Archive for the ‘Nyel Stevens’ Category

Signs and Peonies

Sunday, June 4th, 2023

The First Red Peony

I’m not one for believing in signs and portents…  But maybe, just maybe, there’s a message in our garden’s one red peony.  It’s the only red one.  It’s never bloomed before.  But Nyel was ever hopeful.

He had planted the peonies years ago, babying them along year after year.  Most of the plants didn’t survive and the ones that did all had white buds.  Nyel had hoped for red.  Or at least pink.  Like the ones his grandmother grew back in Idaho.

“They were always in bloom in time to be taken to the cemetery on Decoration Day,” he would tell me.  They were his favorites when he was a kid. And the lilacs, too.

Teresa at the Planter Box said our winters just aren’t cold enough here.  “Put ice cubes around them every morning in winter,” she said, but it seemed too onerous.  Nyel was determined, though, and year by year the plants grew stronger, the stems stood straighter, the buds stayed on the stems long enough to bloom, and Nyel was encouraged — even if they were all white.

Nyel’s Peony

But this year… up came one red peony.  A beauty, too.  Yet, I wanted to scream at it:  “YOU ARE TOO LATE!  NYEL’S NOT HERE ANYMORE!”  But I didn’t.  I chose, instead, to think of this as his “one year anniversary gift” to the garden and me.  Maybe next year there will be two.



Please join us Monday in honor of our own.

Wednesday, May 24th, 2023

The Honorary Oysterville Militia (THOM) will gather at 11:00 a.m. on Memorial Day Monday, May 29th, to fire their cannon in honor of members who have died “in the line of duty” and in memory of all of our friends and loved ones who are no longer with us.

The cannon is a replica of an 1841 mountain howitzer and is fired (blank charges only) by THOM personnel on special occasions such as Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.  The cannon was built especially for the 2004 Sesquicentennial of Oysterville to replace the village cannon of Pioneer times.

The firing on Monday will be the first occasion of the cannon’s use since General Nyel Stevens, Founder of THOM and Caretaker of the Cannon, gave his final order to “Fire!” last Memorial Day, May 30, 2022.  He passed away a week later on June 8th, ironically followed shortly thereafter on June 23, 2022 by his friend and right-hand-THOM-assistant, Ron Biggs.

Captain Ron Biggs and General Nyel Stevens, 2015


Of course I turned to page 188 first!

Saturday, February 18th, 2023

Plant Green Garlic – by Lee Johnston

Stevens, Nyel, 188.  That’s what the index said and that’s the page I went to right off the bat.  Maggie’s book, The Container Victory Garden, arrived last night, and although it was addressed to me, I knew it was truly Nyel’s.  Maggie had said that all those who had contributed to the book would get theirs about a week prior to its official publication.  And here it was!  Nyel’s copy!

I was born in 1943 in Montpelier, Idaho.  It wasn’t until after World War II that I first became aware of the term Victory Garden, but I well remember my grandparents’ garden from those days, even though I didn’t know the name and they probably didn’t call it that.  To them, it was just the garden.

Painting by Janice Minjin Yang

Straightforward.  Spare.  It sounded so much like Nyel that he could have been inside my head reading it to me.  He went on to tell about his grandfather, a conductor on the Union Pacific Railroad — He grew just about every vegetable you could think of, but my favorites were the carrots, which I was allowed to dig and eat right there in the garden, with the dirt rubbed off on my Levi’s.

And he went on to tell about the Nyel I knew for forty years: Wherever I have lived since then, I always tried to have a garden whenever possible, some large and some not so large.  Today I’m trying to garden in pots, in a very small area off our kitchen.  So far, some things have been very successful, some were a complete bust.  The experiment continues.

And so it will, dear Nyel… with the inspiration of your words and the help from Maggie’s wonderful book.  And so it will!

And then there was “the day after…”

Wednesday, September 14th, 2022

A Reasonable Facsimile — at least as I remember.

So… there was one important part of our wedding story that I left out of yesterday’s blog.  It happened the following day — on Monday, September 14, 1987…

But first, a little background.  The Croquet Gala on the day we were married was the third (of sixteen) such events and was a fund-raiser for the relatively new Water Music Festival.  I’m not sure now whether Ann Kischner or Pat Thomas was the President of WMF, but it was Ann who asked if they could sponsor a kid’s team.  And so it was that Michelle Kischner, a third grader in my 1st/2nd/23rd grade class as Ocean Park Elementary was at the Gala when Nyel and I were married.

