Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

My Ever-Gentle Grandmother

Thursday, September 21st, 2023

Today, while looking “one last time” (or so I always think) for family papers that should be added to the Espy Archive at the Washington State Research Center in Tacoma, I ran across this poem in my grandmother’s distinctive Victorian script:

Somebody didn’t wipe the dishes dry!
How do I know?  Because I saw them cry.

Yes, crying as they sat upon the shelves —
I saw them and they couldn’t help themselves.

They made no noise; each plate was in its place,
But, oh, two tears were on the platter’s face!
Oh, don’t you think a little girl is mean
Whose dishes cry because they’re not wiped clean?

Drawing by Helen Medora Richardson, 1897

How I wish I’d run across this poem before my mother died.  Was she the little girl that it was meant for?  Or was it for one of her three older sisters?  What a lovely way to gently reprimand a child!  I can’t help but wonder if there were other such notes posted now and then as my mother and her siblings were growing up.

I also came across some of my grandmother’s drawings — done in 1887 when she was eight or nine years old.  She and her friend Mary Wallace spent many hours together making paper dolls, writing and illustrating small storybooks, and drawing pictures of their daily activities.  The drawing I used here, though done many years before she married and had children of her own, seems to go perfectly with the “Poem of Reprimand” — my name for it; I’m sure my grandmother would never have been so directly critical!

 

Too Quiet On This Western Front!

Saturday, July 8th, 2023

Marta and Charlie

Charlie and Marta left a little after mid-day and it is all too quiet here at the house even though Chris-the-Mower-Man was here for an hour or so.  And I’ve set the hoses and hear the reassuring snick-snick-snick of the sprinklers magically greening the garden.  And I even put Cinderella to work, cleaning up a few crumbs left over from last night’s revelries.  But still… the silence is omnipresent.

How did the time go so quickly?  Twelve days and nights!  They told me they wanted to do whatever I needed so I put them to work bigtime with the things I cannot accomplish on my own — washing all the curtains, getting a head start on trimming rhododendrons for starters.  But still we laughed and talked and carried on as only family folk can do!

We chose this one!

Marta said she’d do all the cooking — and she did!  Charlie spent a day across the river with me — helping me choose a new kitchen stove and cheerfully accompanying me on various errands — to CostCo, to the Verizon Store, to Fred Meyers.  How much easier it was with him along!  How I wish that they both lived closer by.

We managed to take a few tentative steps toward the eventual disposition of the house and its contents. We went out to lunch and out to dinner, saw old friends, were treated to Marta singing with Fred, went to Vespers, and participated in The Honorary Oysterville Militia’s Fourth of July Cannon Salute.

Nyel’s Final Resting Place

Most importantly — and the real reason for this summer visit by my two beloved ones:  we placed Nyel’s ashes in the Oysterville Cemetery near the gravestone that he helped me design in the months before he died.  It was a fitting tribute to the gentlest of men and I was so grateful for the assistance of my son Charlie and bonus-daughter, Marta.  As much as I miss them right now in this overly quiet house, I can think of little else but how lucky I am!

 

Not on your tintype or in a month of Sundays

Tuesday, June 6th, 2023

Dad (William Woodworth Little) and Me (Sydney Medora Little) – 1937

I can’t remember who said what yesterday, but whoever and whatever it was (or they were) prompted my rather adamant thought:  “Not on your tintype!”  Wow!  Where did THAT come from?  It’s an expression my dad used occasionally but I hadn’t thought of it in years — probably not in a month of Sundays.

I Googled “tintype” which resulted in a refresher course in early photography but I quickly back-tracked to old expressions which were once everyday sorts of things and that you don’t hear much any more.

“Billy” – My dad at seven years old – 1916

Not since “Hector was a pup,” actually.  Little did I know that Hector referred back to the Trojan War god who children at the turn of the 20th century studied about in school.  Apparently Hector was, in more modern parlance, “one cool dude” and young boys often named their dogs after him.  Who knew?  Again, that’s an expression my father sometimes used and, since he was born in 1910, the timing is about right.

Another of Dad’s expressions (usually used after a rich and delicious dinner) was, “I’ll see my Aunt Mariah tonight!”  There was no doubt in my mind that he thought he’d have the gollywobbles and it simply never occurred to me to ask who Aunt Mariah was.  As far as I know, she wasn’t anyone related to us.

Mom and Dad (Dale and Bill Little) – 1982-ish

And so last evening passed in a series of reveries about old-fashioned expressions and thoughts of my dad and gentler (or at least more gentlemanly) times.  Not a bad way to spend a few hours,  if truth be told.

Here we go meeting and greeting in May!

