Posts Tagged ‘Willard Espy’

Our Cemetery on Davis Hill

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

“Oystervile Cemetery Sketches” by Marie Oesting

In yesterday’s Observer under “Dispatch Reports” is this small item:
“Aug. 13 — At 8:47 a.m. it was reported that an older woman had been missing since 7 p.m. the night before.  At 8:52 a.m. she was found at the Oysterville Cemetery.  She had allegedly fallen and broken her hip and had been outside all night.”

I spoke about that report to a few folks here in town but no-one had heard anything about the situation — not about an overnight guest in the cemetery, not about an alleged broken hip, and not about an older woman who had gone missing the night of August 12th.  In addition to concern for this unknown woman, my thoughts went to my Uncle Willard Espy and his relationship to our quiet old resting place on Davis Hill.

Willard Espy, Raconteur

In his book Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village, Willard wrote: When I visit Oysterville now, my first impulse is to stop by the cemetery on the ridge, where through a hole among the spruce trees I can watch the slow breathing of the bay, six hours in and six hours out.  I pause by the gravestones — of grandpa and grandma and Aunt Kate; of papa and mama; of Nahcati and nameless sailors whose bodies washed ashore long ago; and I feel very much at home.

“Skulduggery on Shoalwater Bay” by Willard R. Espy

That was written in 1976.  Some twenty years later he wrote Skulduggery on Shoalwater Bay (Whispered Up from the Graves of the Pioneers) — a book of poetry in which the speakers, long buried in our cemetery, tell of their lives during the early days of Pacific County.  A fabulous book with an unusual presentation of our local history.

Now, of course, Willard, himself, is among his beloved family members in the Espy plot.  I couldn’t help wondering if the unfortunate woman who spent the night up there had been favored with a conversation with Willard.  Or, for that matter, with any of the other denizens who rest on Davis Hill.


Wednesday, February 6th, 2019

We watched the State of the Union address last night.  I had vowed I wouldn’t, but then… thought I “should.”  I had told myself I would remain silent throughout.  Promise broken in the first five minutes.  I told myself I’d stay seated – or at least in the room. Promise broken many times over.  Couldn’t stick it.  I vowed I would be attentive.  Vow broken – or at least I think it was.  Certainly, I’m very fuzzy about most of what was said.  Trump seemed to be taking credit for D-Day…  Huh?

I do remember a couple of my reveries, though.  One was about the two old guys who were holocaust survivors.  Judah Samet is two years younger than I; Joshua Kaufman, six years older. I remember the newsreels we saw after the war – I was nine when the war ended and, although my folks still monitored which movie I could go to – no violence, sex, or other inappropriate stuff – I don’t think they thought much about the Pathé News that always accompanied the main feature. The 1922/1945 newsreel images of the holocaust victims and their liberation remain clear in my mind to this day.  Mr. Trump, of course, hadn’t been born yet.  And his point was…Huh?

Louise and Willard Espy, Oysterville 1981

As I listened to the summary of our economy (“never been better”) my concentration wandered again.  This time, I went back to the 1970s or so.  I don’t remember who was running for President, but whoever it was had decided that a good ploy would be to get acquainted with “the common man” – you know, people like us.  Louise Espy, Willard’s (third and final) wife saw something about the plan in the New York Times and wrote a letter to the editor (somewhat scathing, as I recall) essentially saying, “Yeah!  Right!” and offering to host the Presidential hopeful at their NY apartment.

Much to everyone’s surprise, she was soon notified, “Game on!”  She and Willard were vetted by the FBI, as was their apartment building, their friends and associates etc. etc.  They passed all the background checks with flying colors, Louise was sent a list of requirements (type of mattress acceptable, food allergies and so on), the date was set, arrangements were made for nearby accommodations for security personnel and on and on.  Louise had the carpet cleaned, hired a bevy of housecleaners, laid in special wines and, in general, upgraded their “common folks” surroundings” big time.  Two or three days ahead of the big sleepover, the candidate’s schedule changed and it was the end of the story.

By the time that reverie was over, the focus had shifted.  And I was in the kitchen fixing a snack.  Best to eat those comfort foods while I can still afford them, eh?

Thanks a lot, Maggie!

Monday, April 30th, 2018

Everyone needs a good friend like Maggie.  I mean that sincerely.  Maggie is my best ever cheerleader when it comes to writing.  And she is my best tell-it-like-it-is critic.  Besides all that, she knows of what she speaks.

