Archive for the ‘Willard R. Espy’ Category

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

I was wrong! And I’m so glad I was! (i think)

Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

WHO Award, 1978: Sydney M. LaRue

For years I’ve harbored a teeny tiny bit of jealousy for a number of disparate people — my mother, Isaac Asimov, Virginia Williams Jones, and every single one of Willard’s grandchildren among others.   And the reason?  My venerable uncle Willard (who we mostly called “Wede”), at one time or another, wrote  a poem specifically for each of them.  In my mother’s case — more than one.  And although he always told me I was his favorite niece (never mind that I was his ONLY niece), he never wrote a poem for me.

Or so I’ve thought for a very long time.  And then… in this cursed and blessed cleaning out project, I ran into this note from the man himself.  Dated 2 May, 1978, it said:

Dear Sydney:
I understand that certain ceremonies in your honor have recently occurred  Having tried, but failed to make myself part of them, I send you this wistful tribute:

 

Willard Espy, 1975

You try hard to reach her;
No matter, she’ll scorn ya —

The most famous teacher
In North California!

You beg, you beseech her;
She’ll widdle upon ya —
The most famous teacher
In North California!

Oh… and the “ceremonies” he mentions?   I was awarded the 1978  WHO (We Honor our Own) Award by the California Teachers’ Association, Alcosta Service Center and Hayward Unified Teacher’s Association.  I can’t be sure after all these these years exactly what it was for but I know it was NOT for widdling.

All I can say is, be careful what you wish for.

Polishing and Fluffing in Anticipation

Friday, June 4th, 2021

Willard’s  four great-grandsons with their mom, Kathleen – 2004

I’ve been tidying up — polishing silver, directing Cinderella, and even doing a bit of dusting here and there — while Nyel has been planning menus and ordering last minute food items!  Charlie is on his way up from Los Angeles and the Willard Espy cousins are headed our way from points east and north.  The family (or at least a part of it) is gathering!  I am beside myself with excitement.

Willard and Dale, August 1914

We haven’t seen Charlie since Christmas 2019.  And, I suddenly realized, Willard’s grands and greats were here in January 2020, shortly after Charlie left.  They just missed one another that time so it will be the first time that Willard’s grandson Alex and my son Charlie (2nd cousins) have ever met.  Charlie and Alex’s sons — Max, Sam, Jack and Ben — did meet back in 2004 at Oysterville’s sesquicentennial, though it’s doubtful that any of them remember.  However, Charlie will meet Max’s wife, Micah, and Alex’s young daughter, Maddie, for the first time Monday.  Most of them will be staying here until a week from today.  Missing due to a health problem will be Alex’s mother, Mona, Willard’s oldest (by six minutes?) daughter and my beloved first cousin.  Damn!

Helen and Harry Espy on their 50th Wedding Anniversary, 1947

And oh how I wish Willard and my mother were here for this get-together.  They would both be so pleased.  And my grandparents, Harry Albert and Helen Richardson Espy — great-grandgrands to Charlie and Alex and  great-greats to the rest!  Oh my!  If their ears could burn, I’m sure they would do so.  I expect that we’ll be telling and re-telling all sorts of familty stories, some familiar to us all and some not so much.

I can hardly wait!

Due Diligence with Capital D’s

Tuesday, April 6th, 2021

Cover Design by Mark Nero

The 12″x 12″x 5½” box arrived by priority mail day before yesterday.  It was heavy — $21.90 worth of heavy — and mailed from Seattle by Marilyn Nero.  Perhaps you remember her?  She and her husband Mark Nero ran the Cranberry Press which had an Oysterville address but was physically located in the 1990s in Ocean Park — in the  area where Anita’s Coastal Cafe has been in recent years.

The Cranberry Press was an elegant operation.  They did small, specialty press runs and my uncle Willard had them publish his book Skulduggery on Shoalwater Bay (illustrated by Nancy Lloyd) in 1998, the year before he died.  The book design and typography were by Mark, himself.  His expertise in those areas are part of what made Cranberry Press special.

Original Cover Design on Printmaking Stone

Sometime in the early 2000’s, Mark and Marilyn moved — to Arizona, I think.   Some years later, Mark wrote and asked if Nyel and I would like to purchase (at wholesale) the remaining copies of the book.  Even though we no longer had the Bookvendor, we did buy the copies.  Several years after that Mark sent a package of still more of the books– this time no charge.  He said he was going out of business.

