Archive for the ‘From the Past’ Category

Thanks Ms. Harris! (I think.)

Monday, September 27th, 2021

Sydney – Photo by Bill LaRue c. 1970

When Eugene-Our-Lawn-Guy came by with our bill this morning, I apologized for still being in my bathrobe.  It was well after 10:00 and I didn’t want him to think I was a slug-a-bed.  “I’ve actually been up since 5:30,” I said, “but I’m on a writing roll and…”

Somehow that segued into him telling me that “Martha say’s ‘hi'” and me asking “Marta who?” and him saying “She’s a client in Long Beach — used to teach with you.”

“Oh!  Tell her ‘Hi’ back,” I said.  “I hardly ever see her these days.”

And then, I swear, there was a twinkle in Eugene’s eyes, and he said, “I understand you were quite the Wild Child back in the eighties!”  And, I further swear, the Devil must have made me respond, ” Yeah!  You’d have liked me back then!”  And we both laughed.

Sydney Again – Photo by Bill LaRue c. 1970

He says that Martha said no more.  While I, of course wracked my brain for what “more” there might have been to say.  That was a long time ago…

But, truth to tell, my overall reaction was very positive, indeed.  I’m not saying I was a Wild Child, mind you, but it’s nice to know  that maybe, just maybe, I’ll be remembered as more than just a little old gray-haired woman who used to teach school and write books about history.

If you do happen to remember, no details, please.  Just a nice “balanced” memory.  (Actually, I wonder where I can get one of those…)



Fencing us in and them out in Oysterville?

Friday, September 24th, 2021

Double Picket Style – W.D. Taylor House, 1980s

Oysterville has long been known for its picket fences.  Not so much that it has them.  Lots of places do.  The commentary on our fences over the years has been upon their variety more than upon their actual existence.  I wonder if that’s because property owners mostly made their own pickets in the “olden days” — those days I think of as belonging to my grandfather and great-grandfather.

Churchyard Fence – Photo by Deirdre Purcell, 2015

With regard to fences, anyway, those “olden days” were before 1925, during the years my great grandfather had a “ranch,” purchased in 1902 by my grandfather and on which he raised dairy cows.  On November 12, 1925, my grandfather’s ranch foreman, B.G. Gove, wrote to my grandfather who,  apparently, was out of town.  I quote part of Mr. Gove’s  charming and informative letter here, leaving his spelling and punctuation “as is”:

A man run into a Cow some where neare Chinook some time back and smashed his car  of corse, no one oned the cow so his Layer toald him that as long as the Officers wasent trying to put the herd law in force, the County was responssal for the car so they broat suit agenst the county and the county comishenrs to clear their skirts sent the sherife to round up everyone that had stock running out.  They arrested Looes Loumes and Will Shagran so now Looes and Will are working to get the Herd Law squashed and it is surprising how many friends Looes can find to fite for him and he poses as a disinterested one working for the good of the Poor Widdow…  Nelsons Boy was over the other night with a paper for the Herd Law that is the only one I have heard of for the Law.  They Sure Mis you here.  Nelson was telling me that you had a herd Law passed (a State Law) when you were in the Senet  if that is so, why all this fus to get it a county law   the county can’t make Laws to conflick with the State can they….

Nyel Makes Pickets, 2012

At a meeting about another matter entirely at our schoolhouse the other day, Kathleen Sayce mentioned the picket fences that were once “typical” around the oldest homes in Oysterville.  She mentioned that, traditionally, the fences of Oysterville were placed around homes and gardens (of the vegetable, flower and orchard types) to keep out wandering livestock.   That was surely back in those free range days that Mr. Gove was writing  about.

And, for those who want “distinctive” looking pickets like those of the “olden days,” making them yourself is a necessity.  I think Nyel has made scores, if not hundreds, over the past thirty years.   So far, we haven’t had a single cow in the yard.  The deer, however, are another matter entirely.


He didn’t suffer fools gladly.

