Archive for the ‘From the Past’ Category

It made my heart sing!

Tuesday, January 18th, 2022

The Sanctuary

Every once in a while something comes along that just makes my heart sing.  It’s usually unexpected and not a really big deal.  Except to me.  Today it was a bit of  gray paint!

Every other Tuesday is errand day for us — usually on both sides of the river.  So, as we drove through Chinook this afternoon at the requisite 35 mph (and have you ever noticed that this is the ONLY area in our neck of the woods where EVERYbody obeys the speed limit?), we noticed that the dear old Sanctuary Restaurant was getting a fresh coat of paint!  A soft, foggy gray! I almost stopped the car and got out to give the painters a round of applause.

Fisher Poet Geno Leech

I think we’ve been holding our breath all these years since it closed.  Not that we’ve even hoped that Geno and Joanne Leech would open it again.  It was a magical one-time experience, their restaurant, and I don’t think it could ever happen the same way again.  But oh! how I hoped that the building would get some TLC.

We used to go there with my folks and with Gordon and Roy and with so many of our friends and loved ones who are now gone.  How we enjoyed the Swedish meatballs and the desserts with lingonberries and the wonderful fresh fresh fish.  Once in a great while, Geno would treat us to one of his poems and, if we lingered past closing time, Joanne might come a sit with us for a while.

Elegant Joanne Leech

In later years, I’d take my mom to Little Ocean Annie’s, their “casual restaurant” as Fodor’s Travel Talk Forum called it.   We’d have fish and chips and, though dementia had stolen so much of mom’s ability to talk, her eyes still sparkled as she ate.

Originally, the building was  a Methodist Church and parsonage built in 1916. I don’t really remember that, though I probably passed it coming and going to the ferry in long-ago years.  I think I heard that the building sold a while back — one of those bittersweet bits of information that the passing years seem to bring too frequently.  I don’t know what the future holds for the lovely old structure, but I hope my heart continues singing as I pass her by every now and again!

Back View of Sanctuary



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If it weren’t for John Marshall’s letter…

Thursday, January 13th, 2022

Oyster Schooner Louisa Morrison

Yesterday’s email brought an inquiry from a man in Seattle regarding  something I had written — a remark about many of the oldest homes in Oysterville being built of redwood lumber brought up as ballast on the old oyster schooners.   “Why bring redwood up to the Washington coast?” he asked.  “It’s like bringing coals to Newcastle. I don’t know much about the historical ecology of the peninsula. Was there a dense forest of classic PNW trees?

I thought it was a great question.  I told him that, yes, we had plenty of forests.  However, in those very early days (the 1860s) there was no mill nearby but, even more important might have been what those old growth forests were like.  And I sent him a copy of this letter written from Oysterville in 1863 by John Marshall to his wife in New York:

Pioneer Loggers

Mary it does me good to write your name for it does appear that I am talking to you…
I am getting out timber to build a house for John Morgan.  I go in the woods and look for trees suitable for house but can’t find them they are so bige
[sic].  They are from 150 feet to 200 feet high and from 3 feet through to 6 feet and it is so much labor to get them they stand so close together that we can’t hardly get through them.  I never saw such woods until I came to this country.  Here we can’t see anything else.
People here own claims of 100 acres and 300 and can’t get land enough cleared to raise a few potatoes to eat.  They have to ship them it is so hard to clear off the land.
Mary keepe a good hart we will see one another again.  Give my love to you all…
I remain your True Husband, John Marshall

Tom Crellin House, 1869

John’s letter is a great reminder, at least to me, that when we look back in time, we must be cautious not to carry along any of the present-day with us.  In this case, not the way our forests look now; not our easy access to tools, especially power tools; not the availability of heavy machinery; and definitely not the ease of getting to the job site!

John Marshall was here just a little more than 150 years ago.  I wonder how hard it will be for people in 2175 to imagine back to our time and have an understanding of why we make the choices we do.  I think I’m happy we won’t be here to find out.

New Year’s Eve: Time for Storytelling!

Friday, December 31st, 2021

On this last day of 2021, many of us are still hunkered down — sheltering in the warmth of hearth and family.  If ever there was a time to spin yarns and tell tales of long ago (or even of short ago) this evening would seem the perfect opportunity.  All of which puts me in mind of my Great Aunt Dora and her stories of early Oysterville.

