Going in Circles

Nov 5, 2011 | 2 comments

Territory Road, Oysterville, 1920s

      For the past week, I have been reading old correspondence – I mean really old from as far back as the 1890s.  They are family letters that I am sorting for delivery to the Washington State Historical Society which houses the Espy Family Archive.  As always, I am struck by the similarities of life ‘then’ and now.  The differences I expect, but I find the similarities fascinating, even eerie.
     Yesterday I ‘spent’ in Oysterville in 1937 listening in, as it were, to conversations between my grandmother (who was here) and my uncle Willard (who had a part-time job in Washington D.C.)   The effects of The Great Depression were still much in evidence.  There were few jobs, money was scarce to non-existent, and people were having a hard time.
     There is something wrong with a system that makes the need of money block the road to health, comfort and the pursuit of creative work my grandmother wrote in April of that year.  As I read those words, I wondered what the opposite of déjà vu is, for I was immediately fast-forwarded to the here and now and the dozens of similar remarks we have all made recently.
     In another letter she wrote:  I can understand Edwin’s [Willard’s older brother] reaction to Congress, as I experienced the same disgust when attending our state legislature.  I don’t know just what I expected, but the mediocre caliber of the average representative amazed me.  It was a body of badly behaved boys – gum-chewing and peanut-cracking.  I remarked to Pa that I hoped the national group made up for this lack in the state.  He did not reassure me.
     I don’t know how my grandmother would characterize our politicians of today.  Probably not as “gum-chewing and peanut-cracking” but, perhaps, as “badly behaved boys” with their endless blaming and finger-pointing and lack of accomplishment.  I doubt that she would have judged the situation improved.
     I am reminded of the passage from Ecclesiastes:  “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”
     It does, indeed, seem that we are going in circles.


  1. Stephanie Frieze

    “Or the more things change, the more they stay the same.” I hope you’re scanning your letters and putting them on a flash drive.

    • sydney

      Don’t I wish. Unfortunately, there are thousands of letters. I only have time to read a fraction of them and scanning them would take me the rest of my life. I’m mostly reading those that I think may contain useful information for the book I’m now working on. Eventually, WSHS will digitize all of them and the collection will be readily available to everyone — though it might not happen in my lifetime!


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