Posts Tagged ‘Family’

Many Happy Returns!

Wednesday, July 4th, 2018

When my grandfather celebrated his final birthday in 1958, he proudly declared that he and the United States had been born the very same year.  Well, he was a bit confused but, after all, what’s a century or two in the grand scheme of things?  1876 or 1776?  Either way it was a long time!  We wished him many happy returns, though we all knew it was unlikely.

I’m not sure why that scenario popped into my head this morning when I thought about this 242nd birthday of our nation.  I guess it’s the “Many Happy Returns” part.  We seem to say those words automatically, whether or not the likelihood of their coming true makes sense.  On this July Fourth, of all the 82 I’ve been privileged to celebrate, I think “Many Happy Returns” should be our mantra.  Our mantra and our prayer.

Like my beloved Papa, our nation is a little confused.  I hope we can put our collective wisdom and goodwill together and find a way to clarify our path – with justice and liberty for all!

Names, Games, and Game-Changers

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

My Great-Great Grandmother, Rachel Medora Pryor Taylor

A few years ago, I was at a dinner party and the hostess asked the group (six of us, as I remember) if we knew the maiden names of both of our grandmothers.  She and I were the only ones who did.  When it came to our great-grandmothers, I was the only one who could ‘pass the test’ – not surprising given my Uncle Willard’s lifelong interest in our family genealogy and his delight in sharing his findings with all of us.

Now that and other similar programs have become popular, I think a greater percentage of those dinner guests could probably name their most immediate forebears.  Not only that, but I imagine they might know something about those progenitors – where they lived and what they did for a living, and where they were born. If they were not born in the United States, perhaps their descendants might even know the circumstances under which they came to this country.

My Great- Great Grandmother, Sara Rand Richardson

What most of us probably wouldn’t be able to answer is whether or not our forebears entered the United States ‘legally.’   To answer that question, of course, it’s necessary to know what the immigration laws, if any, were at the time those brave souls left everything behind to begin a new life.  Or… were there any laws at all?  There weren’t always, you know.  The very first immigration law in our country was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  Since that time, there have been many quotas and rules and regulations and hoops to jump through, all depending, of course, on the political climate of the time.

These are thoughts that course through my mind every single time I hear or read the smug comments such as the one in today’s Letters to the Editor in the Chinook Observer.  It begins Once again you feature a story about the detention of an illegal alien. Just the terminology telegraphs negativity, at least to me.  My mind immediately goes to little green extraterrestrials who are up to no good.   I much prefer “undocumented immigrant” or “unauthorized immigrant” but I’m certainly not so naïve as to think changing our vocabulary on this issue will resolve any problems.

My Great-Great Grandmother, Elizabeth Carson Espy

I don’t think it would be amiss if people knew a bit about their own grands and greats and great-greats.  More importantly, they should find out the circumstances under which their own families got here (all of us, except possibly our indigenous population, originally arrived from somewhere else) and what, exactly, the immigration laws were at the time.  That would be a start, perhaps, to figuring out why we got to where we are today and how we might solve some of the immigration difficulties we are facing.

So… let’s begin.  Do you know the maiden names of your eight great-great grandmothers?

Just a Glimmer

Saturday, July 8th, 2017

Akenfield by Ronald Blythe

The blurb on the back of the book I’m reading says, “You do not hear them talking; you hear them feeling…”  I love that!  And, it’s true.  The book is Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village by Ronald Blythe.  Written in 1967 and published two years later, it is a definitive look at life in an East Anglian village at the beginning of the second half of the twentieth century.

The table of contents reveals the scope of this amazing work which catches the memories of those who grew up in the era of horses, before anything in their lives was mechanized.  The Introduction covers Population and Houses, Work in the Village, and Domesday for 1936 and 1966: the Second Agricultural Revolution.  Twenty chapters follow:

1) The Survivors; 2) God; 3) The Ringing Men; 4) To be a Farmer’s Boy?; 5) Good Service; 6) The Forge; 7) The Wheelwright; 8) The Craftsmen; 9) The School; 10) The Agricultural Training Centre; 11) Officers and Gentlemen; 12) The Orchard Men; 13) Four Ladies; 14) The Young Men; 15) The Law; 16) Limitations 17) The Vet; 18) Not By Bread Alone; 19) The Northern Invaders; 20) The Hour of Death.

