Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

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!

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!


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!

“No worries. It happens all the time!”

Monday, July 25th, 2022

My Aunt Medora (1915) after whom I was named

As I looked at a copy of Nyel’s death certificate before I sent it off in response to yet another bureaucratic request, the name “Muriel” popped out at me.  Yes, that was Nyel’s mother’s first name.  But it is NOT my middle name, though this “official” document said, officially, that it was.

No.  My middle name is Medora, after my mother’s oldest sister.  Ironically, another of my mother’s sisters was named Muriel (although we always called her Mona).  But I was not named for her.  And, truth to tell, I like the name Medora better,

My Aunt Muriel “Mona” (circa 1920) after whom I was NOT named

And as I continued to look at the document — very carefully, now — I saw that the” name of the surviving spouse” (that would be me) was Sydney Medora Little.  But wait!  That was my maiden name  Shouldn’t “surviving spouse” reflect my married name?  Apparently not.  I was told later that it is actually correct as is.  “They” do want your maiden name…  Go figure.

The ways of bureaucracy continue to confound me.  Thank goodness for the kindness of people along the way.  Like Eric Andersen, the new-ish owner of Pentilla’s Chapel by the Sea.  He is always reassuring, sympathetic, and willing to help this confused old lady — and probably every other person who becomes gobsmacked by the intracacies of the State’s requirements.  Or the County’s.  Or maybe the Nation’s.

I can’t help but wonder who will birddog the paperwork when it’s my turn to leave this mortal coil.  Fortunately, I doubt that I’ll be too conderned about it when the time comes…


Happy Mother’s Day!!!

Sunday, May 8th, 2022

Happy Mother’s Day from Charlie

You’d think that after all these years I wouldn’t be surprised anymore.  But I always am.  It’s not the flowers or the Mother’s Day greetings that catch me unawares exactly.  It’s the fact that they always arrive on the Friday beforehand, Charlie’s theory being that I’ll have the weekend to enjoy them (and, lately) to share their beauty at our Friday Night Gatheringss.

This year was no exception.  As a matter of fact, though, they were actually exceptional in that they were OH SO fragrant!  I’m not sure what Nansen’s secret is.  You hardly ever get the benefit of a flowery scent with posies from the florist these days.  So, a double thankyou, my beloved Charlie!!!

USPO Package Notice

It wasn’t until the next day, just about noontime, that I checked my email and saw this note from Bonus Daughter Marta: Just want to let you know that there should be a package from me waiting for you at the post office.  I hope you are able to pick it up before this upcoming Mother’s Day!   

And, don’t you know that our Oysterville Post Office is only open half a day (no matter what day of the week it is, except Sunday) so I missed it entirely.  I only hope there was nothing perishible in it…  Marta is known for her exotic food choices from Trader Joe’s so my fingers are crossed!  And I’ll be there first thing tomorrow, you betcha!

My Mother, Dale Espy Little – a few years before we made one another’s acquaintence! (1932?)

All-in-all, I think this Mother’s Day has been stretched beyond recognition!  I wish I could stretch it a little farther than Oysterville so it could include my own dear mother…  Actually, I’m pretty sure it does reach her if loving thoughts count!

When considering the alternatives…

Wednesday, March 9th, 2022

Oysterville Church, South Side

… our corner of the world really does look like a better place this morning.  The sun is shining. Friends and loved ones are sending cheering thoughts to Nyel (and to me!).  Even the chickens seemed glad that Farmer Nyel is home and I think they have promised another egg — though, as we know, there are never any guarantees with chickens.

Most importantly, Nyel seems more cheerful, even though he says he feels the same as before (which is basically like sh**.) He says his improved outlook is because he has greater faith in Dr. Trusted at the UW Medical Center than he did with the situation here in Astoria.  The wheels are turning as we speak toward getting him an admission date up there.  Perhaps he will have a date before the day is over.