Wednesday, September 1st, 2021

Willard 1914

My Uncle Willard was thoughtful, kind, and unfailingly understanding.  But he did not suffer fools gladly, no matter what Paul had to say in his letters to the Church at Corinth (The Holy Bible, King James Version: 2nd Corinthians 11:1-21).  When a reporter at Newsweek erroneously located the Long Beach Peninsula (placing it on the Olympic Peninsula) in late November 1982, Willard wrote a “straightening out” letter.  He received this response dated March 8, 1983:

Dear Mr. Espy:
Thank you for your response to “Glorious Food” (Nov. 29).  We’re sorry that you found our “Olympic Peninsula, Wash.” subtitle for the section in this piece that mentioned the Ark and Shelburne restaurants misleading.  While we were not unaware that the southernmost end of the Olympic Peninsula is called the Long Beach Peninsula, we decided to go with the broader geographical designation that can be applied to this area.  We do appreciate the concern with accuracy, and the interest in
Newsweek, however, that prompted you to write.  We hope you will continue to follow our coverage.
Sincerely, Jannica Hurwitt for the Editors

Willard 1940

Willard’s response, written March 1983:

I have your kind response of March 8 to a letter I wrote last year about a factual error in your otherwise excellent November article “Glorious Food.”  But I did not find the title in question “misleading.”  It was simply wrong.
Even more appalling is your extraordinary statement that “we were not unaware that the southernmost end of the Olympic Peninsula is called the Long Beach peninsula.”  If there is any authority in existence that says the entire west coast of the state of Washington is known as the Olympic peninsula, do cite it to me.  The Long Beach peninsula is no more part of  the Olympic peninsula than it is part of Baja California.

Willard 1981

To make a bad matter worse, you say you deliberately “decided to go with the broader geographical designation that can be applied (my underlining) to this area.”  Of course it can be; you can apply the term “Olympic peninsula” to the moon.  But on what authority?  By stretching matters, you could justify calling the entire northwestern part of Washington, with Aberdeen at the southern extremity and Olympia at the southeastern, the Olympic peninsula, but that is the limit.  The Long Beach peninsula, as you will see clearly from the enclosed map, is a discrete entity.  To make a mistake is much more forgivable than to pretend it was no mistake, or at worst just a difference of opinion.
If you can cite an accepted authority that says the Long Beach peninsula is part of the Olympic peninsula, I’ll buy you lunch.  And if you can’t, I think you should buy me one.
Sincerely, Willard R. Espy

I doubt very much if any lunch was forthcoming.  I also doubt if there was an apology, but I could be wrong.  The two letters quoted above are all that I have found regarding the matter.







2 Corinthians 11:1-21

Nostalgia Over ‘The Necessary’?

Monday, August 16th, 2021

An Upscale Two-Holer

The theme of our 2021 calendar (which I diligently write on but forget to look at) is outhouses.  Each of the twelve pictured is quaint and nostalgic  — not quite like I remember the privies of my childhood.  Not entirely, anyway.  Some are certainly similar from the outside, but it’s the inside that I remember best and not with any particular longing for the ‘good old days,’ either.  I can still conjure up the misery of sitting out there on stormy days.  It was cold, damp, often smelly.  It’s hard to believe the stories told by my mother and her siblings — that my grandmother would escape to the outhouse with a book for a bit of peace and quiet from a household of seven children.  It was the one place she knew she would not be disturbed.  As for Papa, all his life — which included 22 years after we had an inside toilet — he put his hat on before entering the bathroom.  When my mom asked him why, he answered:  “Well, girlie, I can still feel that wind whistling around my neck!”

So Familiar-Looking

My grandparents kept their outhouse for a dozen or more years after they got their first indoor bathroom.  Almost everybody in Oysterville did.  They were good insurance against power failures which happened frequently in those days.  And, of course, Miss Elliott’s Camp Willapa was all about outhouses — every group of cabins had one and every camper had Outhouse Duty once a week.  That meant sweeping the floor, washing the toilet seat (if there was one) or the sitting area with soapy water and Clorox, making sure there was enough TP, and that the lime bucket was full.  Actually, it was pretty “light duty” compared to splitting kindling for the firepit or hauling water for the cauldron.