Saturday, May 27th, 2023

1964 H.A. Espy Family Reunion

I don’t know whether to celebrate our togetherness or to lament the burgeoning burden of bureaucracy here in our little village of Oysterville.  Time was when families got together on Memorial Day weekend to celebrate the end of winter, the beginning of sunshine and flowers, and just plain getting out of their long underwear for a while.

That was before my time, of course, but we still use our three-day holiday to get together.  Nowadays, the focus is meetings more than families — at least that has become the Saturday tradition on the Memorial Day weekend here in Oysterville. Those meetings began in 1977 or ’78 — soon after Oysterville was declared a National Historic District in 1976.  It was felt that the nuts and bolts of an organization to oversee the restoration of the church could best be worked out by the town at large.  And so the Memorial Day Saturday meetings of the Oysterville Restoration Foundation (ORF) were begun and have continued ever since — albeit by zoom during the Pandemic.

 When electricity came to Oysterville in 1936, our old hand pump became yard art.

When the Water Board was formed in the 1990s, it seemed natural that they, too, should report the year’s activities to their membership on Memorial Day Saturday.  Sometimes they went first (at 9:00 a.m.) and sometimes ORF went first.

And today, we added yet another meeting!  Tucker Wachsmuth held the first ever (that I know of) Annual Memorial Day Meeting of the Oysterville Cemetery Association.  A fitting date, I thought.  Like the other two meetings, it was well attended and the project described for the coming months was of great interest — locating boundaries and burials in the Pioneer Section of the Cemetery.

All-in-all, it was a full morning and another year of Oysterville business got underway!

Kerosene Lamp, Oysterville Church

 

Here we go gathering nuts in May!

Monday, May 1st, 2023

I think of “The Reluctant Dragon” song every first of May.  It was featured briefly in the 1941 American comedy film produced by Walt Disney and directed by Alfred Werker which was called… drum roll… “The Reluctant Dragon” written by Charles Wolcott, T.Hee, and Erdman Penner and is sung by the dragon (Barrett Parker).

I first heard it from my college roommate, Sandy Peters, who came from a quirky musical family on Bainbridge Island.  She and her younger sister shared an atticky room with an owl who came and went through an ever-open window and each family member played a variety of instruments — Sandy mostly the guitar and her dad, Babe, mostly the musical saw.  Sandy and I later married brothers, making our children  first cousins and our friendship lifelong..

Charlie and Me, 1957 at Stanford

And so it is that I think of all of the above every year on this day.  I also think of my maternal grandmother whose birthday was May 28th, of my dad whose birthday was May 12th (often on Mother’s Day), and mostly of my son, Charles, who was born on May 30th (and who is not at all a reluctant dragon!)

Party at Gordon & Roy’s 2001

So… according to the song:  “Here we go gathering nuts in May…” (which I always interpreted as meaning partying with my friends since I don’t know of many true nuts that are ripe in May), it promises to be a very NON-reluctant month!

 

 

My First Cousins

Monday, February 13th, 2023

Wallace, Sydney, Charles — the three oldest — at Fort Canby, 1938

I once had nine first cousins — seven on the Espy side and two on the Little side.  For most of our lives we have lived far apart but I consider myself lucky, indeed, to have known all of them — both on their home turf and on my own and lucky, too, that all of them have been in Oysterville.  Even my father’s nephews Craig and Brian have been here — twice I think.   Two others — my oldest cousin, Wallace Pearson, and Willard’s youngest daughter Cassin Espy actually lived here for a bit, years ago and not at the same time.  But in both instances, I was here and got to know them well.

I am the third oldest in age — the oldest of the six of us still living.  I am shamelessly sentimental about all of them — I love them to pieces, am SO proud of their accomplishments, of their characters, of their families, and of being related to such a remarkable group.  Do I ever tell them so?  Not that you’d notice.  If absence makes the heart grow fonder, it also plays havoc with staying in touch. Charlie and I are talking about going East next fall and paying a visit to each an every one.  I SO hope we can make that happen.

Cousins Mona, Joey, Freddy, Cassy with Great Aybt Dora and Their Mother Hilda – 1947

Yesterday I received a  lovely letter from Craig Little, the oldest of my father’s two nephews and the one who looks so much like Dad that even the two of them remarked upon it.  Three years ago Craig was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease although I’ve only recently learned of it.  He wrote me a long email letter yesterday — I can’t imagine the effort it took — and attached an article from the local paper (Cortland, NY) that he wrote for them recently.  I wish I could quote the entire article, but here are a few of the things that struck me:
There have been positives, as well.  I have already mentioned how the diagnosis of PD explained to me (and  others) many of the behaviors I had been exhibiting for some time…  I have learned to be more patient because nearly everything — from getting dressed to eating a meal — has to be done with INTENT, doing but one thing at a time.  I have slowed down considerably which, if you “go with it” can give you a fresh perspective and experience of things like nature that you never took the time to notice before…
    (Guest columnist Craig B. Little is the Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at SUNY  Cortland.)