Maggie is an author and an editor.  She’s been in the book business for thirty (or maybe forty) years.  She’s worked in publishing houses in New York and she is ‘connected’ (as they say) with agents and editors and movers and shakers of all descriptions.  So, when she asked to read my “Willard Book” as I’ve come to calling it, I was delighted, if a bit intimidated.

The book is on hold.  I thought it was finished five years ago – at least finished enough to send it to WSU Press as a possible companion book to Dear Medora.  Not interested came the reply.  I’d like to say it’s because they have a new editor now, but in my heart of hearts I know that the book is not ‘there yet.’  As is often the way, though, other things have taken precedence and I never seem to get back to Willard.  Not seriously.


Willard at Work, 1

When I do look at it, I get caught up in its… morass, for lack of another word.  It’s full of family and secrets and stories that only I know.  But my voice isn’t clear; Willard’s is clearer.  It’s not the book I have in my head and it doesn’t do the book in my heart justice.  I know that.  So, even though it was with some fear and trepidation, I entrusted this rejected version to Maggie and, amazingly, she read every word.  Yesterday she came over to talk about it.

Like the good cheerleader that she is, she began by saying, “You are a good writer, Sydney.”  The next sentence, though, is the one that counted.  “You’re better than this.”  And she tapped the pages of notes she had written.  Chapter-by-chapter notes taken as she (probably) slogged through my manuscript.  I loved her approach, of course, but the main part that I heard was – re-think and re-write.  And I knew she was right on the mark.  She said the words that I have been refusing to formulate for five years or more.

It didn’t even occur to me to respond, “Easy for you to say.”  Because if anyone knows how hard it is to come at a book from a different angle, it’s Maggie.  She’s paid her dues many times over and she knows of what she speaks.  But… she didn’t leave it at that.  She had some ideas for me.  Different approaches I might take.   None that resonated right then… but I woke up this morning with something stirring.  Some thoughts taking shape.  Some work waiting to be done.

Thanks a lot, Maggie!  And I do mean it sincerely!  I hope you’ll keep cheering for me and saying it like it is.  There aren’t many friends who can or will.  You are the Maggiest!

Going Gray in Oysterville

Friday, August 25th, 2017

The Red House

It’s been seventy years since my Uncle Willard Espy began painting the town red.  Well… maybe not the whole town of Oysterville, but certainly two of the most significant buildings in this little village.  It was 1947, the year of his parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary.  The celebration was to take place around Thanksgiving and, even that summer, preparations were under way.

At that time, Willard owned his grandfather’s house up the street a block or so from where he and his six siblings had grown up.  He and his (then) wife, Hilda Cole Espy, had purchased the house from the R.H. Espy Estate shortly after World War II.  Or maybe during the war – I don’t really remember.

1947 Golden Wedding Dinner

What I do remember is that for several summers in a row (including 1947) their four daughters – my ‘much younger’ cousins were here, as was I.  Willard, wo was then Public Relations Director for the Reader’s Digest in New York.  He took his vacation weeks here and, that year, he painted the R.H. Espy House red.

I was eleven that year and I don’t specifically remember the painting project.  My oldest cousin, Mona – never mind that she was a twin; she took great pride in being the eldest daughter, even if only by a few minutes – was six and she does remember.  Sort of.  She remembers her father laughing and laughing after painting the horns of the bull out in the pasture – red!  We both think that Willard had taken a break from painting the house to have a little fun with the neighbor’s bull and, in our minds, that dates the year that the house color changed from yellow (we think) to the red it is today.

The Little Red Cottage, 1977 – 2017

For the next thirty years, people referred to the R. H. Espy house as the “Red House” because it was the only one of that color in town.  Then, in the mid-seventies, Willard and his (then) wife Louise purchased the little cottage that had once served as the first courthouse in Oysterville.  It, too, was soon painted red and we began to refer to the two structures as “The Big Red House” and “The Little Red Cottage” to distinguish which we were talking about.

Yesterday, as we drove into town after being gone for eight days, there were indications are that we will not need to differentiate between red buildings from this point forward.  We noticed that the erstwhile “Little Red Cottage” now has a gray façade – perhaps the first step in the newest owners’ renovation scheme.  For now, the rest of the house remains red – a two-toned look that is distinctive in itself.

The Little Gray Cottage, 2017

Whether in his parents’ home, his grandfathers’ home or the erstwhile first courthouse, Willard spent much of his life here in Oysterville.  He, himself, grew gray over his long lifetime and I think he would be amused to think that his beloved Red Cottage had now entered its own gray stage.  Like Willard, himself, it’s looking quite dignified and distinguished in gray!

