Archive for the ‘Childhood’ Category

Yesterday I spent with my grandmother…

Wednesday, March 27th, 2024

Helen & Harry Espy, 1947

No sooner had I turned on the bedside lamp and checked the time yesterday morning than the power went out!  Damn!  And I had overslept, too.  I’d be hard pressed to get through my long list of “todo’s” even without all the amenities… like a shower and a hot cup of coffee to get my day underway.  On the other hand… no internet, so I needn’t worry about half the things on my list.  Not yet.

I dressed by flashlight, had a long drink of water (always in stock in the pantry against such “emergencies”) and called the PUD just in case they had news.  Yep.  A car hit a power pole and the substations in Ocean Park and Oysterville were adversely affected,  The estimate was early afternoon before we were back in the 21st  century.  No details about the accident, but it couldn’t be good considering the damage it caused.

I built a fire in the library fireplace to stave off the cold and wished (for just a minute) that I could go back in time a couple of generations,  My grandmother would be firing up the wood cookstove in the kitchen and stirring the embers in the pot-bellied stove in the nursery — warming that room up for the youngest of her six children, for in my mind it was 1912 or so.

1912 – The Espy Children (Dale, Willard, Edwin, Mona, Suzita, Medora)

The three older girls, Medora (13), Sue (9),  and Mona (8) slept upstairs now that they were all school-age, but the three youngest, Edwin (4), Willard (2) and my mother Dale (1) shared a huge pull-down Murphy Bed in the Nursery — the most easterly room in the house,  Papa, who went to bed late, always banked the fired in the woodstove before joining Mama upstairs, so the little ones would be warm throughout the rest of the night.

When the coffee was ready, Mama carried it to the nursery where the tin coffeepot sat on the stove all day long and Papa refilled his cup periodically when he came in from the dairy barn or the meadow or the cream-separating building or wherever his many chores took him.  How I wished we still had that woodstove… but alas!  My folks had gentrified that room in the 1979s, getting rid of the old stove and having a fireplace built there instead.  Great for cozy ambiance, but not for a practical heating surface when our electricity fails us.

I had been planning to work on the computer all day, communicating with my new webmaster (who is in Alabama!) as we begin working on my new website.  But 1912 had rather limited amenities in that direction so I decided to do what I don’t get to do very often these days — just sit around and read.  Thank goodness for Kindles!  Despite it’s many windows, this house is not very well lit inside — at least not by natural light.  Maybe it’s those 11-foot ceilings that seem to trap in the gloom. even when the sun is shining fairly consistently — as it was on that particular day.  My Kindle was perfect and I escaped into a Jack Reacher book with ‘nary a guilty thought about my website.

H.A.Espy Children on Danny, 1924

Even so, I was glad I didn’t have to fire up the kerosene lamps and read by their smoky light — and even gladder that I wouldn’t have to wash the lamp chimneys in the morning.  I wondered what my grandmother would have thought of such a modern convenience — though with a family of six to wash and clean and cook and sew for, I really doubt that she had much time for reading.  Mom and Willard used to laugh at the memory of her taking a book out to the outhouse for a half hour or so now and then — the one place she wouldn’t be disturbed.  But, of course, there were no toddlers by then.

She always said that the years that the babies were little were the best years of all.  (That babies were Edwin, Willard, and my mom; Mona and Sue were “the girls” and Albert (who died at 4-1/2) and Medora — the two first born — were “the children.”  I loved to hear Gtanny’s stories —  how Edwin thought that God was shooting deer when it thundered and how Willard liked nothing better (from the time he was three) than to take the biggest book he could carry out to the road and lie down in the middle and read.  Horses and carts and walkers worked around him.  And yes… he was reading at three, finished 8th grade at 10 and high school at 14.  What a guy!

As for mom — she was a Tomboy through and through — and no wonder.  There were thirteen kids her age who lived in town but she was the only girl  She remembered spending many-a-time chasing after the boys  when they were trying to ditch her — but then she grew up a bit and the story changed…

It was really a lovely day, yesterday.  Back in 1912.  But how lucky we are that the power came on in time for a hot dinner, electric stove notwithstanding.  Lights!  Heat! The magic of 2024!  I only wish I could share a day of now-time with my hard-working, soft-spoken granny.  I’m sure I didn’t half appreciate her but I was lucky to have her in my life until I was in my second year of college.  I hope I told her how much she meant to me…


Atop my piano — a few of my favorite things!

Wednesday, December 20th, 2023

My Grandmother’s Piano

The old upright piano in the living room — the 1902 Ludwig made in New York — has traditionally been the year-round display area for greeting cards — birthdays, and Mother’s Day, but mostly Christmas.  This year, I decided to set out just two cards, each of them special in a myriad of ways.