Although I was 19 when Aunt Dora died in 1955 at age 83. I may still have been considered too young to hear the tale I am about to tell you.  Or maybe I just wasn’t around at the right time.  For whatever reason, I didn’t hear it from her directly, but read it in my Uncle Willard’s Oysterville: Roads to Grandpa’s Village.  This is what he wrote:

Aunt Dora justified the bawdiest story she ever told me as proof that even the most unregenerate sinner can be saved.  A certain Oysterville blade, she said, for years had been exceptional in his amorous successes, even against seemingly insuperable obstacles; if his current fancy was wife of the local Methodist minister, that only made the challenge more exciting.  His lack of fastidiousness gave him a head start; it mattered not a whit to him whether the female he was stalking was thin or stout, pocked or clear, red or white, young or old, wanton or virtuous.  The pleasure of the chase was all, and his percentage of successes was acknowledgedly phenomenal.

Dora Espy Wilson c. 1925

To commemorate each new conquest he was in the habit of clipping off and binding with a thread a snippet of his love’s pubic hair.  These he kept in a brown paper sack, which on request he would produce for his friends, identifying the source of each snippet by its straightness, kinkiness, coarseness, fineness or color.  The snippets ran the spectrum; some were golden, some brown, black, red, grizzled or gray, and a surprising number white.  One youth was incensed to find a sorrel-colored specimen attributed to his own fiancée, whose hair happened to be mouse brown; he charged that the hair had been clipped from a local horse, and a stallion at that.  But on his wedding night he found that her lower growth was as handsomely sorrel as the stallion’s.
When the brown paper sack was finally full, the young blade, by then less young, buried it in a secret place, married a fourteen-year-old virgin, and became a deacon.

Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone!  And Happy storytelling!



The Wrong Holiday? Maybe not.

Monday, November 22nd, 2021

I know that love stories are usually associated with Valentine’s Day more than with the upcoming Thanksgiving season, but this one that I ran across “amongst my souvenirs” reminded me a little bit of  both.  It was a story written  by my mother in the early 1970s  and reprinted in the Chinook Observer after Charley Nelson’s death in 1978.

In memory of Charley and
Deane Nelson: a love story
by Dale Little

Dale Espy Little – “Mom” 2010

(Editor’s Note:  The following was written a while ago as a tribute to Charley and Deane Nelson, pioneer family of the peninsula who lived at Nahcotta. Both have recently passed away.)
“I saw you coming,” Charley said, as he opened the door.  I was late, and he was probably beginnng to wonder if I had forgotten to bring him his dinner.
Friends and well-wishers always tried to see that Charley was well taken care of when Deane was having one of her bouts in the hospital.
Charley is ninety-two and has begun to fail noticeably over the last year.  Even so, though he can hardly see and his hearing is becoming more and more difficult, he keeps his priceless sense of humor.
He and Deane — his 88-year-old wife — are certainly the most beloved of all the people on our isolated peninsula.  They are childless, but have an abundance of friends and admirers.  I seldom drive by their place that they are not having visitors.  Though Deane has been a cripple for forty years, up to this day they have never had help in the house.
They are both so independent, it is difficult to do much for them.
Right now Charley says, ” I’ve always taken care of her and I can do it this time.”
As I went in I said, “I guess you’re happy, Charley that Deane will be home tomorrow.”
“It will be one of the best days of my life — that and the day I married her,” he said.  He had come near losing her this time.
Then he added, “What is Pledge?”
“If you are talking about what I think you are, Charley, it’s a furniture polish — what did you want it for?”
“I want to squirt it around to freshen the air.  I’ve been cooking bacon and eggs and I want the house to smell good when Deane gets here.”
“Show me where you keep it, Charlie, and I’ll see if I’m right.”
He took me to a back utility room — everything was in apple pie order.  He pointed to a can on the counter and said, “I know Deane uses that, but I didn’t know for exactly what.”  It was Pledge all right.
I said, “If you let me look, Charley, maybe I can find what you want.”  He pointed to the cupboard.  I found the air-freshener without any problem and handed it to him.
“This is what you want, Charley, it’s the tall thin can, but you had better keep it out so you won’t have any trouble finding it.”
As I had entered the utility room I had noticed two beautiful bouquets — evidently just picked.