Convoluted Connections

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

Willard and Dale, 1914

I’ve been thinking of Willard lately.  Willard Richardson Espy, my mother’s “twin” – well, they were 11 months apart but for all of his 89 years, Willard would write mom on her November 13th birthday and remind her that they were now identical in age until December 10th when he would become a year older than she.

Willard was not only my uncle, but was also my Godfather.  When I once challenged him about having fulfilled his duties in that regard, he archly asked, “Are you not a moral, upstanding woman of good character?’  When I answered in the affirmative, he said firmly, “Then I have done my job.”  I never questioned him on the matter again, though I did occasionally wonder how he thought he had accomplished that triumph of my development, especially considering that we lived on opposite sides of the continent for all of my formative years.

Willard and Sydney – 1938 in Oysterville

As I approached middle age, though, and Willard edged closer to his golden years, we had opportunities to spend more time together.  I had moved to Oysterville and Willard was spending about half of each year in his little red cottage here.  He had always been my role model with regard to his career.  I, too, had visions of working for a newspaper and of spending my life writing and hobnobbing with the literati and the sophisticates of the world. And, once we began spending more time together, he also became my mentor, encouraging me to complete my book about his oldest sister, Medora, and offering to write the foreword, though he would not live to see its publication.

Red Cottage 1984

So, fast forward to my here and now at Emanuel Hospital, eighteen and a half years after Willard’s death.  I think of him almost daily here – not for reasons you might think.  I think of his all-consuming interest in words – in their derivations, their meanings their misinterpretations, in the way they look and all the weird and wonderful things about language – ours and others.  He was called “The Wordsmith” and, though those of us who are aficionados of Oysterville, love his book, Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village, out in the greater world he is known far better for his fifteen books on words.

Willard, 1981

Yesterday, the discussion between patient, cardiologist and surgeon concerned a blood clot that has formed in the left ventricle appendage.  That’s a new situation and before surgery to correct his mitral valve can take place, they are trying to dissolve that clot.  It isn’t yet “organized” we were told.  Which means, it seems, that the blood has gathered and has coagulated to a gelatinous-like consistency but has not yet clotted – not fully organized.  That’s a good thing, apparently.  Willard would have been so intrigued…

In My Mind’s Eye

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

Red Cottage 1984

After vespers Sunday, a man approached me to ask, “What happened to the roses that have always been on the fence in front of the old courthouse in Oysterville?”  I had to think for a minute to realize that he meant the profusion of Dorothy Perkins roses that once grew on Willard’s fence.  They grew there more recently, too, during the twenty years that the Accuardis owned the little red cottage.  In my mind’s eye, they are there still.

But, of course, I know better.  New owners.  New ideas.  No roses.  I imagine it’s a work in progress, which is what I told the gentleman who was asking.  I’m not sure why he targeted me as the one who should know except that I had been identified during the service as the one who had supplied the bouquets for that day – vases of Dorothy Perkins roses!

Red Cottage, July 2017

I felt pleased he had noticed that they were gone.  I thought it was just me.  And I thought, once again, how hard it is to deal with change as I age.  I guess, in a way, it’s good that I can still pull up  my mind’s eye memories.  And I so appreciate others who remember, as well.

Once, long ago, I walked into the living room and found my mother weeping over the paper.  Someone I didn’t know had died – a girlhood friend of hers.  “I’m so sorry,” I said and was a bit taken aback by her response: “It’s not that she died, exactly.  It’s just that she’s the last one who remembered Mama when she was a young woman. When we were children…”

At Vespers, July 16, 2017

Now, as I approach the age when my contemporaries are becoming scarce, I understand more fully what my mother meant. If we live long enough, we finally get to the place where there are fewer and fewer people who share our memories.  Whether it’s the particular quality of my own mother’s laugh or that twinkle in my father’s bright blue eyes, it’s nice to know that others remember too.  Even when it comes to the roses on Willard’s fence

Enjoying the Begats!

Thursday, January 21st, 2016
The Tiadaggtin Elm (in 1939), site of the Fair Play Men's Declaration of Independence

The Tiadaggtin Elm (in 1939), site of the Fair Play Men’s Declaration of Independence

Alexander Hamilton, Indian killer, was my grandfather’s great-grandfather, or my father’s great-great-grandfather, or my own great-great-great-grandfather, depending on how you want to put it. His daughter Anna married Tom Espy, who… begat the first Robert Espy, who begat the second, who begat papa, who begat me.