After the ceremony, I was wondering what in the world to do with the nosegay that Gordon had given me as a wedding bouquet when I spied Michelle.  “Would you like this?” I asked.  “Oh! Yes!”  (Did she actually jump up and down?)

1987/1988 !st/2nd/3rd Grade Class, Ocean Park Elementary — Spring 1988

“And can I take it to school tomorrow for sharing?”
“In a brown paper bag as usual?”
“And will you let me tell about your wedding?  You will still pretend to be Mrs, LaRue until I share, okay?”
“And can we have sharing at the usual time — just before lunch?”
“And it will be a secret until then?”

I answered every question in the affirmative and Michelle and I had our plan in place.  The next morning she placed her brown paper bag on the shelf above the coat hooks, the bell rang, the kids took their seats, and our school week began.  I took attendance, as usual.  I took the lunch count, as usual.  And I was about to begin working with them on our Daily Newsletter, as usual,when Michelle popped up from her seat and approached me, motioning for me to bend down so she could  urgently whisper… “Can we have sharing NOW?”

Nyel and Michele, April 2022

And, of course, we did!  Michelle shared first — I was afraid she’d explode if she had to wait another minute!  Her news was an absolute sensation, of course, and I don’t really remember what happened next.  Lots of hugs, I think.  (And I should say here that most of the kids knew Nyel from the previous school year– he usually accompanied us on field trips and, besides, it’s a small community… everyone knows everyone, or so it seems. )

Years later, when Josh and Michelle were married, she and I lamented that the nosegay wasn’t still around.  It would have been fun to give it a place in the wedding of  Mr. and Mrs. (now Dr. and Dr.) Rogers!  A “place,” that is, besides the one in our hearts!

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.”

It coulda/shoulda/woulda been…

Thursday, August 4th, 2022

Today would have been Nyel’s 79th birthday.  I had every intention that we would be celebrating it together — as well as at least two more.   In fact, I began talking about his “80th” shortly after we met.  He was telling me about the doctor’s prediction when he was first diagnosed with a heart murmur.  “You’ll probably live to be 70,” that doctor had said.  At the time of that prognosis, Nyel was five years old and 70 undoubtedly sounded like an impossibly high number.

“Let’s revise that,” I suggested.  “Doncha think 80 sounds a lot better?”  I think Nyel  was in his early forties at that time — younger than springtime, it seemed.  And, besides, I was seven and a half years older than he so it seemed only fair that he should hang around to enjoy “old age” with me.  (And if you fail to see the logic in my reasoning, never mind.  Apparently, the old-age-magicians didn’t get it either.)

We had talked about what we would do on this day.  Maybe a small party, we thought.  Or maybe just go out to dinner.  But as the Spring struggled by and Nyel’s strength diminished, we decided we’d just have a simple dinner at home featuring a ribeye steak, steamed rice, and fresh asparagus.  Just the two of us.

And, though it will only be me, I’m sticking to the plan.  Happy Birthday, my valiant Nyel!  I knew way back when that your first doctor was wrong!  I only wish that I could have been right!

Where in the world is that top hat?

Sunday, June 12th, 2022

Sydney and Nyel (in top hat) Croquet Gala 1985

Miki came over from Astoria this morning bringing coffees and good energy and her usual practical words of wisdom!  I had asked her if she would help me pack of Nyel’s clothes for the Good Will.  “Sure!  When would be a good time?” was her always willing response.

We sipped our coffees and visited a bit and then got to work.  She had brought about a gazillion banana boxes for us to fill.  Meanwhile, I had called Rita and asked her if the Players would be interested in Nyel’s tux and cut-away and, also, his fencing togs and épée.  And maybe a hat or two.  “Yes!” was her response!  “those are ‘costume’ items and would definitely be a great addition to our costume collection.”  Nyel would be so pleased.

Sydney and Nyel (in top hat) Oysterville Sesquicentennial, 2004

I set aside a couple of shirts I think I’ll wear around the house now and then.  For warmth — of my soul, if not my body.  Cate came by and I offered her a shirt or two and a Levi jacket, too.  And Miki chose a few items she thought her husband would enjoy.  !

