One Century Plus Four Years Ago Today

Jan 27, 2018 | 0 comments

Helen Richardson Espy, c. 1908

Every now and then, like today, I feel the need to find out what was going on right here in this very house a century or so ago.  Fortunately, I have the letters written by my grandmother to her first born, Medora.  Those letters, plus their counterparts from Medora to Mama were the basis for my 2007 book, Dear Medora, Child of Oysterville’s Forgotten Years.

From the time that Medora entered Portland Academy as a sophomore in 1913 until her sudden death in January 1916, she and her mother corresponded two or three times a week.  The letters provide a wonderful glimpse of life in our little corner of the world when we were so remote that it was necessary, if you could manage it, to send your children to boarding school in the far-away city; there was no road from Oysterville to Ilwaco High School and the train from Nahcotta did not run at times convenient to school children.

The Espy Children in 1913 – Dale, 2; Willard, 3; Edwin, 5; Mona 9; Sue, 10; Medora, 14.

(Note the ‘Dear Little Sister’ greeting – an affectionate term my grandmother often used when writing to Medora, the eldest of her seven children.  In many ways, their bond seemed far beyond the usual mother-daughter relationship.  My grandmother, although a loving and devoted mother to her remaining children, never quite recovered from Medora’s untimely death.)

Tuesday, 3:30  January 27, 1914

Dear Little Sister,

It has been impossible to write because I have one of my weepy, blurry colds — only worse than usual.  This A.M. have my face all done up in flannel – am a beauty.  Have neuralgia due to having partially dislocated my jaw last night –I bit a cough drop.  It was hard and slipped, wrenching my face.  I will attempt a letter tho you may find it muddle-headed.

Horse-Drawn Phaeton Toy

I guess too much vanity gave me my cold.  The buggy came from grandpa when I was in a hot kitchen baking.  I was so delighted with the “looks” of it that I ran out into the cold and rain to see closer.  It is the nicest looking buggy on the Peninsula – just what I wanted – a low, high-backed seat phaeton – rubber tired, roll back top.  Eva told me it was dilapidated but there is nothing wrong except a piece out of one tire.  It is not so shining new looking as the big buggy but it looks like the city and home to me…

Willard … has been having three days of slight fever and croup.  He is not in bed but looks wilted.  Dale has one of her wracking bronchial coughs and so has Mona.  In fact, every member of the household barks until we sound like a kennel.

Mrs. Wirt made an awful scene in church Sunday night.  We had a fine speaker from Los Angeles.  Beth grew fussy and Mrs. W. took her into the vestibule.  There was a great commotion and pretty soon in came Mrs. Wirt “right out in meeting” with, “Papa, papa I can’t make that child come home.  She won’t budge.  You will have to come take her.”  The minister stopped preaching and Mr. Wirt went in back for a lantern and handed it to Mrs. W. — then calmly took his seat.  This was not enough.  Mrs. W. spied Wesley who was peacefully sleeping and she trots over, stands him up, shakes him, yells at him — he acting all the time like Sue does when we try to get her awake.  She finally managed to haul him out and the three of them thundered out…

There certainly is a lot of dignity about our church.  The minister attended S.S. in the morning and, as usual, they sang without an organ.  An hour later at church, he sat down and played, himself, and if Mrs. Bowman did not blurt out, “Well why in the world didn’t you say you could play at Sunday School?”  He must have thought it a disorderly crowd.  We are to have a resident Baptist minister come next month.  Poor man!…


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