Nevertheless, I do enjoy this calendar — even if I don’t use it to its best advantage.  I especially like the sayings that go with each picture:  “Quarter moon on the outside, full moon on the inside.”  “No job is finished until the paperwork is done. — T.P.”  “Sprinkles are for cupcakes, not for toilet seats.”  “PLEASE seat yourself.”  “You never know what you have until it’s gone… like toilet paper.”  “Please remain seated for the entire performance.”  And other such memorable quips.  I wish we’d thought of those at camp.  It might have made the outhouse duty more enjoyable.



Downsizing Along Memory Lane

Tuesday, July 20th, 2021

A Banker’s Box of Correspondence

The banker’s box is labeled “Correspondence A-L” and is chock-a-block full of big envelopes, each lined up alphabetically by first-name and written in felt-tipped marker in my familiar primary-teacher-handwriting.  The letters seem to be from friends and relatives, written from 1978 to 1983 — roughly the period of time from the beginning of my full-time residency in Oysterville until I met Nyel.  I must have been cleaning out file drawers for the occupancy of his work on his Master’s degree.  Typically, I threw nothing away.  Now is the time for that, but not before taking a peek.

Alastair Reid – Photo by Rollie McKenna 1960

The first contains a single letter from Alastair Reid (1928-2014)– Scottish poet, writer for the New Yorker. scholar of Latin American literature and good friend of my Uncle Willard’s.  As it happened, he was here visiting when I arrived with a caravan of worldly possessions from California.  I would stay with my folks until Willard and Louise vacated their cottage and returned to New York and then, while Ossie Steiner and the Mack Brothers built my house on the bay, I would live at W&L’s place and begin teaching at Long Beach School.

I remember that one evening during Alastair’s visit, he and I walked a mile or so south to my property and stood on the building site looking out at the bay.  We carried with us a cardboard model of the house that Charlie had made and positioned it this way and that to imagine the finished structure.  On the way back up my road, I teased him about the gorse coming up all along the edges.  “The seeds came in with the sand for the road,” I told him, “but it was probably some of your Scottish ancestors who brought the original ones.  Maybe even these!  I’ve heard they’ll wait 100 years, until conditions are just right, to germinate.  “Gorse is a scourge!”

“That’s odd,” he told me.  “It’s easily controlled in Scotland.  We just go along with a small blowtorch and zap the plants when they’re young!”  I think he must have been funning me.  Gorse is highly flammable and surely Scotland would have gone up in flames long since had his story been true.

His letter turned out to be a response to one of mine, apparently telling him that I had purchased his newly published volume of poems, Weathering, and how much I was enjoying them.  (Indeed, my favorite all-time poem by ANYone is the namesake poem in that volume.)  Reading the last paragraph in his letter absolutely blew me away and, if there was even a glimmer of doubt about taking a look in all the other envelopes, it has completely evaporated.  Here is what he said:

You’ll get lost in the Oysterville past through the family annals, and suddenly long-dead great-uncles will materialise in the cottage, and you’ll populate it with the vivid past.  It must make Oysterville very strange to be in, as though you were adding another huge dimension to it.


I keep waiting for Mrs. Crouch to join me…

Friday, July 16th, 2021

Cover: Historic Haunts of the Long Beach Peninsula

Every time I give a book talk, I halfway expect to “hear” from Mrs. Crouch.  Not that she appears on demand, mind you.  In fact, as far as I know, she has never appeared at all.  But she does, occasionally, make herself known.  Years ago — in the mid-seventies — when my mom was talking to  friends  Patty and Noel Thomas about her, Mrs. C. knocked some heirloom incense burners off the bookcase here at our house.  I wasn’t among the witnesses, but there were several.  In fact it was before I had moved here and before I had met P&N, but I’ve heard the story many times.

