It’s getting harder and harder to keep up!

December 5th, 2023

Mostly, I don’t even try to “keep up” anymore.  I stopped watching “The News” as in national and international long ago.  There are just too many wars, too many shootings too many alternative lifestyles and multiple personalities for this old mind to deal with.  And to what purpose, anyway?  Long ago I realized that if I could make a difference in this tired and ailing old world, it would have to be up close and personal — by reaching out to someone I could actually touch, perhaps.

So, for the most part, I confine my “news” intake to what I can glean from our local paper and from what I learn from first-hand experience.  I do get the “Morning Newsletter” online from the New York Times which purports to “make sense of the day’s news and ideas” (which it doesn’t always) and the “New York Times Opinion”, also online and from which I sometimes pick and choose from the columnists editorials, and essays.

However, I may have to re-think even that small foray into the world beyond.  This morning’s guest column by Lydia Polgreen  in “Opinion”  began: We live in a society that valorizes individual freedom and lionizes those who march to their own drum.   

In The News

Valorizes? “Is that a word?  Surely not,” I thought.  But yep!  There it was in the online dictionary from good old Merriam Webster.  “ enhance or try to enhance the price, value, or status of by organized and usually governmental action’ 2.  to assign value or merit to.”

To make matters worse, the word has been around since 1906 (talk about being out of the loop!) though, apparently, not much used until the 1960s.  Obviously, I’ve been out of touch with more than the news for even longer than I thought. .  Apologies to Ms. Polgreen! Though, in case you are wondering if I’ve had a change in attitude, please go back to the first sentence of this blog.

“First Wednesday” is coming right up!

December 4th, 2023

Oysterville Schoolhouse

The first Wednesday of each month is when our newly launched Pacific County History Forum meets at the Oysterville Schoolhouse.  And, as I was writing the title for this blog, I realized that it’s also the day that my monthly column is published in the Chinook Observer!  So, all-in-all, first Wednesdays are always  Red Letter Days for me!  I’d very much like each one to be memorable for you as well — especially if you are interested in the history of our very special corner of the world!

This week — on Wednesday, December 6th from 10 to 12 at the Oysterville School — will be our fourth-ever History Forum.  The focus will be on oysters and clams — oysters because they were the first industry of the area, continuously growing (ahem!) and morphing for more than 170 years!  Razor clams because they have been important to the growth of the area for just about as many years — maybe even more — but not as an “industry” in quite the same sense as their mollusk relatives in the bay.

To lead our discussion Wednesday will be two veterans of the oyster and clam business, Dobby Wiegardt and Tucker Wachsmuth.  Both are descendants of some of the first oystermen on our bay and they have a wealth of tradition and stories to share. In addition, we are hopeful that there will be some other long-time oystermen and clamdiggers among those attending who will join in the conversation.

Map of Historic Oysterville

Memories from our own “olden days” are fast disappearing and this is an opportunity to keep the stories alive.  I do hope you come to listen and to contribute if you can.  I am mostly hopeful that this is the subject that will put us over the edge — from speakers and audience to a true forum with many of us sharing what seems pertinent or interesting or just plain quirky.

And as far as my column goes — all I can say is I hope you are able to  “willingly suspend your disbelief” just long enough to consider possibilities that may be present right here in Beautiful Downtown Oysterville!  Or perhaps in other special places that have meaning for you.  Or maybe you already have!


“Past Perfect” — and indeed it was!

December 2nd, 2023

Alice Holm’s Year-End Remembrance Card given to each student.

During the last half of his long life, my uncle Willard Espy worked periodically on a book about his own growing-up years in Oysterville.  The tentative title was “Past Perfect” and each time he was out here on vacation from his home in New York, he would work on it a bit more — often collecting reminiscences from family members or neighbors who could fill in the forgotten cracks for him.

Today, I came across the notes from his first teacher, Alice Holm.  Miss Holm taught the primary grades during the years that Oysterville had so many school-aged children that there were actually two schools in the village.  The four youngest of the seven Espy children went to their first three years of school there and Miss Holm, who was about ten years younger than my grandmother, became a lifelong family friend.  This is her memory of Oysterville written long after those teaching years here:

Yes, I remember Oysterville.  I remember it began where you turned the corner of the Nelsons’ white picket fence where the “lay-locks” (says Charley) bent over the gate, and with the other flowers, bubbled and bloomed in profusion.  I remember the bay that spread out on the right in its Sunday evening quiet splendor.  Then, looking up the one wide tree-bordered street, I remember that elusive something that suggested the passage of time — centuries — and the never-failing twinge of melancholy that swept over me in spite of rich contentment.
I remember the old church in its soft hues and mellow tones, the high-backed pews, the worn-out hymnals, the organ, none too cooperative, and the groups that gathered there.  There were visiting ministers and speakers as well as the saddle-back divine who came on horseback to save our souls.