Last February (2020), I received another message concerning Skulduggery — this time from Marilyn Nero.  She said that Mark had passed away several years previously and she was closing up the studio.  Did I want “a collection of paperwork and original correspondence regarding the publication in 1998 of Willard Espy’s book, Skulduggery?”  She said she’d send it when the weather warmed up and that she was moving to Seattle…

Detail from Original Skulduggery Cover Art

I am so grateful for Marilyn’s diligence in returning these materials to me.  Willard’s original, typewritten manuscript, corrections and commentary on correspondece from both Louise and Willard, plus the cover design on lithographic limestone (I think) were included in the package.  Plus a few more copies of  the book.

I will be taking them up to the Washington Historical Society Research Center to be added to Willard’s section of the Espy Family Archive.  Maybe when the weather warms up a bit…

about teeth and siblings…

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021

“Do you still have all your own teeth?”

Dale Espy Little, “Mom,” and Her Million Dollar Smile, 1928

After a prolonged absence, it was the first question my mother and her brother Willard asked one another when they’d get together — especially as they aged.  Willard died in 1999 at the venerable age of 88 and, as far as I know, his answer was still “yes.”  Ditto for mom who was eleven months his junior.  She lived until 2009 and, but for a fall in 2007 which knocked out a front tooth, she still could have answered “yes,” as well.

Willard “Uncle Wede” Espy, 1981

I thought about the two of them and their teeth questions the other night when I bit down on a lemon drop and broke a molar.  It had been filled probably 60+ years ago, so I really can’t complain.  It has lasted through a lot of chewing even though compromised all those years ago.  It is also one of the teeth that the clasps of my lower partial cling to — more stress no doubt.

And it’s not the first tooth I’ve lost — starting with nine front ones in that 1961 auto accident when I broke my mouth on a steering wheel.  Although I lament the teeth, an even greater lament is that I never had a brother or sister who would have cared.  But I’m so glad Mom and Willard did.  And who’duv thunk that teeth would become a point of pride between siblings as they entered their dotage?

Sheltering or Hunkering?

Tuesday, January 12th, 2021

Oysterville by Willard Espy

In an ordinary year, a hundred inches of rain fall on grandpa’s village; we have mutated until we breathe with comfort air that is half water, or water that is half air.  I suspect that if the Peninsula were to sink beneath our feet, a mishap that in some downpours seems imminent, we could live submerged without serious inconvenience.  So wrote my venerable uncle Willard Espy in his introduction to Oysterville: Roads to Grandpa’s Village.

Those words were written nearly fifty years ago, and I’m not so sure we still get that much rainfall in a “normal” year.  But… this year is hardly normal in other respects and, for the last few days, the rain has come down steadily.  We have taken to hunkering rather than sheltering.  There’s probably a fine line there, but to me, hunkering implies hiding out and sheltering is more about staying safe.

A Good Place for Hunkering and Sheltering

Besides the sound of rain on the roof and water swooshing down the drainpipes, we hear only the wind.  Periodically it rattles the roller door on the west side of the house and causes the rain to splat sideways against the windows.  The world — at least the part we see from our place– has lost its color; everything is curtained in gray.

I believe that this is the what grieving looks like — my feelings in 3D.  Sheltering against the pandemic and hunkering out of harm’s way — “the most we can do, the least we can do, all we can do” to quote Father Tom Williams.  Oysterville during this extraordinary year seems just the right place to be.

 

 

 

They come in a boring cardboard box…

Sunday, December 6th, 2020

Nyel’s Box of “Darks”

Anyone who knows Nyel very well knows that he loves chocolate — the darker the better.  Me… not so much.  Especially not the darkest kind.  However, there is a special place in my heart for Dilettante Chocolates (especially the Not Dark ones) from Seattle because they were significant when Nyel was courting me.  But that’s another story.