The Bay House

First to arrive wasn’t really a Christmas card but it came in December so I decided it counted.  It’s a picture of my “bay house” that Ossie and the Mack Brothers built for me back in 1979.  The picture was taken by my friend Dick Hawes shortly before Nyel and I sold it.  By then, twenty years had passed and the house had weathered to perfection –the epitome of what had been in my mind’s eye when I described it to Noel Thomas who drew the floor plan and sketched the exterior on a napkin one rainy afternoon in Seaview.    I became my own contractor (under Ossie’s careful direction) and I loved watching the house take form as you would love watching a child grow.  Selling it was made possible only by the prospect of moving into the family house here in Oysterville.  The card sits just below the painting of the house that Noel did some years (and many parties) after I (and soon Nyel) had moved in.

Albert’s Fire Engine

At the other end of the piano is Albert’s Fire Engine.  It’s a toy that belonged to my mother’s oldest brother Albert who died of “a stomach ailment” (probably cancer) in January of 1905.  He was just four and-a-half.  My grandmother tucked his fire engine in the back of her closet and many years later when it was discovered by my mother, it was sent to me in California.  Tucker’s Christmas card this year (Number 54 — one each year since he and Carol were married) is of Albert’s wonderful old toy.  The story that accompanies it — the story of Albert — tugs at my heart as does the story of my Bay House, though that one is not yet written down.

I love looking at that 2023 Christmas piano top.  Albert’s Fire Engine speaks to me of family and enrichment, of love and loss; the Bay House reminds me of how blessed I’ve been in friendships and unique opportunities and in the chance to follow and fulfill my dreams!  And dominating the wall above is Eric Wiegardt’s painting of this family house in the snow — one of the first paintings he did when he returned to the Peninsula after completing his studies.

Speaking of that “Clean Plate Club”

Wednesday, March 29th, 2023

When I was a kid and was at the point toward the end of dinner when I was endlessly pushing peas (or beans or brussel sprouts) around on my plate, I was invariably told to “remember all the starving children in Armenia.”  I can’t remember that the reminder did any good at all.  Not as far as finishing up my meal.

First and foremost, I had no idea where Armenia was nor did I know any of those children.  I thought they might be starving because of the war  — World War II which we had entered when I was in Kindergarten and would be a major factor all during my grade school years.

But why eating those vegetables would help never was made clear.  And my sotto voiced “Couldn’t we just send them these?” once or twice got me sent to my room.  I can’t remember that I ever got to join “The Clean Plate Club.”  And I fear that the children in Armenia continued to starve.

I thought of that last Sunday when I noticed that 92-year-old Ray Hicks had eaten every morsel on his plate at the luncheon served at the Pacific County Historical Society’s Annual Meeting.  Ray’s caregiver, Larry Holland later told me that Ray told him he had finished eating while I was speaking because if he cleared his plate, it wouldn’t rain!

Now that’s an incentive I could get behind — when I was in my single digits or even now!   The promise of sunshine ia about the best inducement for almost anything along about this time of year in our neck of the woods!

“I’s not a leetle boy. I’s a leetle geel!”

Thursday, January 19th, 2023

Someone in my past — my mother? my grandmother? — used to give a deep sigh about whatever was annoying her and say, “This will be the bane of my existence!”  I do believe it was often my wretched curly hair which one or the other of them was trying to subdue into “proper” Shirley Temple style corkscrew curls.  One or two portraits of me at age five or six demonstrate their success, but mostly my hair has continued to be “the bane” right up to present days.

Not that I’m longing for corkscrew curls, mind you!  In fact, I sometimes wonder if my life (and my mother’s)might have been greatly simplified if she hadn’t been so intent on those curls.

Helen-Dale, Edwin, Willard c. 1914

Perhaps it all hearkened back to her own childhood when her curls were cut short and, at least before she started school, she wore rompers similar to her brothers’ and they all hung out together — Edwin three years older and Willard eleven months older than she.  In fact, the family all remembered that Dale (my mom) was the only girl among thirteen boys in town of a similar age.  She said that she was often the “tag-along” that the rest of them were trying to lose as they raced through the woods or along the bayshore on their many adventures.

Dale at 16, 1927

When adults mistook her for another one of the boys,  three-year-old Dale’s indignant response was:  “I’s not a leetle boy.  I’s a leetle geel!”  Apparently, the census-taker in 1920 didn’t ask.  Instead of listing her as “Helen-Dale, a girl” she went into the public record as “Allen-Dale, a boy.”  I wonder if she ever knew about that listing.  I don’t think I ran across that bit of misinformation until after she had died.  But, I must say, I was indignant on her behalf!