Charles and Deane Nelson c. 1970

“Did you go out and get the flowers yourself, Charley?  I love apple blossoms.”
“Yes,” he said.  “I wanted to beat the rain.  I proposed to Dean under an apple tree out on the old Andrews place sixty-nine years ago this month.  I loved her then — she was beautiful — and I’ve loved her more each year since.  It’s been love all the way.
“I’m going to make her one of my big mulligan stews tomorrow.  We both go for one of my big stews — two gallons of it.  I cook it all day.”
“What do you put in it Charley?”  I was curious.
“In the old days we had to use canned beef because we hardly ever had fresh meat unless someone had just butchered, but now I use regular stew meat, but I put everything in it — every vegetable on the market.”
I went away worrying at first about Charley managing the stew without being able to see and then I realized that it would probably taste better to both of them than any meal they ever had.  They were together again — still together after 66 years of love and being loved by all who know them.








My Back-to-the-Land Attack c. 1976

Sunday, October 17th, 2021

Road and Building Site – July 1978

The interest of my nearest and dearest in my blog of a few days back —  “Fifty Years Ago Or So” — with its photo of California Gothic Mother (me) and Son (Charlie) has prompted me to reveal yet another little-known period of my personal evolution.  It came along a few years later.  I was up here  for Christmas — in 1974 or ’75 —  and to help plan Oysterville’s part in the 1976 Bicentennial, when my father introduced me to a man who was interested in buying a particular piece of bayfront property from the family.  It was  a mile or so south of Oysterville — “in an area we used to picnic when you were a kid,” dad said.  “You might have some insights about it.”

I didn’t.  I suspected, even then, that dad was doing a match-making thing.  It worked… sort of.  The man in question was an artist, a bit younger than I, worked seasonally for the Forest Service, and wanted a simple get-away to serve as his home-and-studio during his off-season.  Maybe we could go into partnership?  Which it turned out would be mostly my money and mostly his physical labor.

Sydney and Her Model House (built by Charlie) – July 1978

He had great ideas — showed me where he would raise kiwi fruit in a small clearing in the woods; showed me where he thought the house should be sited; and also where we’d place the wind generator to take optimum advantage of the “westerlies” (or was it the “southerlies”?)  We continued our conversation by mail after I returned to California…  and for several years thereafter.  I visited him at his fire lookout.  We met a time or two on “our” property to clear the area for the drain field and site the 1,000-foot “driveway” from Sandridge Road.  He came to Castro Valley and talked marriage.  And about then I realized that we both liked his dog (1/2 wolf, 1/2 husky) more than we liked one another.

By the summer of 1978, I had a road into the property, a well with great water, a Clivus Multrum composting toilet, a wind generator ready to install, and someone working on house plans.  The artist and I had gone separate ways.  I was left to find buyers for the Clivus Multrum and the wind generator, and thought I’d proceed with building a “summer place” that might segue into a place to retire.  It didn’t quite work out that way… thank goodness!

Fifty Years Or So Ago…

Friday, October 15th, 2021

California Gothic Mother and Son, c. 1970   Photo by Bill La Rue

I think of this photo as “California Gothic Mother & Son, circa 1970s.”  I hadn’t seen it (or thought about it) in years but, cleaning out the back forty reveals more treasures than can be imagined.  I loved this photo then and I love it now.  I wonder why it’s been tucked away for so long.

Now, a half century later, I don’t remember the context or the reason for this particular image.  My then husband, Bill LaRue, was a photographer after all, and he was likely to “capture us” at odd times for reasons known only to himself.  We actually have few photographs from that time period.  When you are married to a photographer, snapshots of the usual “important events” aren’t often a consideration.

I can’t quite remember what was happening in the Bay Area or in our lives in 1970.  We were busy.  I remember that Charlie’s hair was long for a number of years — as was the style among teens where we lived in Castro Valley.  Out in the burbs.  The dress I am wearing I remember well.  It was a “school dress” — I wore it, probably once a week or so to my teaching job in the Hayward Unified School District.   My wardrobe, then as now, wasn’t extensive, and  I remember being pretty sick of “the blue dress” by the time I was able to replace it.