There are so many unexpected bits of information in the book – probably ‘useless’ information to most but, somehow, satisfying to me who would like nothing better than to step back in time for a few days to get a greater understanding of how life was here in Oysterville long ago, in my grandfather’s childhood.  “The horses were friends and loved like men,” said one of the old Akenfield farmers.  “The ploughmen talked softly to their teams all day long and you could see the horses listening.”

H.A.Espy Children on Danny, 1924

My grandfather would have understood that.  When his last horse, Countess, died in 1944, Willard began his ‘Family Man’ column (in Good Housekeeping Magazine) by quoting Papa’s letter: “It was a relief for her to be gone,” he says (Countess was past thirty), but she wanted to live and so I wanted her to. She was the last animate tie to the old ranch, when you boys were on it with me.” Her death reminds him, he says, that he is lonesome and old.

Willard went on to say that the letter made him see a herd of four-legged ghosts – the horses Empress, Fanny and Prince, Blaze and Lassy and many of the cows as well.  He remembered that when Papa got sick and had to give up the ranch, he had kept the animals that would not sell and they had died one by one.  Countess was the last and only the summer before had become so feeble that she could not pull the harrow across the garden plot so Papa had unhitched her and pulled it himself.

I think I might have read Akenfield before – maybe thirty or forty years ago.  There are phrases and, yes, feelings (as that blurb said) that I remember.  Pleasant glimmers of a book and of a past almost remembered.

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 Voice from the Past

Saturday, June 11th, 2016


Great Aunt Susie, Cousin Sue's Grandmother

Great Aunt Susie, Cousin Sue’s Grandmother

My cousin Sue from Maryland left a message on our land line the other day.  “This is a voice from your past,” she said.  Indeed!  Sue is a second cousin on the Espy side and, except for her brother Robert who I haven’t seen or heard from in sixty years, I know Sue the least well of all my twelve second cousins.  We’ve spent (maybe) a total of ten days in one another’s company.

Mostly, that’s because of proximity or lack thereof.  Her father, Otto Finley, was in the navy and the family moved around a bit, finally settling in the D.C. area.  It wasn’t until we were both in our ‘middle years’ that Sue and I would see one another periodically at family reunions here in Oysterville.   I don’t think I even have a photograph of her but I do have one of her grandmother and she is “the spitting image” my mother always said.

The last time Sue and I visited it was on her turf – literally.  Sue is a horse woman and her days, at least then, revolved around her animals.  I think they were race horses, though I’m not altogether clear about that.  It was a lifestyle totally unfamiliar to me and I loved getting a glimpse.  I felt like I was in the middle of a Dick Frances novel.

Espy Cousins #3 circa 1918

Espy Cousins 1918

So… I was thrilled to get the call and to hear that she and a friend are wanting to come to Oysterville for a visit on Sunday.  I have my fingers crossed that it will happen but I had to leave a message when I returned her call.  “Yes!  Do come!” I said.  “And plan to stay the night!”

I’ve not heard back.  Did she even get the message?  Will she arrive on Sunday?  I wonder how my grandmother managed in those days before telephones.  I’m sure she was always prepared for a few more people at dinner.  So am I… at least for tomorrow!

On this day: thoughts of Salem Village

Friday, June 10th, 2016

Mary Towne Esty (1634-1692)

It was on this day in 1692 that the first witch was hanged in Salem Village, Massachusetts Bay Colony.  It was a Saturday – the second one in June – and was the last day of Bridget Bishop’s life. Nineteen others would be found guilty of witchcraft and executed that year.  My eight-times great-grandmother Sarah Towne Esty was one of them.  As it happens, she was the last to be hanged — on on September 22, 1692.

Sarah was 58 years old, married to Isaac Esty, a cooper, surveyor, and farmer.  She was the mother of eleven children, was noted in the community as a pious and helpful neighbor and was called “Goody (for Goodwife) Esty” by all who knew her.  In our family, she is known as ‘The Blessed Witch.’


From Mary Towne Este’s Petition

Goody Esty’s widowed husband spent the remaining years of his life petitioning for the reversal of his beloved wife’s sentence.  Finally, in 1711, the Esty family was awarded 20 pounds from the government in recompense for her “wrongful execution.”  Isaac died the following year a few months shy of his 85th birthday and, in my mind, he is ‘Blessed’ as well.

