometimes they murmur, sometimes they call out, occasionally they scold or congratulate.

It’s in our stairwell that I hear their voices most clearly.  It’s where so many of our family pictures have been hung – “The Portrait Gallery” David Campiche once called it.  He had Laurie photograph me standing on the stairs with the pictures in the background for an article he did about me in Coast Weekend once. (Actually, it was mostly about my redoubtable Uncle Willard – perhaps that’s who David heard talking that day of the interview…)

The Portrait Gallery (or “Wall of Ancestors” or “Display of the Dead” as some have called it) was begun by my parents when they lived in the house.  So much wall space!  So many photographs!  It seemed a natural.  But they went up in a rather helter-skelter fashion, so when Nyel and I entered the picture (so to speak) and my OCD proclivity kicked in, we reorganized them.

The Oldest H.A. Espy Children – Medora and Albert, 1904

Now, at the bottom of the stairwell are my grandparents (since they were the first family members to live in the house) and proceeding upwards are their children, oldest (Medora) to youngest (Dale, my mother).  Spouses and progeny are included along the way and at the top is me and then in the upstairs hallway, Charlie.  I’ve never done a careful count, but I think there are between 75 and 100 in all.  They vary from formal studio portraits to candids.  Frames are varied, sizes disparate, and probably all need attention by a feather duster.

The Youngest of the H.A. Espy Children — Dale in a P-38 – at Lockheed on a PR Tour for General Engineering Shipyards, 1944

The scary part, as I am wont to tell people, is that I ‘know’ almost all of them – even those who died long before I was born.  I not only know who they are and how they are related, I know their stories and the skeletons in their (maybe our) closets.  Not only do they talk to me, I talk to them, as well.  I miss those I knew and lament the ones I didn’t know and wish for more chances to visit in person with those who are still among us but far away.

Whether going up and down the stairs or simply standing at either end, it’s an area to linger, to reminisce, and to be thankful that our walls (and their denizens) do, indeed, talk!

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.