“Does it have to be Good Will?” she asked.   “There is a thrift store in…” But yes.  Nyel was all about the Good Will — he often looked for specific things there and that was always his go-to donation place.  Yes, it had to be Good Will.
As Miki left, Cate opened her laptop to go over Nyel’s obituary with me.  And her column which will be devoted (mostly) to him next week.  I didn’t cry.  Not then.

Peonies and Pictures and Pondering

Thursday, June 9th, 2022

From Fred and Vicki

The first bouquet came today and I could scarcely believe the two lovely peonies front and center.  Peonies!  Or Pea-own-knees, as Nyel was taught to call them by his Grandma Martha.  His favorite flower!  But they have always been a bit cranky about growing here in our mild climate.  Not like in Idaho.

“Put ice cubes around their base every morning,” someone said.  We didn’t but they grew anyway, even if ever so slowly.  “This year you’ll have a bumper crop,” I told Nyel. Lotsa buds but they’re even slower than usual.  When they finally come, the season will be long over.

From John Snyder

And how I’m enjoying the pictures of Nyel that friends are posting!  One from my former team-teaching mate, John Snyder.  It shows Nyel in front of our old “Bay House” probably in 1984 or 1985.  I’m not sure what he was doing — maybe transplanting a baby tree — but he sure was handsome!  And that never changed.

I remember that he planted a grove of alder trees just south of our road — transplanted the babies that would “grow into our wood lot,” he promised.  They did, but by then we had moved into town, into the family house.

They say that a house becomes a home after it has seen a wedding, a birth, and a death.  My great-uncle Cecil was married here in 1910 by my Grandfather, then the Justice of the Peace.  I don’t know that there has ever been a birth here — except for the batches of kittens that are periodically born underneath the once-upon-a-time parlor. (My grandmother went to Portland or Olympia to have her babies.)  And I’m not sure if anyone has ever died in these rooms.  Until yesterday.   So finally, after 153 years, is this officially a home?


Just the other day…

Wednesday, June 8th, 2022

Sydney and Nyel, 1986 — a Stan Thompson photo for the Observer

All the places we went.
All the meals we ate and all those he cooked!
All the laughter we shared.
All the people we enjoyed, learned from, loved.
Wasn’t it just the other day we met… back in 1984?

General Nyel, Farmer Nyel, Chef Nyel,
Husband, Friend, and kindest person I’ve ever known.
Nyel LeRoy Stevens, how blessed I was and am,
And now… how bereft.
Wasn’t it just the other day we celebrated with a bang?

Already there are things I need to tell him,
Like ORF accepting our gift of replacement lamps
And that Slutvana came looking for him tonight.
I wonder if he’ll always be here in my head
Making it all seem like just the other day…

BOOM! May 30, 2022 – Photo by Barbara Canney







Barb: My belated birthday present!!

Sunday, April 24th, 2022

Barbara Canney – From Her FB Site

For my 85th birthday in 2021, Nyel’s gift was to have my friend Barbara Canney of Cohasset, MASS, come and organize my files — computer files or hard copy files, my choice.

(Background: in 1980, my Uncle Willard arranged for Barb — who was about to begin her Senior Project at Evergreen — to come and catalogue the Espy Family Papers.  He agreed to pay her a stipend for one academic quarter; the project took her a year and a half and became the foundation for the Espy Archive, now housed at the WSHS Archive Center.  I was her “mentor” during that project… )

What a FABULOUS gift!  And who would be better qualified to dive into the morass that loosley qualify as “my files”?  In that long-ago year and a half that Barb was here, we became fast friends and have remained so — never mind that a continent and family obligations etc. etc. separate us.

The Canney Family, 2014

Unfortunately, though, Covid and other health issues have intervened and my gift has yet to be delivered, but… NOW, FINALLY Barb has her ticket and will arrive May 17th!  St. Patrick’s Day!  She’ll be here for a week and then her husband John will join her for a week-long vacation here in the place where they did their courting long ago.

I am SO excited!  Never mind that I need to organize my office so that Barb can organize my files.  And never mind that we’re not sure if she should start with documents or photographs.  And never mind that, like her initial work on the Espy papers, this week should segue into several years…  It’s a start.  And so much more!

My husband has the best idea for presents…ever!!!