 

Another Naked Turkey Story!

Sunday, November 27th, 2022

Not Quite Table-Ready!

Some years ago,when I was nine, I wrote a story called “The Naked Turkey” for the Children’s section of the Oakland Tribune.  It was my first published work and was life-changing — but not in a way you might imagine.  You can read it in my blog of November 21, 2010 at: https://sydneyofoysterville.com/2010/the-naked-turkey-or-how-i-came-to-realize-that-i-couldnt-write-fiction/

This year I ventured forth on my first solo trip without Nyel as navigator and, amazingly (and among a few other disasters) that naked bird came back to haunt me.  (Actually, it appeared in all its glory to my Thanksgiving hostess, Kuzzin Kris.)

There had been a bit of a premonition about how this holiday would go.  When I took my lunch break at the Salem Rest Stop, my GPS stopped working.  “Never mind,” thought I.  “I have Kris’s very clear written directions for which freeway exit, off ramps etc. to take me to her new apartment in Beautiful Downtown Eugene.”

Not As Simple As It Appears

Of course, I didn’t think about how I might keep one eye on the road and the other on the rather complicated directions which, I soon gave up and just got the hell off the converging on, off and who-know-what ramps as fast as possible.  I ended up in a HUGE GoodWill parking lot and a lovely young woman talked on my cell phone to Kris and explained…

That was Wednesday.  On Thursday, we”scratched-and-laughed” and got ready for Kris’s friend. Judy, who was joining us for dinner.  No cooking, though.  The entire meal, turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and even brussel sprouts with garlic would be ready for pick-up at Safeway at three o’clock.  Kris, in full hostess mode, went by herself to pick up the meal in her little red wagon.

It seemed to take a long time and, when she returned, Kris was a bit subdued.  Apparently all the accoutrements were cooked to perfection but the turkey was not only naked but totally raw.  A discussion ensued (as you might imagine).  Kris had been gone from Eugene for several years and during the interim Safeway had stopped offering cooked turkeys.  Which prompted a lot of questions like then why offer a full Thanksgiving meal ready to eat???  Time for such deep marketing examination was limited however…

Kris And Her Handy-Dandy Little Red Wagon

“But what shall I do?” she asked the clerks (who I think by this time had gathered ’round in sympathy.)   “How about chicken?” someone said.  “We have both roasted and fried and we could cut them up and give you the portions you’d like of each kind…”

“Done!” said Kris!  And I have to say that it was the best Thanksgiving Turkey-less dinner ever!  Topped off by two pies and then a visit to another friend’s place for two more pies.

I’m sure there were lessons learned, as well.  But, really… who cares?  We were replete!

Oh no! Not more treasures!

Sunday, September 11th, 2022

“Self,” I said to myself… “It’s high time to get on with this downsizing project!”  It’s a project Nyel and I began several years ago with an eye to leaving the house in understandable condition when it’s our time to shuffle off. “Understandable” translates to getting rid of all of our personal “stuff” — those keepsakes and photos and endless file folders of written material that will mean nothing to those who will be here next.

We made good progress and between the things that went to museum archives and collections, the things that are designated for family members, the things that we took to thrift stores and Good Will, and the detritus we threw out, we  probably redistributed 80% of the items in the garage and our back forty storage area.  But even so, what remains seems daunting.

I began this morning with a heavy cardboard box labeled Dale’s Photos etc. ’98? “Piece of cake,” I thought to myself.  “Those were the years when mom was at Golden Sands and later at the nursing home.  I probably took most of those pictures myself.  They’ll be easy to cull…”

And the first thing I ran across was an envelope sent from Williams, Arizona on March 22, 1931 — addressed to “Miss Dale Espy” in Redlands California and written in my father’s familiar handwriting  Postage: 2 cents.  It turned out  to be a letter written after my not-yet-dad and a friend had hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back while on Spring Break from the University of Redlands.  Two weeks later, on Easter Sunday (April 5th), Dale Espy and Bill Little would announce their engagement.

Hard on the heels of that treasure, I ran across a postcard in my own tidy 22-year-old’s handwriting sent from Perugia, Italy on March 8, 1958.  The picture on the front was of Michelangelo’s “David” and I reported that we (Charlie’s dad and I)) were still crazy about Italy and that “Quad (which was Charlie’s toddler- nickname) is fine.”