Recently, I ran across some of the articles my Uncle Willard wrote in the 1940s for his “Family Man” column in Good Housekeepting Magazine.  The name of this particular piece was “On my likes and dislikes in chocolate candy” and it could have been written about Nyel and me!  Here is how it begins:   

Almost “A Plain Brown Wrapper”

This is a highly personal plea to anyone who may ever take a notion to present our household with a box of chocolate candy.
First, a clarification: the card on the box may read “to Hilda,” but it is Hilda’s husband who will do the eating.  Hilda is not particularly fond of chocolates, and I am.  This fondness is partly responsible for our marriage.  When we were courting, I used to bring her boxes of choice candy, which I always ate; the arrangement was ideal, killing two birds with one stone; I would never have dreamed of buying such fine candy for myself.  One night I bit into a particularly toothsome caramel, and before the taste had faded from my tongue I found myself engaged.

One other paragraph in his column also could have been written by Nyel (If Nyel were a writer.  Which he is not.)
Alas, one man’s sweet is another man’s poison.  Mixed chocolates plucked from a drugstore counter contain much of heaven, but much also of hell.  I have never learned to decipher the insignia which mean to the initiated that this piece is flavored with peppermint and mint, while that one is a compound of ragweed.  So I go fumbling doggedly through each box, still confident despite inumerable disillusionments that every square chocolate is a chew and every round one a vanilla drop…

Sydney’s Box of “Lights”

Nyel has solved that particular problem by just ordering “Dark Ephemere” — the darkest of the dark chocolate truffles from Dilettante Chocolates by Dana Taylor Davenport, Chocolatier.  Each toothsome bite is guaranteed to be dark chocolate through and through!  Too bad he and Willard never had the chocolate conversation!  I wonder if my sainted uncle even knew about these morsels of perfection?  They’ve been around since 1898, so maybe…

 

 

 

My Uncle Wede, Raconteur and Word Man

Tuesday, December 1st, 2020

Willard Espy:  Author, Wordsmith, Raconteur

In same ways, my uncle Willard Espy had a checkered career — as in a number of disparate jobs.  But all of them, one way or another, had to do with writing.  Now he is remembered mostly for his books on wordplay, or if you live around this neck of the woods, for his book Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village.  But it was his hob-nobbing with the rich and famous that always interested me most.

In the 1940s, Wede was the Public Relations manager for the Reader’s Digest.  Part of his work in that capacity was to write the back cover for each monthly issue.  Actually, he was a ghost-writer (in lay-terminology) and, as such, he set up interviews with prominent personalities who then “wrote” endorsements for the magazine.

This morning I ran across some of Willard’s notes — apparently impressions from some of those interviews and also from a later radio show called “Personalities in Print.”  The format was fifteen minute (daily?) interviews, also with well-known people who had, for one reason or another, a book or article currently in print.  How I wish I could ask him a little more about each.

Duke and Duchess of Windsor

Duke of Windsor (and the Duchess) — her remarkable capacity to seem to focus her whole attention on what was being said to her.
Albert Einstein — his patched sweater, his lack of sox, the halo of hair behind his head, his aura of utter saintliness, his sailing ability (well — not too hot.)
Winston Churchill— watched him consume a bottle of brandy before delivering a stirring address to the joint Houses of Congress.
Richard Nixon — his disquisitions on luck, with examples from his own life; his stopping all other work in the Vice Presidential office to locate Adlai Stevenson when Stevenson’s son was injured in an accident.
H.L. Mencken (before my Digest days), sitting in his backyard and consuming bottle after bottle of beer.

Lillian Gish, Silent Film Star

Lord Halifax in a receiving line, somehow causing even his most distinguished guests to look like red-faced butchers as he shook their hands.
Jim Gavin’s crash course in French when he was made Ambassador to Paris — all the French he knew before was what was required to haggle with the madams in the towns his division captured over the rates she would charge his boys.
Lillian Gish and the seagull.
Trying to persuade Betty Friedan to serve me breakfast in bed.
And dozens, scores, more — some from my old radio program, others from Readers Digest.

That last sentence makes me think he was compiling the list for his editor with an eye toward another book.  I wish it had happened; it would have been a fun read.

 

 

Cousins Come Calling!

Friday, January 3rd, 2020

Cousins

Yesterday was a Red Letter Day at our house.  The Schreiber Cousins came calling!  Seeing them seated around our table (with all its leaves pressed into service!) made my heart sing!  I could almost hear our Espy forebears humming along from on high.