Meanwhile, we have heard from my Austrian cousin Eva in response to my “how’s it going” query regarding the troubles in Eastern Europe.  She wrote:

Austrian Cousins Eva and Lina Richardson

“You are right – we are living in a mad world. The war in Ukraine is on our doorstep. We are all very worried about everything escalating. I must say here, I am grateful to Biden for not answering to the aggression. Just imagine, what Trump would have done in this crisis.
     I read the news almost hourly, always afraid of the war. The Ukrainian people are coming in droves, the first ones have already arrived in Austria, even here in our little town. They are getting a very warm welcome, (which makes me feel uneasy about all the Syrian and Afghanistan refugees here (who are not welcome at all).  But already two million (!) people have fled from Ukraine. And I think many more will follow.
     We think about staying or leaving, my sons and nephews wonder if they would fight with weapons – none of our sons served their year in the Army, all of them did civil service with the Red Cross. But things have really changed in a very short time.
     I realize how lucky we were to grow up in peace, I am very thankful for all the good things that were possible, like going to school, working, raising children, being in pension without any financial worries, a very good medical system etc etc. 
   Last night I went to a gathering, where a young Ukrainian women told us that she was forced to leave her home in Donbass eight years ago. She moved to Kiev and started all over from zero, now the same thing again – only much worse. 

We are reminded, once again, how fortunate we are to live here on this little patch of sand and water.

How many zooms until purrfection?

Sunday, September 26th, 2021

We zoom every Sunday night — Charlie, Marta, Nyel and me.  And Charlie’s cats, Lupe and Rosencrantz.  It’s a date we’ve been keeping for at least a year and a half (except for Rosencrantz who just joined the fun this past summer.)  I wouldn’t say we’re very good at it, but we’re improving.  It’s not the content.  We’ve always been superlative in that department.  It’s the delivery.  Or, if you will, the technical parts.

Not so much Marta.  She is way beyond the rest of us.  She plays with backgrounds and with crazy facial features and other things that make us laugh.  She looks great with a stache.    And Nyel is right up there, too.  No add-ons for him.  Just “what you see is what you get” — but no problems either.  Charlie has had mega sound problems.  Some Sundays are good; some not.  He’d be the first to say that he needs a  new  computer but it’s not in the budget for this year.

I’m the worst.  It’s the wretched “intermittent internet.”  I freeze up — always ugly, always annoying.  So why doesn’t it happen to Nyel?  We have the very same infrastructure.  If he does freeze, it’s not too discernible.  Probably  because he’s not all that animated to start with.  But, me?  Yikes!  It’s totally humbling.  My tongue is hanging out or my eyes are at half-mast or sometimes there’s some other unbecoming issue.  My head is bigger than everyone else’s too.  I finally realized that’s because I snug right up to the screen (and camera)  so I can see what’s going on.  Failing eyesight — another one of those “secrets of old age.”

And, of course, Lupe and Rosencrantz  have to get into the act, too.  Lupe is older and not very tolerant of her younger “brother.”  But he is undaunted.  Since they are both black and Rosencrantz is growing past the kitten stage, it’s getting tough to tell them apart.  They are definitely the comic relief of each Sunday’s get-together.

It’s hard to think back to BZ — Before Zoom.  I think we’ll probably continue with it even when this scary time is over.  It’s one of the good things that has emerged from the sheltering times…


Words of Wisdom for Our 34th Anniversary

Monday, September 13th, 2021

Dale and Bill Little September 22, 1934

Yesterday, I came across two items of significance in my ongoing efforts to tidy up the crevices and corners of this old house — those places where the detritus of three generations has been carefully set aside for “someone” “someday” to deal with.  Recently, I’ve been reviewing and discarding the paper keepsakes — mostly of my own — and found a huge (11″x 14″) manilla envelope stuffed with letters from my folks between the years 1976 and 1990.

Those were their retirement years — the years that they did a lot of travelling which, for their first forty-some years together they could not afford to do.  Not money-wise; not time-wise.  The letters and cards and interesting clippings told of their adventures and mishaps, asked me to look after various domestic details at home for them and, mostly, reflected their total enjoyment of not only “the moment” but of the great privilege of life in general.

Two items, nestled together, said it all: first, the invitation to their 50th wedding anniversary which involved seven (count ’em seven) big events and asked that RSVPs be sent to me; and, second, a thank-you letter from the two of them written from Hawaii where Charlie and I (apparently) had sent them as a surprise anniversary gift.  The celebrations (repeating of vows, receptions, dinners etc.) were planned in the greatest detail by mom and dad, themselves.  And no matter what they said, Charlie and I have NO memory of sending them off to Hawaii.