So wrote Willard Espy in his book, Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village. If you know that my mother was Willard’s sister, it doesn’t take much to figure out where I hop into the picture in that long line of begats. Nor does it take much further reading to realize that this Alexander Hamilton isn’t the famous one. But, he had an interesting life all the same. Most importantly, he made his own contributions to the beginnings of our country as one of the signers of the Pine Tree Declaration of Independence, drawn up and dated (by extraordinary co-incidence) on July 4, 1776.

My Great Grandfather R.H. Espy (The H is for Hamilton)

My Great Grandfather R.H. Espy (The H is for Hamilton, of course!)

“Our” Alexander Hamilton and the other twenty-two signers of that remarkable document called themselves the “Fair Play Men” but have come down in history as a group of illegal settlers (squatters) who established their own system of self-rule from 1773 to 1785 in the West Branch Susquehanna River valley of Pennsylvania in what is now the United States. Or so claims the not-always-reliable Wikipedia Online Dictionary.

I’m not much of a genealogist, myself, but I sure am glad that Willard was. And I’m even gladder that he chose to write about our forebears in his marvelous book about Oysterville. I just love those begats – especially the way Willard told about them!

Playing Second Fiddle

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

Willard Espy, circa 1980

I’ve begun to take a better look in the Crosscut file box – the work of Ilwaco High School journalism students in late 1970s. The notes and tapes from twenty interviews of local residents are a treasure trove of recent Peninsula history and, I hope, will make for an interesting Observer series.

The subject of one of the interviews (done by Paul Yunker, April Williams, and Lisa LeClaire) was ‘Sydney LaRue’. That, of course, was me-before-Nyel, and probably took place in 1979 or 1980 just a few years after I moved full-time back to Oysterville. Unfortunately, none of the interviews are dated, and I have absolutely no memory of the experience at all.

I had to smile as I read the first couple of questions: “How are you related to Willard Espy?” and “What is he working on now?” I wonder, in retrospect, why they didn’t just interview Willard, himself. He was living here six months of each year and was famously accessible. Even now, people love to tell me how they knocked on his door one afternoon to have him sign a book and he invited them in for a drink and a chat.

img388The interview eventually became more about me but the way it began – in fact the entire tone would be repeated many years later when David Campiche interviewed me for Coast Weekend. My Dear Medora book had just come out so it must have been 2007 and the resulting story that David wrote turned out to be almost entirely about Willard. Years later he and I laughed about that, he a bit apologetically as I remember.

The truth is, if it’s a matter of playing second fiddle to someone, I can’t think of any better company to be in than Willard’s. I adored him and vice-versa. He was my uncle, my Godfather, my friend and my mentor. How lucky I was to have him in my life!

My Uncle Wede? Feet of Clay?

Saturday, February 7th, 2015


Willard Espy, 1975

Willard Espy, 1975

When it comes to writing and storytelling, especially about Oysterville, my uncle Willard Espy has always been my role model. Even before Willard got into the book writing business and certainly long before my own writing interests became focused on this beloved little hamlet, Willard (or ‘Wede’ as the family usually called him) was my own, personal shining star.

Partly, it was because I considered his life romantic. He had gone to Paris to study at the Sorbonne in 1930 and eked out a living there as an artist’s model. He returned to the states and worked for a string of small newspapers in California’s San Joaquin Valley during the depths of the Great Depression. He went to New York City, lived in Greenwich Village, worked for an avant-garde magazine and eventually went to work at the Readers’ Digest.


Willard at Work, 1945

That was in 1941 just about the time I began first grade. During my most impressionable years I would hear about the interesting people Wede met in the course of his job with the Digest. His title was Public Relations Manager and part of his responsibility was to ghost write the back cover of the magazine which was always a testimonial by a famous personage. Over the years he interviewed folks even I, a little girl in far off California, had heard of – Groucho Marx, Albert Einstein, Lillian Gish.

In addition to all those romantic aspects to his life (he was even married to an artist/writer and they had four daughters within three years!) I was very early aware of Wede’s work ethic. No matter what else was happening in his life, Wede wrote. Beyond his everyday job (which, itself, involved writing), Wede wrote stories and articles and novels and news pieces. It was a lifelong habit. It wasn’t until after he had begun to collect social security and had semi-retired that his first book was published. There would follow many more.