The trouble began in February 1692, when nine-year-old Elizabeth Parris and 11-year-old Abigail Williams, the daughter and niece, respectively, of the Reverend Samuel Parris, began experiencing fits and other mysterious maladies. A doctor concluded that the children were suffering from the effects of witchcraft and, with the encouragement of the doctor and their parents, the girls named those allegedly responsible for their affliction.

Julia Jefferson Espy my great grandmother; Mary Towne Esty's 5 tines great granddaughter

Julia Jefferson Espy my great grandmother; Mary Towne Esty’s 5 tines great granddaughter

There has never been a satisfactory answer to the hysteria that gripped the Puritan community of Colonial Salem during those years of the late seventeenth century.  Other “afflicted” Salem residents joined the little girls in making accusations and, in all, more than 150 women and men from Salem Village and surrounding areas were accused of satanic practices.  Of those, 19 were executed – 14 women and five men from all walks of life.  All were hanged except for one man who was crushed.

A special Court of Oyer and Terminer [“to hear and to decide”] under Chief Justice William Stoughton had been convened in June 1692 to judge the accused. Most of those tried were condemned on the basis of the witnesses’ behavior during the actual proceedings — behavior characterized by fits and hallucinations said to have been caused by the defendants on trial.

Four months later the Court of Oyer and Terminer was dissolved by the Governor of Massachusetts and replaced with the Superior Court of Judicature which forbade the type of sensational testimony used in the previous trials.   Executions ceased and those awaiting trial were released; those sentenced to death were pardoned.  The Salem witch trials had finally ended

About as Woo-Woo as It Gets!

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

IMG_0976Sixty-three years is long time to be gone from a place, especially if it’s Marin County. I left for good when I graduated from San Rafael High School and, as far as I can remember, I’ve never spent another night here. Until now.

We drove around for a while yesterday – went by the two houses I lived in here. One has been upgraded; one is now the parking lot behind the San Rafael City Hall. The high school is in the same place but is now a 33-acre campus containing seven buildings and a “gym complex” with several sports fields. It serves ‘about 1,000 students.’ That’s seven times as many buildings as in my day but only 300 more students. I wandered around until I finally found the front of the main building; it was the only part of my old alma mater that I recognized.

Goddess Marta

Goddess Marta

But it wasn’t until last night at the Corte Madera Community Center that I really felt my half-century (plus) absence. We were my step-daughter Marta’s guest at a solstice celebration. She was involved in the program – the Goddess of Capricorn. Or maybe the Goddess of Cancer. I’m not quite sure…

There was lots of music – it began with a drum circle and then there were Christmas carols set to a reggae rhythm with the words changed. We lit candles to bring good things for the coming year. We wrote what we wanted to rid ourselves of on little pieces of paper that Reverend Carol collected and made magically go up in flames. There was a bit of chanting and a fabulous slide show of heavens and stone monuments and the sun coming back to our neck of the woods.  Plus there was food (mostly vegan and gluten free) and coffee. It was more woo-woo that I can tell you.

You can’t go home again for sure. Not to Marin County, anyway. But it’s a fun place to visit…

My son, Charlie! What a guy!

Saturday, June 27th, 2015


Charlie's FB Cover

Charlie’s FB Cover

I tuned in (if that’s the right expression) to FaceBook this morning to find about a gazillion positive reactions to yesterday’s Supreme Court’s decision on the legality of gay marriage. I loved every single triumphant and joy-filled message but best of all was by my son, Charlie.

From Charlie, it wasn’t just a ‘message’ – it was his entire FB page in exuberant full color and with cartoon characters in the mix as well. His cover photo is now the rainbow flag with the peace sign on it (or is it the peace flag with the rainbow colors behind it?) and his profile shows Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd at the marriage altar.  And his text was simply a reposting of the Onion’s article headlined “Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, Alito Suddenly Realize They Will Be Villains In Oscar Winning Movie One Day.”  Wow, Charlie! You’ve managed to say it all!

Charlie's Profile Picture

Charlie’s FB Profile Picture

The only touch that could possibly have made it better might have been Pinky and the Brain at the altar, for they are the characters most associated with Charlie’s three Emmy’s – he was a writer and story editor for the show for years. But, then, I always assumed Pinky and the Brain were a couple, anyway. Not so much Elmer and Bugs – although they did have some of the love/hate characteristics of a lot of married folks I’ve known, both straight and gay.

