Of Duffers and Descendants

Nov 17, 2016 | 2 comments

P. J. McGowan with Granddaughter Catherine "Kay" Garvin, 1911

P. J. McGowan with Granddaughter Catherine “Kay” Garvin, 1911

We met yesterday for coffee with our friend Bill Garvin.  I had asked to pick his brain a little about family homes and stewardship and next steps.  We’ve touched on these subjects before – he as a fourth generation of the McGowan family in the Chinook area and I as a fourth generation Espy here in Oysterville.

We spent a pleasant hour and a half and our conversation covered many topics in addition to the privileges and responsibilities of family property – the current political situation (from local to global), the changes we are facing (from local to global), and our place in and attitude to all the above.  We even mentioned the Cubs — a bright spot in the year, at least for fans.

What we didn’t talk about was our family’s connection over the generations.  It wasn’t until Nyel and I were homeward bound that I recalled a visit between Bill’s mother and my mother some thirty or forty years ago. Kay had come to our house; my mom served tea.  The conversation covered much the same ground as Bill and I covered but more focused on undeveloped property than on family homes.

The two women had “known” each other all their lives, but it was not until they both retired to the Peninsula (the place of their roots) that they became really acquainted.  I could say much the same thing regarding Bill and myself.  Our grandfathers, though, were another story. They probably had known one another ‘always’.

The Espy Family c. 1918 - R.H. Espy with cane and Granddaughter Dale front left

The Espy Family c. 1918 – R.H. Espy with cane and Granddaughter Dale front left

As adults, Henry McGowan and Harry Espy both served in the state legislature – Henry in the 1906 and 1908 terms and Harry in the 1910 term.  Henry’s main concerns were the fisheries of the Columbia River; Harry’s, the oyster industry on Willapa Bay.  Somewhere I have a copy of correspondence between the two men, my grandfather asking for advice from Bill’s grandfather.  Some things don’t change.

Although I have no direct knowledge of it, I am quite sure that pioneers P.J. McGowan and R.H. Espy also knew one another.  How could they not?  In the early 1850s when each established themselves on the north side of the Columbia River, there were few white settlers in the area.  Perhaps the two men discussed the nuts and bolts of marketing their products – salmon on the one hand, oysters on the other – or the difficulties of getting a reliable work force or who knows what else.

When I interviewed Bill’s mom for my Observer series, “The North Beach Girls of the Teens and Twenties” she gave me a photo of herself as an infant taken with her illustrious grandfather.  Mom, too, had a photograph of herself taken in a family group with her grandfather, R. H. Espy.  Too bad we don’t have one of the two old duffers together.  I wonder if four generations down the road there will be a photo of us current descendants.  And if anyone will care.


  1. Leslie Hall

    I have great memories of Kay. She and my grandmother Julia were very good friends. One thing that vexed my grandma was that Kay would never dispose her actual age. My Dad told me that NO one knew Kay’s true age. I remember reading her obituary many years later and thinking it was too bad grandma and dad had already passed away or they could have finally known the answer to this mystery.

    • sydney

      Kay and my mom were born the same year and had known each other “always” so, somehow, I knew her age (more-or-less) when I interviewed her for “North Beach Girls of the Teens and Twenties.” I don’t remember her being coy about her birth year, but that was in 2009 and maybe, by then, she was taking some pride in her advanced years!


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