Oysterville by Willard Espy

Oysterville by Willard Espy

Yes, he was a wonderful role model. But just recently I’ve begun to understand that he was not a perfect role model – certainly not in the matter of historical accuracy. Not that ‘historian’ was ever one of his claims to fame, but he was a genealogist and was meticulous in his searches for forebears back in those days before modern aides such as the internet. And he was a superlative storyteller, especially in the matter of family history.

So, it has come as quite a shock to me to find that several of the stories told in his Oysterville: Roads to Grandpa’s Village are riddled with inaccuracies. Take the story about how his grandparents met and married – that in 1869 R.H. Espy traveled to Salem with Lewis A. Loomis (later founder of the local narrow gauge railroad) to choose a teacher for the Oysterville School.  Loomis didn’t come to Oysterville from New York until 1872, though his brother Ed was here. Wrong Loomis, Wede!

And take the part of the story where the young (eighteen-year-old) teacher Julia boards at the Stevens Hotel where there are four unmarried daughters about her age. Not! The two eldest Stevens girls were married and long gone; the two youngest were nine and eleven – hardly competing for the eye of bachelor R. H. Espy.

Historical facts, notwithstanding, Willard was a consummate storyteller. He’s still my role model. It’s hardly his fault that I get hung up on the details. But I do wish he were still around so I could chide him… just a little.

Espy’s the name: E-S-P-Y

Friday, January 23rd, 2015
Espy Coat of Arms... Pehaps

Espy Coat of Arms… Pehaps

Last Sunday I met a woman who said she knows one of my relatives – “Sue Espy” who lives in Portland. I know (or think I know) all the descendants of my great-grandfather, R.H, Espy and, in addition, I know many of the descendants of his brothers and sisters, but I don’t know of a Sue with the Espy surname. I’m afraid my response to my new acquaintance was a bit skeptical but I hope someday to meet Sue Espy and learn more.

It was my uncle Willard who was considered the genealogist of our family and his response to such information was always, “Yes, we probably are related.” I concur with that. I just don’t know the how of my connection to Sue. If I had Willard’s interest in my family roots, I could undoubtedly find out, but I don’t so I probably won’t. I do often think, though, how much easier his quest would have been these days with internet access to sites like and social media conversations galore with the strike of a key.

Willard did most of his searching by good, old-fashioned longhand correspondence or by traveling to interview possible sources in person. His archive has entire boxes devoted to queries to and responses from county clerks and veterans’ organizations and individuals all over the country. He compiled his information into three large loose-leaf binders, copies of which he supplied to all of his immediate family and to all of his eighteen first cousins or their offspring. The pages of those books are chock-a-block full of amazing information!

He also checked out the origins of the family name. A certificate from Halberts in Bath, Ohio says that there are approximately 400 heads of households (yielding about 1,280 people) in the United States with the old and d Espy distinguished Espy name – a name with the most prominent variations being Delespie, Epis and Espie. (There is no mention of the Espey spelling which my own branch of the family used briefly in the 1890s.) Unfortunately there is no date on the Halberts certificate, but I think Willard received it in the 1960s or ‘70s.

Besides all that interesting information about our far flung “cousins” and their name-spellings, the certificate shows and describes the Espy Coat of Arms: Quartered: 1) and 4) blue, a gold ear of wheat in left diagonal position; 2) and ) silver, a red bull walking and in the black upper third, three silver shells. It goes on to explain: the surname Espy appears to be occupational in origin, and is believed to be associated with the French, meaning, “one who was a farmer.” Furthermore, according to Halberts’ certificate, Family mottos are believed to have originated as battle cries in medieval times. A Motto was not recorded with the Espy Coat of Arms.

Family Name Certificate

Family Name Certificate

So, if we were to believe all that, the Espys were farmers, not soldiers and possibly of French origin. I don’t know what Willard thought of Halberts’ information. He did claim that the origin of the Espy name was French – he said from the word espier meaning to spy. (The first known use of the word espy was in the 14th century – or so the online version of the Merriam-Webster dictionary reports.) So maybe we were spies and attached to the military, not farmers after all?  When all was said and done, however, Willard did not believe that any of our forebears were illustrious enough to have warranted a coat of arms.  Nor do I.

Perhaps of note:   the source of this lovely certificate, Halberts Publishing Company, is now out of business and according to many online reports, its information was not reliable. In fact, says   Beware of family history scams: First it was Halberts of Bath, Ohio Then Morphcorp in Denver, Colorado. is the latest to promote the scam!

Who knows… maybe Willard’s hand written queries and in-person visits were the best way after all.