Yes.  Past Perfect!


Is Wed. Dec. 6th marked on your calendar ?

November 30th, 2023

Inside an Oyster Station

Will we see you next Wednesday, December 6th at the Oysterville Schoolhouse?  I surely hope so.  It’s going to be all about oysters and clams — history, stories, maybe even a recipe or two for your holiday enjoyment!

If you’ve been attending our first few History Forums, you know that they are informal and definitely a work-in-progress.  Our goal is to get as much participation at possible — especially as we get a little farther along in our chronological look at Pacific County.  So, I was so pleased to learn that Dobby Wiegardt and Tucker Wachsmuth are going to have a discussion between themselves and act as “Discussion Leaders” with the rest of us.  No more “Speakers and Audience”… we hope.

Tonging Oysters

I’m eager to see how it goes.  We are hoping that some of the many experienced and knowledgeable oyster workers and aficionados will be among us to weigh in.  I have a couple of interesting letters from from the days of the native oysters that I hope to have time to share and perhaps others will bring some family memories along with them.

I am always impressed as how much collective information we have once we have an opportunity to put it together.  I hope Wednesday will be one of those times!

The Biggest Mistake I Ever Made, Book-wise!

November 29th, 2023

As much as it pains me to admit it, I am still trying to recover from the biggest mistake I ever made.  Book-wise that is.  This was a mistake in judgment pure and simple.  My intentions were good but… we already know about that road to hell.  It all began in the 1990s when I was teaching several week-long Elderhostel classes each summer on the history of Oysterville.  My students — all adults who were probably, on average, ten years older than I was then, loved the classes and were interested in EVERYthing about Oysterville, oysters, and anything else related to our Peninsula.  They were eager for information but didn’t have the time to do deep research or get a full-sized book on any of the subjects they were curious about.  They just wanted some “down-and-dirty” basic information.

So… I conceived the idea of doing an ABC series — ABCs, in this case, standing for basic information, not for a cutesy children’s nursery book.  I began with C is for Cranberries, The A-B-Cs of Cranberries on the Long Beach Peninsula.  It was illustrated by my friend Gordon Schoewe and chock-full of factual information about the local cranberry industry — with as much quirky information thrown in as I could muster. (L … is for laws:  Two pieces of legislation have been written specifically for cranberries  FEDERAL-  Cranberries are considered an obligate wetlands plant and are, therefore, given congressional exemption for production on wetlands.  STATE – Growers on the Long Beach Peninsula may take sand from the beach to be used for sanding the bogs, a process which must be done when creating a new bog and every three or four years thereafter.)

I followed that up with I is for Indians, The A-B-Cs of the Chinook People in the lower Columbia River region. illustrated by Pat Fagerland.  Both she and I worked with the Chinook tribe to make sure we “got it right” and I’m pleased to say that the book is carried at the Chinook Tribal Office and Museum in Bay Center.  (C… is for Chinook: Chinook [chi – nook’] n.  Contrary to current usage, the ch in Chinook is given the hard ch pronunciation as in chin.  Only when used to mean a type of wind is the ch given the soft sound.)

P is for Papa Train, The A-B-Cs of the Long Beach Peninsula’s Narrow Gauge Railroad 1889-1930.) was illustrated by Scott Fagerland, then a 6th grader at Hilltop School in Ilwaco and is given credit on the back cover as an athlete, a musician and an artist. (G… is for gandy dancer — a laborer in a railroad section gang.)

O is for Oysterville, The A-B-Cs of Shoalwater Bay’s Oldest Community.  (H is for… hotels.  During Court Week there was dances twice a week.  Court didn’t last over a week at the outside.  Both hotels would be full and anybody who had rooms to spare would have a chance to rent them ot, too.  People who was workimg in oysters would stay at the hotels, the year around.  In them days, why people who come to the beach on holidays, they would usually bring their tent and stay for three months at Ocean Park and LongBeach. A 1947 reminiscence by Dewitt Stoner Oysterville Resident 1884-1955.)

