Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

On studying endocrinology when I grow up.

Saturday, January 6th, 2024

My cousin Alex Schreiber and I speak of many things when we get together.  We talk about our family — his grandfather Willard and my mother Dale were brother and sister, making Alex and me first cousins once removed and our children first cousins, twice removed.  Alex has four grown sons and one teenaged daughter.  They are all awesome as is my son Charlie and my bonus-daughter Marta.  We also talk Oysterville where we both share roots and we pool our knowledge about various branches of the family.  He knows the “East Coast Relatives” best; I, the “West Coast Relatives.”

But we seldom “talk shop” — especially not about Alex’s field which is way out of my network!  Granted, we are both educators, but there is a world of difference between the Primary Grades in the public schools of Washington State and the college students (both undergraduates and graduates) at a small Liberal Arts College in upstate New York.

According to Alex’s webpage he is an Associate Professor of Education in the Biology Department at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York.  He received his PhD at the University of Rhode Island at Kingston and Narragansett, RI and has received numerous awards and fellowships over the years.

All of which is very impressive (and intimidating to me, the non-scientist-of-the-world) but I love his online statement: Nothing fascinates me more than the mystery of vertebrate metamorphosis. How does a tadpole turn into a frog? What genes mediate the abrupt transformation of a larval fish or amphibian into its juvenile form? How did metamorphosis evolve? I have studied the biology of vertebrate metamorphosis in fishes and frogs for over 22 years. Metamorphosis is a period during which virtually every organ in the body changes abruptly and dramatically. Metamorphosis in frogs is characterized by three broad categories of development: 1) apoptosis, during which larval-specific structures (e.g. tail, gills) are programmed to die; 2) cell proliferation and differentiation of adult-specific organs (e.g. growth of the limbs); 3) the remodeling of all other organs from larval to adult forms (e.g. the intestine of the herbivorous tadpole remodels to accommodate a carnivorous adult lifestyle). Remarkably, all of these developmental programs are mediated entirely by one molecule: thyroid hormone. As such, amphibian metamorphosis is a naturally-inducible system that is conducive for studying numerous questions relating to the development of virtually any tissue or organ system.

All of which still didn’t mean a great deal to me until he visited just after Christmas and presented me with one of the first-hot-off-the-press copies of his gorgeous new book, “General and Comparative Endocrinology: An Integrative Approach.”  It weighs 2.7 pounds, he told me — in the same tones as a proud father might speak of the birth-weight of a child.  As I understand it, it’s one of the few (maybe the only) text book that introduces the broad and interdisciplinary scope of endocrinology.  It’s choc-a-block full of charts, diagrams, historical notes, photographs and provocative topic headings — “A Salamander’s Choice: To Metamorphose or Not?”  Who knew?  Plus, Alex did the Cover Art, himself (and the art for some of the introductory chapter pages, as well.)  If his humor comes through as well in his words, I’m “in!”

So, in the Publish-or-Perish world in which Alex lives, this should be the book that boosts him into full professorship.  And that might make the difference in his becoming an Oysterville homeowner someday.  Fingers crossed!  Wouldn’t Willard be pleased?

“Past Perfect” — and indeed it was!

Saturday, December 2nd, 2023

Alice Holm’s Year-End Remembrance Card given to each student.

During the last half of his long life, my uncle Willard Espy worked periodically on a book about his own growing-up years in Oysterville.  The tentative title was “Past Perfect” and each time he was out here on vacation from his home in New York, he would work on it a bit more — often collecting reminiscences from family members or neighbors who could fill in the forgotten cracks for him.

Today, I came across the notes from his first teacher, Alice Holm.  Miss Holm taught the primary grades during the years that Oysterville had so many school-aged children that there were actually two schools in the village.  The four youngest of the seven Espy children went to their first three years of school there and Miss Holm, who was about ten years younger than my grandmother, became a lifelong family friend.  This is her memory of Oysterville written long after those teaching years here:

Yes, I remember Oysterville.  I remember it began where you turned the corner of the Nelsons’ white picket fence where the “lay-locks” (says Charley) bent over the gate, and with the other flowers, bubbled and bloomed in profusion.  I remember the bay that spread out on the right in its Sunday evening quiet splendor.  Then, looking up the one wide tree-bordered street, I remember that elusive something that suggested the passage of time — centuries — and the never-failing twinge of melancholy that swept over me in spite of rich contentment.
I remember the old church in its soft hues and mellow tones, the high-backed pews, the worn-out hymnals, the organ, none too cooperative, and the groups that gathered there.  There were visiting ministers and speakers as well as the saddle-back divine who came on horseback to save our souls.

Yes.  Past Perfect!


Do they think faster? Or is my mind slower?

Monday, October 16th, 2023

Clammer Maddie, 2021

My gorgeous sixteen-year-old  cousin Maddie from upstate New York is in Los Angeles for a few days — for two modeling jobs!  Her father wrote that she would be on the west coast, staying with family friends and pursuing her modeling career which she has developed online since she was barely a teen.

This year she is finishing up high school along with a number of Running Start classes at a nearby college, plans to take a gap year, and then enroll in UCLA (I think) to pursue a career in film.  Which exact aspect — behind the camera or in front of it — is unclear to me but I’m sure Maddie has some definite goals.  She has had definite goals since I first met her four or five years ago.  And she pursues them with purpose, hours of research, and on-the-ground, first-hand-investigation.

I think she means to spend her gap year getting more modeling experience.  “It’s something I can always fall back on to make a little money while I’m going to college,” she told me last summer.  She was here with her dad and his long-time lady friend Katie (yet another of Maddie’s mother-figure-admirers-and-encouragers).  When she left here from that visit, she headed for L.A. to visit family friends, tour UCLA, USC, and possibly Pomona — UCLA being her first choice based on what their literature said they could offer and friends had reported from on-the-ground experiences.

Maddie and Sydney in Oysterville, 2022

What a gal!  Was I that smart at 16?  Am I that smart now?  And besides all of that long-range planning, on-the-ground-research, and general sixteen-year-old enthusiasm, Maddie is gorgeous, fun to talk to, and full of energy and enthusiasm.

I’m proud to call her “Cousin” and only wish L.A. were closer to Oysterville.  But then I’ve wished that for more than fifty years — ever since Charlie went of to Cal Arts to college and never looked back.  The two of them are hoping to get together for coffee in the next few days if Maddie can fit it into her whirlwind schedule…

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:

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!