So, though I’m always hopeful she’ll give me a sign that she’s attending one of my book talks, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be in any way what we might expect. She is anything but predictable.  But I do believe she likes the attention she is getting from the stories I’ve written about her.  On the other hand, I’ve never known her to manifest herself in any place other than right here at the erstwhile parsonage.  One of the few things we know for sure about her is that she was shy.  Tommy Nelson who lived down the street when the Crouches were here said years later: She could sing like a mockingbird.  But when a stranger was around, she had nothing to say.  

Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula

Still, it would be fun if she or one of the other “spirited” characters in my ghost books would make themselves manifest in some way at one of my book talks.  The last one I’m giving — probably until the month of October — will be tomorrow at the Senior Center from 1:00 until 3:00.  After the question and answer period, I’ll be selling books — both the new one,  Historic Haunts of the Long Beach Peninsula  and the first one, Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula.  Bring your check books or cash — I can’t take credit cards.

Oh… and in case I haven’t mentioned it before — this new book does include some honest-to-goodness photographs of Mrs. Crouch’s husband, the unrighteous preacher!  Mug shots from his stay in the California State Prison at San Quentin! (But you’ll be surprised at the circumstances of his arrest — it wasn’t for the reason you might expect!)  In my opinion, seeing him “up close and personal” is worth the price of the book!



How many differences can you find?

Thursday, July 15th, 2021

Jean Nitzel and Son

Remember those pictures — often in the comics section of the Sunday paper — that seemed at first glance to be identical, but weren’t?  I used to love those.  And for some reason I thought of them, only in a completely different way, when our friend Jean Nitzel wrote that she had arrived safely in Maine.  Day before yesterday she wrote on Facebook:  So happy to get off the train and put my feet on solid ground. At my son’s house in Maine here for a couple of weeks. Lots to see and do. Another check off my bucket list.

She kept us all apprised of her progress across the country with periodic pictures and comments on Facebook.  Change trains in Chicago.  Coming up soon.  A bit nervous about that.  They said they would have someone to help.  Moving around train feels like you are in a pinball machine.  Not very stable.  Is nice to just sit and look out the window  I’m on upper deck and is pretty rocky.  Reading a lot.

So that’s one “picture.”  The other that came to mind was the train trip my aunt Medora’s “chums” from Olympia took to come to the Peninsula for a visit in 1913 — 108 years ago.  Of course, they were young — had just completed their Freshman year in high school.  And train travel was, by comparison, relatively new.  Here is what one of the girls, Elizabeth Ayer, wrote home to her mother about that trip:

Elizabeth wrote this account to her mother on July 10, 1913 – almost 108 years to the day before Jean began her own train journey:

Elizabeth Ayer, Marie Strock, Medora Espy – 1912

Dear Mamma,
…  Mr. Strock bought our tickets.  Also a life insurance apiece.  They were for one day and $25.00.  Well we got aboard baggage, cherries, candy and all.  Made a very slow trip to Tenino.  It seemed to me that we crossed the new railroad about every half hour.  Marie immediately dived into a novel, the characters of which eloped in the second chapter, while I gazed out of the windows.  Some of the workers waved at us.  In Tenino we had to wait about 20 minutes.    In which time Marie read and I asked about 50 questions at the office concerning our trip.  From Tenino to Centralia the trip was quite uneventful.  Very nice depot at Centralia.  Here we deposited our baggage preparatory to a good rest.  I then inquired about the train to South Bend and found that it was at the end of the station.  Then we made a rush for the train, got into the parlor car… so we got off the car to take another.  We were about 3 hr. getting to South Bend.  There were only about 10 babies in our car and they all made as much music as they could.  At South Bend we deposited our baggage while I inquired about the boat to Nahcotta.  The man at the window said it was at the wharf and that we would have to hurry.  Then he rushed out, grabbed our baggage, and told us to follow. 