By the time she was sweet sixteen, though, her hair behaved as her mother had always hoped.  Sorry, mom. that I didn’t follow in your footstepsl  It would have saved us all a lot of angst!



One sock up and sensible shoes

Sunday, August 29th, 2021

First Grade, Versailles School, Alameda, CA – May 1942
Sydney – First Row, second from left

Versailles School — First Grade — Alameda Calif — May 1942  it says in Dad’s handwriting on the back.  My first school picture, or at least the first one I remember.  It turned up in an unmarked box with forty years’ worth of disparate images.  I’m eager to sit down and take a look, but for now this one and a few others from the forties have captured my attention.

I wish someone had thought to write the names on the back of this one.  I think I remember that the boy in the back row was Russell and the next to the last girl in that row was Verna Schott, the girl I walked to school with every day.  Maybe the third boy from the left in the second row was Bobby and, even more maybe, the girl at the end of that row was Trudy.  For once, I wasn’t in the middle of the first row — but close enough.  I wonder what my mom thought about my sagging sock…

I remember the school as “Edison School” not Versailles so I looked it up on Google.  I found that Edison School (“Home of the Otters”) was, indeed, Versailles until September 14, 1942, when, after many construction delays due to strikes and the beginning of WWII, Edison School was opened.   It had been funded through the WPA and, according to the website:  From the six classrooms originally planned and built, Edison has grown to its present size of sixteen rooms (portables not included when this article was written) and all other facilities necessary to a modern, first-class school.

Our House at 1320 Versailles Avenue, Alameda — 1941-1947

Good to know.  Mostly though, I wonder who of all those children are still living and what the past 79 years have been for them.  I think I heard from a mutual friend that Verna died some years back — and now our friend, Sharon, has also died.  How I wish that someone could recognize and put me in touch with one or two of these “kids.”  And where was our teacher, anyway?  I think it was Miss Thompson who was also the principal…

That’s the thing about memories…  They are best of all when they can be shared with someone who also remembers.


Blotting Your Copybook & Other Dreaded Deeds

Saturday, February 20th, 2021

Helen Richardson’s Copybook, 1895

I was surprised when I wrote to a friend that we didn’t want to blot our copybook about an Oysterville issue and said friend didn’t know the meaning of the metaphor.  Granted, she is a decade or so younger than I, but I was a bit surprised.  So I looked the expression up just to check on how old I really was.

According  the online Free Dictionary. blotting your copybo0k means to  tarnish, damage, or ruin one’s reputation by behaving badly or committing some mistake or social transgression.  Refers to a child’s copy book, the blotting (staining with ink) of which ruins one’s work.  Primarily heard in UK. .

There was no frame of reference for time and I don’t know why the expression is familiar to me.  Maybe all the British novels I’ve read?  Or maybe because I’ve run across lots of copybooks in my family research.  Most don’t have many blots, though.

Blotters! Blotters! Blotters!

We do have a plethora of blotters, however.  Books of blotters, individual blotters, advertising blotters, blotters given away with purchases.  So it was in the early 1900s when my mother and her siblings dipped their pens in the inkwells built into their school desks.  I had blotters in my day, too.  I think it was in fifth grade that we “graduated” to using fountain pens with real-for-sure liquid ink after four years of pencilwork.  Those pens didn’t cause much blotting, but woe be unto your careful work if you forgot to blot before you turned or left the page.  Smears or smudges forevermore!

I think kids across America could be heard breathing a collective sigh of relief when ballpoint pens came into general use in the 1950s!!!



Saturday, October 17th, 2020


Last night it was Dinner-on-a-Stick at the Stevens’ house — more properly called Pork Kebabs, no doubt.  Nyel had cut up a thick, boneless pork chop in the morning and had it marinating all day in some exotic concoction of white wine, orange juice, garlic powder, cumin, oregano and probably other stuff.  Also soaking (but in plain water) were eight 10-inch wooden skewers, pointed at one end.  They came from a large package labeled “made in China” which, like all such packages these days, gave me a moment’s pause — but only a moment, for we’ve had them for several years.  Definitely pre-Covid.

