A Pall Over Portland

Aug 23, 2015 | 4 comments

Nancy Goodell Cannon

Nancy Goodell Cannon

For miles and miles and miles the bumper-to-bumper stream of cars crawled west on Highway 26 yesterday as we were driving east toward Portland. We wondered why, but the closer we came to the city the more obvious was the trouble. A thick, hazy smoke enveloped us and by the time we reached our destination, visibility was minimal. We felt encased in a shroud.

Somehow, that seemed appropriate, for we were on our way to the Memorial Service for my life-long friend, Nancy Cannon Goodell. The event was held on the campus of the Oregon Episcopal School and that, too, seemed appropriate. The school is the direct descendant of St. Helen’s Hall in Portland where I went to “Nursery School” in 1940. My first school memory and my first clear memory of interaction with a friend occurred there.

Oysterville Moms and Kids, Summer 1938

Oysterville Moms and Kids, Summer 1938: 2nd Mom from Left – Gyla (Nancy’s mother); Nancy, front and center; 4th Mom from Left – Dale (Sydney’s Mom with Sydney in her lap)

The friend was Nancy Cannon. Our families knew one another and were neighbors both in Oysterville and in Portland. Our mothers were girlhood friends and there isn’t a time in my life that I didn’t know Nancy and her ‘big sister’ Anne. I was the middle one – Anne a year older and Nancy six months younger. We played together, shared secrets, talked about boys, worried about how we looked in our bathing suits, and later compared child-raising notes and career choices. Nancy and I even built our houses on Willapa Bay at the same time.


St. Helen’s Hall

In our last conversation, a month or so ago, we again talked of our very first memory of one another. I (being so much older!) had begun school at St. Helen’s Hall and I loved it. Nancy’s mom took note of that and decided that Nancy might also enjoy being with children her own age now that Anne was off in ‘real’ school. Nancy and I were excited about the prospect. We were sure that we would be together in the same class.

But when the great day came, Nancy did not appear. I think it was the teacher who took me over to the solid French doors that divided our classrooms from one another. Through the crack between those double doors I heard Nancy crying and calling my name. I spent the rest of the day (at least in our collective memory) sitting on my side of the door, reassuring and diverting and trying to keep Nancy happy on her side of the door. I used all the skills in my four-year-old bag of tricks.

We laughed about that many times over our next seventy-five years. I can still see myself sitting there – only now perhaps it is Nancy who is reassuring me. It’s hard when you have a memory that you only share with one person and that person leaves first. I will remember her with love for always.


  1. Jane E Smith

    Sydney, we were in Portland yesterday too. We visited the Pittock Mansion with a cousin from Australia. You would never know that property had a beautiful view of the city. There was just a wall of gray. It was much less smokey (but still smokey) when we returned home to Ridgefield. We are thinking of driving out to Astoria tomorrow to escape the smoke. Is the air quality better there? Jane

    • sydney

      It was minimally better when we returned home Saturday. Much better yesterday. What we need is a good west wind to clear the air out here on the coast — but I don’t know if the “blow-back” will help you inlanders!

  2. Linda J

    I’m so sorry, Sydney. Your memorial tribute here to her is beautifully written.

  3. Katherine Smith

    Sydney, I think everyone was sad about Nancy. I, too, experienced haze driving to Seattle on Saturday. What a pleasant surprise to see my mother’s face in that group shot of Oysterville babies and moms. Couldn’t blow it up. Do you have a larger image I could see? Thanks and congrats on the new book.


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