The next part of Elizabeth’s story, though not about train travel, is an interesting look back at how visitors got to the beach from points north a century ago:

He led the way across the tracks and through grass past our knees.  Soon as we came in sight of the boat, our guide yelled to the captain that he had a couple of passengers for him.  Then the Captain met us and took the baggage.  He wasn’t much more than a boy.  The captain took our suitcases down below and the boat started … As we neared the ocean, the water grew very much rougher and it became impossible to stand alone.  I went down and got my raincoat and then we staggered forward and clung onto the gangplank and the water washed over the front and soaked our legs.  (It was great.)  Finally, Marie wanted to go down and read and I wanted to change my hat so we waited until the boat was tipped to suit our fancy.  Then we made a dash for a ladder, got ahold of it and after half an hour managed to fall downstairs and finely got my suitcase and after much work got out my hat.  I spent most of the 3 hours up in front.  One time when I was leaning over the rail reading a notice concerning corked boots, the captain leaned out of the window and inquired if my pal was sick.  She was leaning on the pilot house.  We ate our lunch about 3 o’clock.

Bay View Hotel — White building on left, across railroad tracks from Morehead & Company

Don’t know when the stage goes so will give the most important part of my letter.  I have left in the way of funds the money to get my ticket back and 50 cents beside of which I owe Medora 20 cents for postals and intend to put the 30 cents in on films.  So that will leave me without a cent.  And have just discovered that we will have to stay over night in South Bend which will be 50 cents beside meals so need more money.
          We met Medora half way up the wharf.  She is the same good natured goodfornothing that she was last winter.  We took dinner at the Bayview Hotel, Nahcotta.  Had a three minute steak.  Everybody stared at us….  The hotel is kept by a family of 14 or 16 all of whom dressed up in honor of our presence.  Medora said it was the first time in her life she had seen them dressed up.  Drove to Oysterville behind Coaly…

So… how many differences did you find between now and then?  Or, perhaps it would be easier to name the things that were alike!

The Oyster Boys and the Fourth of July

Sunday, July 4th, 2021

James Swan, 1883 — One of the First Pacific County Historians

James G. Swan’s account of the first Fourth of July celebration on Shoalwater Bay is amusing, horrifying, and compelling all at the same time.  As far as I am concerned, only one of those adjectives describes our Independence Day celebrations of the here and now.  But decide for yourself.

Swan, the first historian to document early white settlement in Pacific County, wrote the following description of July 4, 1853 in his book, The Northwest Coast Or Three Years’ Residence in Washington Territory:

After my return from Chenook, nothing of any particular interest transpired till toward the first of July, when it was announced to me that the boys, as the oystermen were termed, intended celebrating the 4th of July at my tent; and accordingly, as the time drew near, all hands were engaged in making preparations; for it was not intended that I should be at the expense of the celebration, but only bear my proportionate part.  The day was ushered in by a tremendous bonfire, which Baldt and myself kindled on Pine Island, which was answered by everyone who had a gun and powder blazing away.  Toward two o’clock they began to assemble, some coming in boats, others in canoes, and a few by walking round the beach, which they could easily do at an time after the tide was quarter ebb.

Early Oyster Boys Abe Wing and James Johnson, c. 18751

Each one brought something; one had a great oyster pie baked in a milk-pan; another had a boiled ham; a third brought a cold pudding; others had pies, doughnuts, or loaves of bread and my neighbor Russell came, bringing with him a long oration of his own composing, and half a dozen boxes of sardines.  When all were assembled, the performances were commenced by the reading of the Declaration of Independence by Mr. St. John, extracts from Webster’s oration at Boston on Adams and Jefferson, then Russell’s oration which was followed by the banquet, and after that a feu-de-joie by the guns and rifles of the whole company.

These ceremonies over, it was proposed to close the performances for the day by going on top of the cliff opposite, and make a tremendous big blaze.  This was acceded to, and some six or eight immediately crossed the creek and soon scrambled to the top of the hill, where we found an old hollow cedar stump about twenty fee high.  We could enter this on one side, and found it a mere shell of what had once been a monster tree.

I had with me a little rifle, which measured, stock and all, but three feet long.  With this I measured across the space, and found it was just six lengths of my rifle, or eighteen feet, and the tree undoubtedly, when sound must have measured, with the bark on, at least sixty feet in circumference.