Pater familias of the group, Alex Schreiber, is my first cousin Mona’s oldest son, making him my first-cousin-once-removed.  My Uncle Willard was his grandfather.  Alex is ten years younger than my son Charlie and is an Associate Professor of Biology at Saint Lawrence University in upstate New York.

Max, Micah, Ben

With him were sons Max (25) and fiance Micah, Sam (23), Jack (18), Ben (16), and daughter Maddie (12),  my first-cousins-twice removed.  Willard would be their great-grandfather but they only know him by reputation.  It was Maddie’s first trip to Oysterville but the boys and their dad have been here many times.  They have a “real time” history here you might say.

When I was still teaching, probably in 2001, Alex brought Max and Sam visiting and actually did a lesson on frogs in my 1st/2nd/3rd grade classroom.  He had assured me that he had developed the material with Sam’s preschool class in mind and that it would be perfectly age appropriate.  It was fabulous!  The two little boys came to my classroom with him and acted as his “teaching assistants.”  I was totally impressed.

Alex, Jack, Sam

For the Sesquicentennial in 2004,  all four boys came dressed in Davy Crocket outfits, complete with coonskin hats. Somewhere I have a picture of them with their mom (also in period costume) in front of the house here.  Since then, Max and Sam have visited more than the others, perhaps, but all have special memories of the house and of Willard’s (once) red cottage.

Max and Sam are now living in the Seattle area and working in the IT field.  Jack, too, is headed in that direction but his pathway is with the army.  Ben is interested in the same aspects of technology as Jack, “but not the army part” he said.  The conversation (which was diverse) included thoughts about Edward Snowden’s recent book which I am currently reading in preparation for a March Book Talk in Portland. It was great to get their perspective on a whole host of things I can barely grasp.

Willard Espy (1910-1999)

Micah, Max’s girlfriend of eight years, was wearing the gorgeous ring that Max designed for her and gave her on the occasion of their recent engagement.  I put in a bid for the Oysterville Church as a wedding venue and they are taking my suggestion “under advisement.”  I almost think Willard, himself, would appear if that happened!

 

The Scribbling Aunts

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Mona, “the eldest daughter” on the left

My cousin Mona sent me some of her (as yet unpublished) children’s stories to read.  They arrived by email this morning and I am sorely tempted to drop everything and get to it but my own writing calls so I’ll probably leave Mona’s treasures for evening “dessert.”

Mona is my uncle Willard Espy’s daughter.  His “eldest daughter” she likes to say, pointing out that she arrived six minutes earlier than her twin, the late Freddie Espy Plimpton.  I wonder if Willard ever read any of Mona’s writing and, if so, what he said.  I’m sure he was encouraging.  He always was.  But getting helpful criticism from him?  Never!  At least not in my experience.

On the other hand, it was Willard who gave some of his great-aunts the sobriquet, “The Scribbling Aunts.”  I always took his reference to infer that they weren’t particularly good writers but when I read his descriptions of them in Oysterville: Roads to Grandpa’s Village, I decided that what I took to be a pejorative description was probably just Willard being Willard.

The “scribblers” were my great-grandfather Richardson’s sisters Mat Richardson White and Shae Richardson Stein and their cousin Mary Bamford.  Of them Willard said: it was the women who set the cultural and intellectual tone of the Richardson household. By today’s standards, women in the 1880s and 1890s were chattels.  If so, somebody forgot to tell grandpa’s sisters and his cousin…

A Bit after Mary Bamford’s Time

Mary Bamford, he wrote, wound up with the curious title of Poet Laureate of Oakland…  Of Mat he said:  After a disastrous first marriage, she had to write frantically for newspapers and magazines to keep herself and her children fed, clothed, and roofed… And of Aunt Shae: …the most inveterate scribbler of all…  Her outlets included Golden Days, The Portland Transcript, The San Francisco Examiner, The Interior, The Congregationalist and Boston Recorder and The Youth’s Companion then known as The Companion.

So, if Willard referred to his sainted older relatives as “scribblers,” I wonder how he might have referred to us younger ones who do a bit of writing, especially his eldest daughter Mona. After reading all of his comments on those illustrious women forebears, “scribbler” might actually be considered complimentary in the extreme.  I’ll have to ask Mona if she has any thoughts on the subject… after reading my dessert!