A Fine Double-Breasted Sort of Woman

Apr 2, 2016 | 4 comments

Papa and Aunt Dora c. 1896

Papa and Aunt Dora c. 1896

I think that my love of Oysterville stories came from listening to my grandfather (Papa) and his sister (Aunt Dora) reminiscing about their growing-up years here in the 1870s and ‘80s.  “I can still hear that stagecoach coming lickety-cut over Davis Hill,” Aunt Dora would say.  And Papa would tell about his memories of having to get dressed in a suit (at age four or five) once a week to accompany his mother on her social calls around town.

The Espy family of that generation were about evenly divided between the talkers and the non-talkers.  Papa and Aunt Dora were among the former but the stories they told differed considerably.  “Papa,” said my mother, “was more concerned with the saints while Aunt Dora was interested in the sinners.”  Her stories tended to be a bit on the bawdy side and, as you might expect, those are the ones I remember best.  I also was fascinated by her description of the women she most admired.  “She’s a fine, double-breasted sort of woman,” Aunt Dora would say.  I always wondered what that meant exactly, but I’ve come to believe it is a description that perfectly fit Aunt Dora, herself.

Aunt Dora's Wedding Supper 1895

Aunt Dora’s Wedding Supper 1895

Aunt Dora was born in 1872, the second of R. H. and Julia Espy’s eight children.  Hers could have been one of the first weddings (1895) in the newly built Baptist Church (although her nephew Willard thought it had taken place in the family parlor) and the photograph of her wedding supper is one of the treasures of our family.  Aunt Dora’s husband was Alexander King Wilson (Uncle King), an attorney from Maryland and the first Democrat in our up-to-then very Republican family.

Although I grew up knowing Aunt Dora’s and Uncle King’s children (Robert, Mary and Julia) very well, I missed out on Uncle King.  He died in 1918 during his second term as first mayor of Lake Oswego, Oregon.  Dora lived until 1955 and never remarried, although my mom hinted that sassy Dora had had several “close relationships” over the years.

Dora and King Wilson with Robert and Mary, 1903

Dora and King Wilson with Robert and Mary, 1903

Among all the stories Aunt Dora told, I don’t remember any about Uncle King.  Until day before yesterday he remained one of those shadowy family characters.  And then… eight members of the Dills family came calling.  They are descended from Uncle King’s side of the family and with them they brought a most amazing book.  It is one of twelve bound copies of the letters that King Wilson wrote his wife Dora on the occasions that he needed to travel away from home.

Uncle King's First Letter - 1902 Trip

Uncle King’s First Letter – 1902 Trip

They left the book with me so that I might have time to read it.  It is the first one, “Trip East in June 1902” by A. King Wilson.  In it are the daily letters he wrote home from the train and from the places he visited.  It includes photographs, menus, and all manner of ephemera – to say nothing of this intimate look at King and Dora’s relationship.

My mind is already awhirl with book possibilities of my own based on this rich resource. Cathy Dills, who is exactly my age, is trying to track down the other eleven volumes.  I can only hope!  Oh!  And did I say that I LOVED meeting the Dills.  No wonder Aunt Dora fell for Uncle King! What a grand family connection they ‘arranged’ for posterity!


  1. Stephanie Frieze

    Sydney, the characters in your family and the serendipity of your life are fodder for possible books to last your lifetime. I love it!

  2. Ruth maloney

    Wow! This is exciting. I look forward to the family share.

  3. Wes Merchant

    Hello from Maryland, Google led me here, through the name Alexander King Wilson. My Mother was Emely (the family spelling) Wilson and her sister was Mary King Wilson (Sleeman) who we always called “Aunt King”. Cathy Dill would also be my cousin, her father Guy Wilson was a half brother to my mother, Guy’s mother died and their father (Robert) remarried. Robert Wilson was King Wilson’s Brother.
    sometime in the 1930’s Robert drove across the country visiting the Wilson diaspora. I think my mother may have kept in touch with some of the cousin’s out there, I kind of remember some from Portland would send candy at Christmas.
    Enjoyed your blog, history is fascinating.

    • sydney

      Great to hear from you, Wes! I loved the visit from your family several years ago and was always sorry we lost touch. Yes, I remember getting that candy when I was a kid, too. It was from Bob Wilson who had the same name as Uncle King and Aunt Dora’s son Bob — but he wasn’t related. He had a candy factory (in Tacoma, I think) and they made something similar to almond rocca. I loved it!


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