Excerpt from a Work-in-Progress

Jan 16, 2015 | 1 comment

DearMedoraCvr200A few years back I began writing a book about my uncle, author and wordsmith Willard Espy. My concept was to do a book about how growing up here in Oysterville had influenced him and how, conversely, as an adult with an international reputation, he had influenced Oysterville. I was thinking of it as a companion piece to my book Dear Medora which is about Willard’s older sister, but when I ran it by WSU Press, there was little interest – at least not in its present form.

Yesterday, I took another look at the manuscript, thinking I might begin the arduous task of rethinking and rewriting. What happened (not unexpectedly) was that I became engrossed in the book once again. I guess I’m not ready to rethink it yet… Here is one of the passages that will probably need to ‘go’ if I am to rewrite it along the lines that the editor suggested:

            Although Papa wrestled with the decision to move his family north, in the end, he allowed himself to be convinced that it would just be a short stay. His concerns were not for himself or for three-year-old Medora and two-year old Albert. After all, Papa and his six siblings had grown up in the little, tumble-down village. For him it was ‘home’ and he considered it a fine place for raising a family. It was Mama’s comfort which concerned him.

Oysterille Street Scene 1890s

Oysterille Street Scene 1890s

Oysterville in 1902 was a far cry from East Oakland where Mama had grown up and where the H.A. Espys had intended to continue living. The young couple had already made headway in buying a lovely house just down the block from Mama’s parents. The house had all the conveniences of modern city life such as electricity and running water. It was situated near California College with its cultural and educational amenities. The trolley ran nearby giving easy access to shopping and visiting friends.

In contrast, Oysterville was old-fashioned and outdated. A plank street served as the main thoroughfare through town and horse and buggy was the extent of modern transportation. Well water supplied drinking, cooking, bathing and laundry needs, and most houses had a hand pump located conveniently near the kitchen door. Electricity wouldn’t arrive until 1938 under the auspices of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s rural electrification program. Residents were conservative in their dress and behavior, and they were strict in their beliefs.

Shortly after their marriage in 1897, Papa had taken Mama to Oysterville to meet his mother who, unlike his father, had been unable to attend their wedding. The visit was an experience Mama remembered for the rest of her life:

“I didn’t know what to expect of Oysterville. Ed had kept talking about “the ranch” but when I asked him if he lived in the country he said, “Oh no, our house is right in the center of town.”

"Mama" - Helen Richardson, 1896

“Mama” – Helen Richardson, 1896

I saw people pumping water out in their front yards and taking it into the house in buckets. But the Espys were more civilized. Their pump was on the back porch. Even so, Mother Espy was using whale ribs as chicken perches…

We arrived on a fairly decent day. But a day or so later there was a big storm with a tremendously high tide. We were surrounded by water. Tina Wachsmuth came down the street in a rowboat! I was on the front verandah and I watched the waves came up to the front fence. We could hear the ocean was roaring just as if it were trying to break loose. I never wanted to see the place again. I was just barely nineteen years old. I have often wished I had been older and more experienced and tolerant.”

Mama was 32 when Willard was born – no longer a naïve young bride, but a wife and mother who had experienced her share of both pain and pleasure. She had been in attendance at the death of her beloved mother, had borne five children one of whom had died when only four-and-a-half years old, and she was still enduring the primitive backwater called Oysterville.

Willard Espy, 1914

Willard Espy, 1914

On the other hand, Papa had just been elected to the Washington State Senate by the voters of Pacific and Wahkiakum Counties and Mr. and Mrs. Harry Espy would be living in the State Capital of Olympia for part of each year. They were actually rubbing elbows with Governor Hay and his wife! Mama was beginning, already, to imagine that someday – someday soon – Papa would be tapped for the Lieutenant Governor’s position.

However, when Papa decided not to run for a second term so that he could devote himself to his dairy business in Oysterville, Mama supported his decision fully. She turned her attention to her children who, by then, numbered six. Whatever ambitions she harbored for Papa and whatever dreams she had for herself, she channeled toward her “flock” and, as it turned out, especially toward Willard.

1 Comment

  1. Diane Buttrell

    Go for it, Sydney!


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