“I’s not a little boy…”

Jan 11, 2012 | 1 comment

Helen-Dale, Edwin, Willard - August 1914

     Now and then I wish I had a direct line to heaven so I could ask one of my forebears a question about the past – usually some mundane detail that no one ever bothered to talk or write about.  Seldom have I wished to make such call so that I could tell them something.  However, yesterday I was sorely and illogically (and probably irreverently) tempted to try!
     My mother was the youngest of seven children and close in age to her two just-older brothers, Edwin and Willard.  The three of them were born within three years of one another and they grew up, according to all of them, as “three peas in a pod.”  They played together, went to school together, had the same friends, and grew up sharing many of the same memories.
     As adults, when they were reminiscing about their adventures, they often laughed about the fact that, when she was very little, mom was often mistaken for a boy.  As their older sister Mona wrote in her recollections of their childhood:  All three were dressed alike in coveralls but Dale would become very indignant when some man would say “what a fine group of boys.”  She, in her baby voice loud and clear would reply: “I’s not a boy; I is a little gill!”
     This misunderstanding was perhaps compounded by the fact that she was called “Dale” – a name which could easily be a boy’s or a girl’s.  Her Christian name was actually Helen-Dale but the “Helen” was dropped early on to save confusion in the family since Mama’s name was also Helen.
     So, yesterday I was looking at census records for Oysterville for 1920.  Names were listed household-by-household and there, following the name Willard R., was the final name listed under head-of-household Espy, Harry A. –  the youngest child, my mother.  All the facts were right – her place of birth, Olympia; her age, eight; etc.  Only her name and relationship to her parents were wrong.  Allandale, son, declared the census!
     Understandable, of course.  Even the census taker, assuming she was a little boy had heard “Allandale” instead of “Helen-Dale” and had recorded it for posterity!  How my mother and her siblings would have laughed to hear about that!

1 Comment

  1. Stephanie Frieze

    And I believe that many of the little girls of that generation wore the same sort of “bowl” hair cut that the boys did. I have pictures of my mother and her sister thus. I am sure it was easier than brushing and braiding long hair, but pigtails might have given the census taker a clue. Great picture!

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