My mother’s words in the letter were perfect in every respect. I’ll share a few of them here for you to enjoy whether or not you knew my folks and whether or not you’ve been involved in a significant anniversary celebration of your own.

Sydney and Charlie at Bill and Dale’s 50th

Dear Daughter… What a super celebration we had thanks to  your very efficient handling of all the last minute details.  Everyone has mentioned what perfect hosts you and Charlie were…
Your father and I both agree that we accomplished our mission in life when we “Diddled” and produced you and you “Diddled” and brought forth Charlie.  We didn’t stop at half best, but we produced the top best…
We will always remember our Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration as the most rewarding time of our lives.  Weddings are filled with great expectations — fifty years later it is nice to survey the years and realize that what you were dreaming in your youth might not have been too realistic, what you gain over the years takes a lot of work and play — love and laughter — grief and tears which all add up to a life with substance that could not be attained if all of your youthful wishes were granted by the wave of a magic wand…

My father added:  Hi!  Just to say (also) thanks — we all had a great time.  We’ll do it again!?  Love, Dad!

All words to live by on this, our 34th!

“…a two-and-a-half-pound wisp”

Sunday, September 5th, 2021

Mona’s Handprint at Three Months

Of her fourth child’s birth on December 10, 1904, my grandmother Helen Richardson Espy) wrote many years later: Mona was born the night Albert was taken ill – a two-and-a-half-pound wisp – had 75 convulsions in 5 days when 5 weeks old.

According to family lore, she was nestled in cotton and placed in a cigar box on the back of the kitchen woodstove where she could be kept warm. When her grandfather, old R.H. Espy, stumped down the street to see her, he took one look and grumbled, “Not worth keeping!  Not worth keeping!”

I can’t begin to imagine how difficult this time was for the family. Five-year-old Albert died of stomach cancer on January 24, 1905 when Mona was just six weeks old.  Nevertheless, under the tender ministrations of her mother Mona endured: Up she came, frail, unstable, completely dominated by Suzita’s force and vividness. Twice during her fourth year she had pneumonia, and had to learn to walk all over again.  It was about this period, that she used to sleep with her hands over her ears “to keep the dreams out.” Always a pathetic hungry little creature unable to assimilate her surroundings. At four she used to sit by the hour perched on the fence accosting every passerby with “Hello what you going to do tomollow?”

Mona at 7 or 8 — 1911

Mona’s full name was Ruth Muriel.  I’m not sure where the “Mona” came from but I never heard anyone who knew her call her anything else.  She was the only aunt I ever knew and, of all my mother’s siblings, I probably knew her best.  That she was “different” from the others was certainly true — not so much in looks, but certainly in personality.  My grandmother said that she, of all seven children, was “the most Espy” and we all understood that to mean that she was not quite as refined or cultured as the Richardsons.  I’m not sure why that had a negative connotation since my grandmother was crazy about my grandfather for all their fifty-five years together — he could do no wrong in her eyes or in the eyes of his children or grandchildren.

Mona, too, adored her father and credited him with all the positive things she had learned and done throughout her life.  Even so, she considered herself the “ugly duckling” of the family – not because of her appearance, but because in a family that valued learning and education above all else, school was always a struggle for her. Nevertheless, she was extremely proud of both her precocious younger brothers and, if it bothered her that they easily surpassed her in school, she never talked about it.

Mona circa 1946

She became a Practical Nurse, eventually married — three times, I think, though the first is a bit cloudy —  and was politically active, especially during Eisenhower’s campaign. Years after her death in 1970,  Democratic State Senator Robert C. “Bob” Bailey told me that he had enjoyed working with her on various projects and that “she was one of the most sensible Republicans he’d ever known.”

My memories of Mona are a mix of fondness and regret.  She taught me many things — to drink my coffee black, the benefits of a rocking chair (which she gave me) to a new mother, how to sew French seams (on a sewing machine she later left me in her will), and shared with me the family gossip that my mother thought I needn’t know.  My regrets came too late, as they often do — would that I could have pointed out to her how valued she was — to all of us.  Or would she, could she have been convinced?