When I was a little girl, “Dinner-on-a-Stick was what we called our bonfire dinners at Camp Willapa.  They, of course, took the place of dinner in the KP Tent when we were off on an overnight to Beard’s Hollow or Long Island or up the Naselle River.  Those meals always involved hot dogs which, for those “in the know,” were threaded lenthwise onto a roasting stick.  Newbies sometimes stuck them on their sticks horizontally — a sure invitation to disaster.  The other part of stick dinners was usually s’mores, the marshmallows carefully toasted to perfection before being added to the Graham Cracker/Hershey Bar sandwich.  It was the perfect dinner!  (I have no recollection of fruit or vegetables but there must have been… At least carrot and celery sticks or maybe apple slices.)

Cookout on the Beach

The experienced campers took great pride in their roasting sticks.  I remember making mine with the help of one of the older boys from Sherwood Forest, the boys’ camp just across the road from the girls’ camp and with whom we often had bonfires and sing-alongs.  I was probably seven — my second year as a camper.  I know I already had my own pocket knife and my “teacher” showed me how to peel the bark from my stick for about a foot from the small end, and then carefully sharpen it to perfection.  I remember that choosing the “stick” from the right tree was the important first step, but I’m not sure now if it was from a spruce or a crabapple or… what?

Rowing on the Bay

Toward the top of the stick (which I think was about three feet long) I carved my initials in the bark.  There was plenty of room left for the notches that would  commemorate each award I would get for the next seven years at camp — milestones in swimming, boating, horseback riding, and archery as I remember. The more summers you had been a camper, the more precious your stick became and I remember being very proud of mine and the “record” it kept of my accomplishments.

At the end of summer, when my parents came up to Oysterville for a week or two and then we all went back to California for the school year, the stick stayed in the closet of my room at my grandparents’ house.  Except for one year when I took it home with me.  It must have been after the war when we had a car.  I don’t think I could have managed the logistics of taking it home on the train which was our usual mode of transport from Portland to Oakland and vice-versa.  But, I do remember having it in Alameda one year and showing it proudly to my neighborhood friends, Jackie and Joyce.  I remember that they weren’t nearly as impressed as I thought they should be.  My first lesson in “you had to be there.”

Little Red Riding Storybook Doll c. 1940

I have no idea what happened to that roasting stick.  Or to my pocket knife, for that matter.  They must be with my storybook dolls and ice skates and all those photos of Hollywood stars, signed by the stars, themselves.  Maybe even with my dog Zipper who “went to a farm out in the country” one summer when I was away at camp.  There are some things that happen when you are growing up that you just don’t get over…

Time and Tide…

Thursday, October 1st, 2020

Sydney c. 1944

When I was growing up, there were only two sacrosanct rules:  obey the person in charge and be mindful of the tide.  The first edict applied everywhere; the second, only to my summers on Willapa Bay and/or when at the beach.  Those words to live by came into conflict only once and it was not a pretty picture.

It was 1946.  I was a scrawny ten-year-old and was spending my fifth summer at Dorothy Elliott’s Camp Willapa.  Although my grandparents were in nearby Oysterville, I visited them only on occasional weekends and between camp sessions in deference to my grandmother’s frail health and, more importantly, because she was blind.

On the occasion of my transgression, our camp “unit” — about seven or eight girls of 10 or 11 and a college-age counselor — had gone up to Leadbetter Point for an overnight campout.   Miss Elliott had dropped us off in the morning and had then returned with our sleeping bags, knapsacks and food supplies.  By lunchtime we were “on our own at the end of the known world” as we told each other with shivery delight.

Typical Transport with Miss Elliott

After lunch, the counselor said we were going over to Grassy Island which, in those days, was still separated from the mainland by a fairly wide channel of water.   At low tide, however, it was but a stretch of wet sand, quickly transversed and, since the tide was out, our trek was an easy one.  I can’t really remember what we did over there but I do remember keeping an eye on the water.  When the rivulets began to trickle into our homeward path, I said something to the counselor about it being time to go back.  Cheeky me!

I don’t remember her response — only that I soon was concerned enough to leave the group and head back to our campsite on my own.  By the time the rest joined me, they had had to wade in water up to their waists and I remember that they tried to dry thier clothes by standing as near to the campfire as they could.  I, of course, was grounded for the rest of the trip.  No dinner.  No campfire singsong.  A cool reception at breakfast the next day and, when we finally returned to camp, I was confined to quarters for the rest of that day as well.

Not far from our campsite.

I do remember feeling that I was being unjustly punished and, in my weekly letter home to my folks in California, I recounted the experience (apparently in lurid detail.)  What I didn’t learn until I was a young mother myself, was that my mother wasted no time in calling Miss Elliott and giving her a piece of her mind.

