He’d have been 80. We celebrated anyway!

Aug 4, 2023 | 2 comments

Nyel at the 2012 Oysterville Regatta

Today marked the 80th anniversary of Nyel’s birth.  I wish he’d been here to celebrate with us.  He’d have been “sore amazed.”  Actually, he was quite astonished that he lived to be more than 70.  He was 78 years, 10 months, and 2 days old to be exact.

He’d told me more than once that when he was five or six, the doctor diagnosed him with a heart murmur.  Noting Nyel’s mother’s concern, the doctor told her not to worry and assured her than little Nyel would no doubt make it to 70.  That seemed a very long time away to little Nyel and when he did reach 70, he considered each additional year a gift of immeasurable value.  So did I.

For a number of years — when he was in his 60s I think, we used to go on an “overnight” to the Tokeland Hotel with our friends Petra and Michael.  We would take a picnic lunch and eat out on the hotel grounds or find a spot down by the water.  Then, we’d go for a walk around town or sit in the hotel living room and chat, taking a time out to go choose our rooms.

Tokeland Hotel 2012

Usually we were the only overnight guests.  (On at least one occasion, not even the proprietors were on the premises and they left us the key to the hotel in a “secret place” and said they’d be there in the morning to fix our breakfast!)  Since the bathrooms were of the “down the hall” variety, we chose rooms in separate halls so that each couple had a “private” bath.  It always reminded me of the houses in Oysterville when I was a child — not quite up to the 20th century mark and always smelling just a teensy bit damp and mildewy. For me it was those overnights were the epitome of nostalgia!

A few weeks ago Petra wrote and suggested we go out to lunch for Nyel’s birthday celebration this year!  So we did!  Not  to the Tokeland Hotel, mind you, but to a place on the Peninsula that we’ve been before but maybe won’t go to again.  Way too loud.  But Nyel wouldn’t have minded a bit.  And deep down… neither did we.

Sydney, Nyel, Petra – Tokeland Living Room, 2009

This evening I’m going with the Wachsmuths to the opening reception at CPHM for Amiran White and her photography exhibit “Chinuk Ntsayka!” We Are Chinook.  I know, even before seeing it, that this is an exhibit Nyel would love.  During our courtship days when he was “commuting” between Oysterville and the University of Washington, he was taking classes on Northwest Coast Native Art from legendary professor Bill Holm.  What he learned during those classes informed the rest of his life.  (There is still a box of porcupine quills in our garage — painstakingly extracted from a road kill for “some day” use.)

He would have enjoyed celebrating “his day” with me and with our friends!  I tried to enjoy it doubly for us both even though we were only half there!



  1. Robert O Gwinn

    Dear Cousin Sydney,
    A lovely tribute and celebration. Thank you for sharing with us.

  2. Laurie Anderson

    What a gift that must have been, to study with Bill Holm! Thanks for sharing this, Sydney.


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