From a book that never came to be…

Jun 13, 2023 | 1 comment

Willard Espy, circa 1940

I ran across a fat folder of typewritten pages — some apparently in order, some definitely missing, and all with crossed out sentences and margin notes in my Uncle Willard’s handwriting.  I believe that they are part of one (or more) drafts about his growing up years in Oysterville during the teens and twenties of the last century.  His working title: “Past Perfect.”

I’ve read other versions and probably this one, too, and am always saddened that he never finished the book.  More than that, I miss listening to him and my mother and their brother Ed, reminiscing around our library fire.  I wish I could take my own readers back to the 1940s and ’50s with me so we could listen together.  But for now, I’ll quote a few paragraphs from these old, delightful pages and hope you’ll catch some of the magic, too.

Mona at 7 or 8 — 1911

Because my sister Suzita is dead, it is significant to me that at eight she spat into pop’s boot, and was condignly spanked.  Because my sister Mona is dead, it is part of me that at the age of three she slept with her hands over her ears “to keep the dreams out.”  I like Suzita for wearying of her chores:  “Please, God,” she prayed, “send me four legs and a wing.”  I like her for empathizing with the Almighty, whose white robes she considered impractical; “Dear Santa,” she wrote, “please send God a pair of coveralls for Christmas.”

But how am I to find significance in the anecdotes shared by my brother Ed, my sister Dale, and myself, all still very much alive  Ed, before he could walk, crawled daily to the pigpen, where he would press is face against the chicken wire and grunt.  What communication am I to infer from that?

Edwin Espy, 1915

When the Espys took a steamer from Astoria to San Francisco in 1915 to attend the World’s Fair, Ed, then six, watched the exciting bustle on the lower deck, and asked wistfully, “Can’t we pay extra and go steerage?”…

There must be a moral, too, in the absoluteness of Ed’s childhood honesty.  Sent to count the cows, he returned with a total of twenty-four and a half.  “Why not twenty-five?” asked pop.  “Daisy was behind a huckleberry bush,” replied Ed.

Dale, two years eleven months

Dale was a curly-haired, great-eyed, towhead whose hair grew darker as she approached adolescence. As the youngest, and a girl at that, she was subject to sore trials.  Her curls were ordinarily covered by a woolen cap and since all three of us wore overalls or coveralls except on dress-up occasions, there were times when her femininity did not instantly appear.  When a visitor exclaimed, “Three fine little boys!” Dale objected:  “I am not a little boy,” she said; “I am a little girl.”

In fact she was the only little girl in town, and none of the thirteen little boys would demean himself by playing with her in public.  One of our principle diversions was to try to hide where Dale could not find us; in our effort to escape her we even created a private club room in the dead heart of an enormous gorse bush.  But she always managed to hunt us down.

I wonder if present day five and six-year-olds will have as wonderful memories of these days fifty years hence.

Willard, Edwin, Dale in 1916

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

  1. Kristina Jones

    Beloved Cuz, It is wonderful to read these chance meanderings of your uncle Willard. Gosh! I wish I had known him! What a wit and a dear man all at the same time. Thanks for sharing these, Love, KK

    Reply

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