Maybe it’s going to take longer to go through this box than expected…

A touch of home for Helen…

Thursday, September 8th, 2022

Granny’s Oil Lamp

My grandmother, Helen Richardson Espy, left the comforts and cultural amenities of East Oakland, California in 1902 to set up housekeeping in Oysterville — “just for a short time,” she assured her three-year-old daughter Medora and year-old son Albert.  Helen and her husband Harry had come to look after his aging father, patriarch of Oysterville and recently widowed.  Surely it wouldn’t be for long.

But even so, she brought along a few of the amenities that she could not bear to part with — a few treasured pieces of furniture, her china and crystal and sterling silverware and a lovely kerosene lamp with hand painted globe and pedestal.  Somehow, they have all survived — through Helen’s fifty years in this house, through the raising of seven children and through the vicissitudes of life as a dairy farmer’s wife.  They were used with love by my mother for twenty-plus years and continue to be used by me.  For all these years Granny’s treasures have symbolized realities embraced even as unrealized dreams have been set aside.

The Switches — one for the top, one for the bottom.

When FDR’s rural electrification program came to Oysterville in 1936, Papa saw to it that Granny’s lovely “oil lamp” was electrified.  I remember how proud I felt over the years when I was allowed to pull the little chains that activated the on/off switches and the top and bottom of the lamp would light up.

Forty years ago or so, the switches wore out.  And ten years ago, give or take, Nyel took the lamp apart and wired it so that it would work without the switches.  You could just plug it in and…voilà! Let there be light!  But it wasn’t the same.  Nyel knew it wouldn’t be, so he ordered new parts, got a wiring diagram, and put everything carefully in a zip lock bag.  For when he had time…

Dell at work!

Meanwhile, there were hospital stays and therapy sessions and uncertain recoveries and more doctoring.  And where was that zip lock bag, anyway?  Not long before Nyel died, I ran across it but… And then we both thought about Tucker’s friend Dell.  Not only did he seem to like to tinker and repair and clean up and revitalize all manner of things — he was good at it.  Really good!

Perfect!

So last weekend when he was here at Tucker and Carol’s, I asked him if he’d take a look.  Two days later — ten hours of work, Tucker told me — the lamp was back to 1936 condition — only better.  LED bulbs replaced the old incandescents, not only giving more light but less heat.  The brass fittings (which Dell had carefully cleaned) wouldn’t corrode as they had before — or at least not so rapidly.  And I learned that the style of switches and other hardware in the lamp did match that 1936 time period for the conversion to electricity.

 And best of all?  I totally enjoyed listening to and watching Dell and Tucker (who have known each other for many years) banter back and forth as Dell worked and Tucker acted as his assistant, finding just the right tools, the right sized bulbs, or wires or…  Of course to me it all comes under the heading of “magic.”  I can never thank the two of them enough!  And how I wish my grandmother could see her precious lamp glowing even more brightly 120 years after coming to Oysterville “just for a short time.”

When the Red House Cousins come to town…

Wednesday, August 17th, 2022

From Lexie’s FB Page – (Thanks Lexie!)

I went visiting this afternoon — four houses north and two generations south.  It was a hubbub of activity at the Red House as it has always been my live-long life!  Those cousins of mine can pack more activities and fun into a short stay than any other ten families I know.

As I knocked at the open door and walked into the kitchen, Anna was mixing a serious looking cocktail that involved egg whites and pisco (a kind of brandy) and Angostura bitters — “pisco being about 95 proof” said her dad, Jim.    “Beeg and I met pisco in Lima Peru seventeen years ago,” he told me.  “We brought the bottle back with us and last night was the first time it has been opened.”  Pisco Sours — one for me, one for Jim — we being the Honorable Elders of this particular family gathering.

Although, “gathering” doesn’t quite categorize what usually happens at the Red House!  More of a meet, greet, and off to fly a kite or take a swim or, in the case of Anna’s husband, Rob — to paint another section of the house with a fresh coat of red.  (Or at least that’s where I think he disappeared to!)

I caught glimpses of all five of the “youngers” — Lexie’s boys, Kahrs, Anders and Bo and Anna and Rob’s two, Anwyn and Walker.  But not all at the same time and not all doing the same thing.  Kahrs, flat on his back in the lane managing the kite flying overhead.  Anwyn in the kitchen, in the back yard, down the lane, in the tall grass.  Bigger kids so far out in the bay it was hard to tell who was who.  No one still.  Everyone having fun.

Red House Cousins!  Wow!  And that wasn’t all of them by any means — only the ones here and now.  YAY!