I Googled “Bay Area 1970” to see if anything triggered a memory and found this:  San Francisco in the 1970s was a global hub of culture. It was known worldwide for hippies and radicals. The city was heavily affected by drugs, prostitution and crime. Outcasts and the socially marginalized were attracted by a greater tolerance and acceptance of diverse cultures in the city.  

Photographer Bill LaRue c. 1965

Really?   I don’t remember “the city” that way at all.  We had friends living in The Haight and in North Beach, in the Castro and out in the Avenues. We crossed the bay frequently — to attend art exhibits or the theater, to go out to dinner, to shop, to visit.  I clearly remember “The Summer of Love” in 1967 and felt comfortable with the way we had all morphed into the rallies and peace marches of the early seventies.  However, the Berkeley student “protests” — not so much.

In the late seventies, long after Charlie had cut his hair, and after he had graduated from Cal Arts in Valencia and had moved to L.A., I came  north to Oysterville.  It was a bit of a shock to hear what people thought of “California Girls” — of what they thought my lifestyle had been like.  It was a lot like what I read this morning on Wikipedia…  Go figure.

Me! Warts and All! – for whatever it’s worth!

Saturday, October 9th, 2021

The Parsonage c. 1900 — where Mrs. Crouch lived

Yesterday a link arrived to the podcast I did a few weeks ago with Jim Harold on his program “Ghost Insights.”  I listened to it with fear and trepidation — hearing myself being interviewed is a true horror to me.  Second only to seeing myself on TV.  And yet I keep saying “yes” when asked.  Go figure.

It wasn’t as bad as I had thought… perhaps they edited out the worst parts.  Still, there was one really bad error (by me) on it.  I’ll let listeners see if they can find it.  Hint:  it has to do with a question Mr, Harold asked me toward the end of the interview.

As is always the case with these things, at least for me, there are other things I wish I had said or pointed out about the ghosts of the Peninsula — especially those who have manifested themselves to people I know well.  In at least one case, I’ve known the woman who shared her story for more than seventy years.  She was a great informant and I have great faith in the accuracy of her “report.”

Where Mrs. C. hangs out?

And I wish I had said a bit more about the not-so-righteous Reverend Crouch.  I guess I expected Mr. Harold to ask me some leading questions about him, but that didn’t happen.  Of course, from my viewpoint, the purpose of the podcast is to encourage book sales.  I wonder if it will.

Here is what the “Ghost Insights” team sent to me with the suggestion that I put the link on social media:

Listen to my recent interview on Ghost Insight with @THEJimHarold  

If you listen, let me know what you think  (Be kind, please.)  I think it’s about 30 minutes long…

One of the most gratifying things…

Thursday, October 7th, 2021

Medora, 1914

On May 17, 1914, my fifteen-year-old aunt Medora Espy wrote to her parents in Oysterville from her boarding school in Portland, Oregon: Thursday the girls and I went to see “Tess  O’ the Storm Country” at the Peoples.  It was very good – a five reel film with Mary Pickford starring.  She is adorable.  I wept through the whole performance but it can’t be helped. 

The letter, along with many others to family and friends, as well as her diary entries until the very eve of her death on Tuesday, January 18, 1916, were the basis for my book, Dear Medora, Child of Oysterville’s Forgotten Years, published in 2007 by WSU Press.  Yesterday, more than one hundred years after her short life ended, I received an email from an Assistant Professor in Film & Media History at the School of Film, Media and Theater at Georgia State University — a woman with the intriguing name, Doana Anselmo Sequeira.  She is embarked on a most interesting project —  a book on moviegoing girls in the 1910s.

Washington State University Press, 2007

She is interested in Medora — especially in Medora’s interest in films.   The original materials upon which I based the book . are located in Tacoma at the Washington State Historical Society’s Research Facility.  Ms. Sequeira writes that she has been perusing those documents and says:  [I] would like to include a photo of Medora in my forthcoming book and another article, both using her diaries and correspondence to illustrate how girls growing up in the US at that time engaged with the pictures. Would you allow me to include one Medora’s photos you’ve published in your website? 

Yes!  Of course!  I can’t say how pleased I am that someone “out there” has found Medora and values the implications her experiences and thoughts might have for the here and now!  Once again, I’m so glad my grandmother was a saver and that the family encouraged me in writing the book! Perhaps the years Medora lived in Oysterville will not be completely forgotten after all.

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.