Fourth of July Parade, Oysterville c. 1900

We went to work with a will, and soon had the old stump filled full of dry spruce limbs, which were lying about in great quantities and then set fire to the whole.  It made the best bonfire I ever saw; and after burning all night and part of the next day, finally set fire to the forest, which continued to burn for several months, till the winter rains finally extinguished it.  The party broke up at an early hour, and all declared that, with the exception of the absence of a cannon, they never had a pleasanter “fourth.”


We had to trash 1991.

Tuesday, June 1st, 2021

Sad to say, 1991 is history, scrapbook-wise.  That hot water heater disaster of 2002 was hardest on this particular volume — perhaps because, atypically for my scrapbooks,  it had lots of news clippings in it.  That printers’ ink and newsprint didn’t survive the soaking – some pages (actually, many) even molded somwhere along the way.  My usual picture-filled scrapbooks seemed to do much better.

In the news that year — a threatened statewide teacher strike during which about half of the OBSD teachers joined in a march on Olympia.  Another biggee was that Gordon’s cousin, Jeanne Gammel, was fired as Manager of the Port of Peninsula by a 10-man Board of Directors and the  next week, Daughter of the Pioneer Charlotte Davis wrote, “Where were the women?” in Jeanne’s defense.  Jeanne’s “crime” seemed to be too much interest in having the Port help local communities!  (Wow!  How I wish Jeanne were still around to see how they’ve come a full 180º since then!)

There was one real treasure, however, tucked in the back of the scrapbook.  A “Happy Birthday from the 1-2-3 Class of 1990-91” to me!  Each page of the little booklet contained a birthday wish and drawing from one of my students.  “My birthday wish to you is…  a dog,” said Parker Hill; “… a million dollars,” said Adam Lindsley; “… a necklace and a bouquet of flowers,” said Lindsay Newell; “… a new pair of purple shoes,” said Marina Koontz; “… it will never rain for you,” said Travis Wentworth; “… a nice vacation,” said Daniel Duffy; “…a trailer,” said Jason Moore; “a plant,” said Carson Kemmer;   “… a new dress,” said Katie Downer;  And on it went.  I loved it then and now, 30 years later, I love it still!

These were the treasures that made teaching the best job EVER!  And, these are the treasures that make downsizing so impossible.

Finding Uncle Al

Saturday, May 29th, 2021

Al Barela c. 2011

We didn’t hear from him at Christmas and he hasn’t been on FaceBook for a couple of years.   Al Barela –friend of 60+ years, artist extraordinaire, professor emeritas, San Jose State University.  Marta and Charlie (and me, too!) have always called him “Uncle Al” though he was wasn’t related — but we all choose to believe he is.

As Nyel and I have begun to think about “downsizing” — or at least of doing a little “estate planning” — I realized that I have five of Al’s paintings.  Four are on our walls; one is in the wings — waiting for a place to snuggle in.  All are large.  All are wonderful.  Some are quite personal.  Neither Charlie nor Mata has room for any of them, though Marta is trying to figure out how to keep one.  Somehow.

“Cyclist” by Al Barela, 1968

So, a few weeks ago during our Sunday evening Family Zoom Meeting, we brainstormed how to find Al (for starters) and, failing that, how to find where his collected works might be or if there is a gallery that has handled his paintings or… or… or. But mostly, we hoped to find Al.  I remembered that he had a nephew who went to Stanford some years (40?) years back but I had no name for him.  We thought Al might still have family in Albequerque which is where he grew up.  And I was pretty sure he was two or threee years older than I which would make him close to 90 so we were trepidatious.

Marta went to work contacting people named Barela on FaceBook.  She found a nephew (a different one) who, eventually,  responded to her very cautiously — protccting Al’s privacy — but giving us enough to indicate that Uncle Al was alive and living in Colorado!  And yesterday, the phone rang and there he was — that beloved, familiar voice!  We talked and talked and talked.

And now Nyel and I are discussing the feasibility of a road trip in the fall…