And maybe my favorite is K is for Kidnapping the County Seat, the A-B-Cs of Early Government in Pacific County, WA illustrated by Pat Fagerland with historical research by Larry Weathers.  (B is for… before.  Beginnings: Oregon Territory, 1848; Pacific County, 1851; Washington Territory – 1853; Washington State – 1889.)

No matter how much explaining I have done over the last twenty-five years, booksellers continue to place these books in the young children’s section.  Parents and grandparents take one look and realize that they would not be of interest to a three- or four-year-old, but it seldom occurs to them that adults — especially visitors or those new to the area — might find them highly informative and a quick way to get a historic overview of our area.

I will be selling them at the Book Fair on Saturday along with others of my 17 books that are currently in print.  Hope to see you then!

If you write, they will answer — with luck!

November 28th, 2023

John Douglas Grave Site, Oysterville Cemetery

During the years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve had many wonderful responses from people who have visited Oysterville, who sometimes have questions about Oysterville, or even from a few who have ancestors who once lived here.  I love those communications and if I can help with a question I am inordinately pleased.  I’ve even been lucky enough to have visitors come from as far away as Australia whose forebears not only were neighbors of my grandparents but who I knew growing up here.  Another one of those “small world” pleasures that have occurred because of my blog..

But recently, I got the most wonderful feedback of all  — from not one, but from TWO  direct descendants of John Douglas who, apparently have never before heard of one another!  You might remember that John Douglas was the first settler on the Shoalwater Bay (arriving in 1840 or 1841) and is the one whose blind daughter, Mary, was cured by Dr. James R. Johnson, the first doctor in the area.  Dr. Johnson,, incidentally, was the great-grandfather of Oysterville’s late, life-long resident, Bud Goulter.

The first communication I received was from Ronald Mayer back in July 2022:  I am the great, great grandson of John Douglas. Frank and Mary Garretson are my great-grand parents and their youngest son Frederick was my grandfather. My mother Thelma Garretson Mayer knew most of the family and in her later years she wrote down much of the family history. I did some additional research with some success but drifted away from the project and never got back to it. I would very much like to learn more. I will read your other articles but I would really like to talk to you more directly. I have no issue with the misinformation you have cited. Much of it I already knew and you cited a fact or two in this article I did not know. Sincerely
Ron Mayer

Tommy Nelson’s Cannery

The following August, Ron wrote again:  Thank you for your quick reply to my note,,, I am hoping you can tell me more about John Douglass’s granddhildren. Irene was one of them and I can remember her well. My grandfather, Fred Garretson, her brother, lived in Seaside in his later years and we visited Aunt Irene and Uncle Tommy several times when I was just a little kid.. She had seven siblings: Edgar, Lucy, Helen, Alfred, Agnes, William, Francis, and Frederick. Irene was the sixth surviving grandchild. The first, a girl, died in infancy. At least maybe you can tell me about Irene.
   Your articles about John Douglas are spot on. The family never claimed anything about the founding of Oysterville. However, John Douglass was said to  be the first white man to settle north of the Columbia River in or shortly after 1841. Another early settler arrived there after 1841, his name escapes me now. He claimed no other settler was there at the time but Douglass was not continuously present because he went out on whaling ships until he broke his leg.   Ronald 

To say I was thrilled is the understatement of my research “career.”  And, to top all of this off, in the last few weeks I received this note from a second John Douglas descendant, Tom DeGandi: I’m the great-great-great grandson of John Douglas and have a portrait of John and a picture of Mary.  I would like to talk to Ron Mayer if possible.  Sincerely, Tom DeGandi

Wow!  I have put the two in touch with one another and can scarcely wait for the next “installment!”  Stay tuned!


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It’s the Snap and Crackle Season already!