According to my Aunt Mona (who was the one who told me “the rest of the story”), Mom said something like, “How dare you let a counselor, who has had no experience with our bay at all, take charge of a group of children on an overnight trip such as that!  And how dare you discipline Sydney who was absolutely right with her suggestion to go back to the mainland?  She’s been on the bay every summer of her life and knew exactly what she was talking about!”

I don’t think I ever did talk about that incident with my mom or with Dorothy Elliott, either, for that matter.  But I do think that my inclination to question authority figures probably stems from that long-ago visit to Grassy Island.


And already, the signs of autumn!

Thursday, August 20th, 2020

Autumn Colors in Our Garden

Even though the autumnal equinox is yet a month and more away, it is definitely feeling fallish this morning.  It was still dark when we awoke at our usual 5:30 and a chilly drizzle hurried me out to the chicken coop with the girls’ breakfast.  In the flower beds, the daisies drooped; only the lilies and dahlias looked perky in their ready-for-fall colors.

Once upon a time, a day like this might prompt my mother to say, “How would you like to go shopping for school clothes today?”  Of course, it would have to be a Saturday or, otherwise, she’d be working and I’d be having an inside day with Mrs. Nagle, our best-ever housekeeper/baby-sitter/friend-and-confidant.  Maybe she’d teach me some new embroidery stitches.

Oysterville Kids c. 1944

But, if I was lucky enough to be in Oysterville, a rainy August morning might mean skpping next-door through the raindrops to Judy and Peter’s house.  There was always something going on there at the Heckes House. — Aunt Rye might have cookies in the oven or Glen might have come in from the Oyster beds with one of the Kemmer boys and they’d be teasing us about this or that.   If the Heckes/Kemmer cousins Anne and Nancy Cannon were down from Portland, us kids might sit around the big oak kitchen table and play shoots and ladders until those cookies were ready.

Or, if it was warm enough and only a little bit misty-moisty, we’d go picking blackberries to sell to Klondike Kate who lived on the corner.  She had a red light on her porch but we were too young to know what that was all about and, besides, she was full of stories about when she lived in Alaska.

Klondike Kate’s Place

But wherever I was and whatever I was doing, I remember that those first dark, rainy days toward the end of August meant school wasn’t far off.  I can still feel that shivery anticipation of “the first day back.”  It’s the thing I feel sorriest that kids will miss when virtual school starts this fall.  Heck, they won’t even need to go shopping for school clothes.  And if they are lucky enough to have a Klondike Kate in their neighborhood, visiting isn’t an option.  Bummer!

Will Covid-19 add to children’s literature?

Friday, April 17th, 2020

“Ring Around The Rosie” by Kate Greenaway

Ring around the rosy,
A pocketful of posies,
Ashes, Ashes,
We all fall down.

I’m not sure when I learned that this nursery rhyme is not the innocent childhood song it seems.  I only remember it as being one of the first that I sang and danced to with delight.  It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned about its grim origins — which didn’t slow me down a whit when it came to teaching it to my own children.

The rhyme, of course, refers to the 1665 Great Plague of London.  The “ring around the rosy” presumably refers to the rash associated with the bubonic plague. The “pocketful of posies” describes the handfuls of herbs people would carry to mask the smell of the sickness and death.  “We all fall down” refers to everyone dying, and the “ashes” are the cremated bodies. Pretty dark for a children’s rhyme, but maybe the philosophy was something like my mother’s, “It’s better to laugh than to cry.”

And it wasn’t the only nursery rhyme that, according to today’s sensibilities, seems too horrible for children.  How about “London Bridge is Falling Down”  that might be about a 1014 Viking attack with a bit of child sacrifice thrown in?  Presumably, it concerns the alleged destruction of London Bridge at the hands of Olaf II of Norway some time in the early 1000s. (“Alleged” because some historians don’t believe that attack ever took place.)

“London Bridge Is Falling Down”

The song’s popularity around the world is often cited as further proof that it was the Vikings who created it and brought the tune to the many places they traveled. Oh, and that whole child sacrifice thing? The theory goes that in order to keep London Bridge upright, its builders thought that it must be built on a foundation of human sacrifice, and that those same humans—mostly children—would help to watch over the bridge and maintain its sturdiness. There is no archaeological evidence to support this but I’m glad I didn’t know about the theory when I was singing, “Build it up with silver and gold, silver and gold, silver and gold….”  So much better than “Build it up with children’s bones…” don’t you think?

Which all leads me to wonder what the children of five hundred years hence will be playing and singing about the Covid-19 Pandemic of 2020?  Or will all their games be played virtually in a future well beyond present-day video games?  A pity if that is how it turns out.  I did love those games when I was a child!  Didn’t you?