Anyway, it did my old mom-heart good to see Charlie’s FB page bright and early this morning. Way to go, Charlie! What a guy you are! You turned out perfectly and with all the right sensibilities, if I do say so myself!

They ate the WHOLE thing?

Saturday, June 20th, 2015
Artistic Presentation by Cate

Artistic Presentation by Cate

Yesterday was the second time (in fairly close proximity) that Kuzzin Kris has arrived bearing chocolate. OMG! This time it was Scharffenberger Bombes from Papa Haydn’s in Portland. Four of them!! I repeat, OMG!

Unbeknownst to Kris, we had invited our friend Cate to join us for dinner, so the number of desserts was perfect. Doubly perfect. My plan was to cut two of them in half and serve them that way. If you’ve ever had a Scharffenberger Bombe, you’ll understand that my proposal was absolutely sensible and also generous. You could cut one into quarters and still be within the bounds of polite and reasonable!

The Direct Approach by Kris

The Direct Approach by Kris

But, when I announced my intent, the male member of our group (that would be Nyel) looked so stricken, that I relented and served each of us an entire Bombe. And, each of us got not one but two little containers of ‘drizzle’ – one of ganache and one of caramel – with which to add the appropriate garni to our plates! Cate’s was artistic; Kris just dumped both containers on top; Nyel and I just cut straight to the chase… with a spoon!

When all was said and done, Kris and Nyel were the only two who could join the Clean Plate Club. I could only manage about half and when I offered the remainder to Nyel, he actually took it and ate it with gusto! Cate also ate only half and Nyel admits this morning that he was tempted to eat the rest of hers, too. I’m quite sure that if he had done so, the title of this blog would have been “Death by Chocolate!” There is nothing (truly, NOTHING!) like a Scharffenberger Bombe when it comes to chocolate.

You could almost reach out and…

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015
Remembering BeeGee

Remembering BeeGee

It seemed as though everyone in the world had converged in Seattle this weekend to celebrate the life of BeeGee Williams Hook, my Red House Cousin who died here in Oysterville just five weeks ago. There were family members from New Mexico and California, from Idaho and Oregon. Friends came from Wisconsin and Florida and many states in between. Some of us remembered when she was born. Others met her in school or college or taught with her or were neighbors or real estate co-workers.

We began gathering yesterday in various configurations – the Williams cousins, the folks from out of the area, and probably other groups I didn’t hear about. No matter the get-together, the subject of course was BeeGee – her love of adventure, her enthusiasm, her loyalty, her love of family and her zany, quirky side that was the quintessential Beeg.

Daughters Anna, Lexie, Abby

Daughters Anna, Lexie, Abby

Today 200 (give or take) of us gathered in the Northwest Room at Ray’s Boathouse in Ballard. From nine until noon we ate and drank, laughed and cried, as we listened to speaker after speaker tell of their relationship to BeeGee and of their special memories connected with the years (many times, a lifetime) of friendship. A common thread was the stories – the BeeGee stories. Nearly everyone mentioned that she was a consummate storyteller and all also agreed that she embellished and exaggerated with gusto, never letting a few pesky facts get in the way of a great tale.  We listeners nodded and smiled and remembered Beeg’s stories with fondness.

Grandkids Gin and Kahrs

Grandkids Gin and Kahrs

Her eldest daughter, Abby, said it best. “If mom were to tell about this celebration a few weeks from now it would go something like this,” she began. “There must have been 250 or 350 people there! It was a perfect day – blue skies [it was a gray, misty curtain], and 80° out [more like 45], not a cloud to be seen [because all of Seattle was enveloped in one gigantic misty mass.] The water sparkled [Not!] and a pod of orcas frolicked right outside the window [not a whale to be seen.] The Olympics [the what?] looked like you could reach right out and touch them!…”

Later, when we were refilling our plates from the never-ending buffet, I saw Abby’s six-year-old daughter, Gin, staring out the window at the water. “I’ve been watching,” she told me, “but so far I haven’t seen a single whale.” As time passes, I’m pretty sure she’ll remember the day just as her grandmother BeeGee would have described it. We all will…