November 27th, 2023

The Library Fireplace

There are bad things and good things about an aging mind.  The bad part is you can’t remember squat.  The good thing is you can’t remember squat, either.  It all becomes more noticeable on these long dark evenings when I snuggle up by the fire with a good book and, even so, my mind drifts away to the Worry Zone.  Like can I really fit all those Christmas dinner things into one oven this year and how did I used to do it and oh! that’s right for 35 years I didn’t because Nyel did.  And weren’t there some phone calls I was supposed to make this morning or did I decide not to deal with those issues right now.,,

Tucker’s Cards and Ornaments

The thing is… I don’t remember all of this stewing about ordinary everyday things in times past.  Maybe I was too busy getting stuff done to have time to worry about it.  Which, of course, leads me to the conclusion that I should be busier…  But then again, who has the energy and what about a Christmas tree this year?  That mental discussion seems to go on daily  — a small tree I can handle myself or a traditional ten-footer so all the ornaments from four generations will have a place?  And what’s the point of having Christmas without the traditions anyway — without taking time to reflect on our blessings and to think about our loved ones and the joys we’ve shared.  For me, each decoration, each holiday tradition brings up joyful memories.  So… I guess the tree question is answered after all.

Heidemarie’s Christmas Angel

But, no doubt I’ll circle ’round to it again in the next few days.  Until I finally get moving toward the Christmas tree lot and get those decorations out of the back forty.  Meanwhile though, the calendar is filling up with notes about visitors to enjoy and events to attend and even a deadline or two to meet for the paper.  (Which, of course, sets the stewing a-boil again… do I really want to submit the column I have ready or is something else percolating that would be better.)   Snap and crackle goes the fire.  Snap and crackle go my synapses. Is it my age or the season? Probably a combination.  Whatever the reason, it seems to be a condition that’s here to stay for a while so I’d better get busy enjoying it, eh?

What in the world are they thinking?

November 25th, 2023


I guess it’s just my week to be cranky.  But actually, the first page article in the Observer has me far beyond cranky.    “Feds target 400K barred owls to save spotted owl.”  Jeezusly-old-blue-shitwine!  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, no less. What is the matter with those people?  Too much testosterone?  A firm desire to support the NRA no matter what?  Have they learned NOTHING from other extermination projects gone awry?

At least the introduction of the mongoose to kill the rats in Hawaii was not done under the aegis of the government.  The mice and rats arrived inadvertently with shiploads of people and the sugar growers imported the mongoose to take care of the problem.  If you don’t know the result, Google it.  It’s a classic.

And then there was the near extinction the the bison or buffalo. According to site after site on Google, their destruction  had two important consequences: It left the vast grasslands open to the herds of cattle moving north from Texas. Now cattle ranches appeared in the north. More importantly, though, it robbed the Plains Tribes of the one resource that allowed them to move across the plains and continue their nomadic lifestyle.

Once upon a time…

Presumably, we are smarter now.  Studies are made.  Many studies.  Taxpayer dollars are spent.  Many dollars.  But, I can’t really imagine that we can choose the way we feel Mother Nature should stay in balance and then attempt to keep her that way.  No life form is static.  If the barred owl needs new habitat and it impinges on the spotted owl, perhaps we should let the the spotted owls figure out what to do about it.  Isn’t that the way nature works?  Survival of the fittest and all of that?  Perhaps they will surprise us with their ingenuity.

Meanwhile, the extermination of 400,000 barred owls just doesn’t seem prudent.  No matter how I look at it.


Not a complaint. More an observation.

November 24th, 2023

In the last year or so — since I’ve been closer to 90 than to 80 — I’ve had some rather annoying encounters with “professionals” who seem to equate elderly with feeble-minded.  Or, perhaps, more accurately, with “not very important folks” or maybe even as “throw-away people.”  Or at least that’s the way they make me feel.

My latest such encounter was with a youngish man (but not all that young; his beard is more gray than dark and his appearance unkempt in some purposeful way that speaks of trying to be trendy.)  It was a dermatology appointment and perhaps I was sort of “prepared” for an unfavorable experience.  The  clinic involved has recently changed its name.  Twice.  First they added “and cancer” or something to that effect to their “dermatology” name.  Next they changed their name entirely so it’s difficult to tell just what their focus is.  Yet, they say they are the same old outfit — just name changes.

Admittedly, I hadn’t been in for a year, but I was surprised to find no familiar faces.  I had made my appointment a few weeks ago specifically to have several “spots” of seborrheic keratosis removed (frozen off.)  This is a genetic condition I’ve inherited from both parents — not a big deal, but for the last 40-almost-50 years I’ve made yearly trips to my dermatologist to have them removed.  Needless to say, several of my dermatologists have retired or gone out of business during those years, but with each new person, a similar yearly routine has been established.

Not this time.  “I don’t really believe in removing these,” he said to me.  “They aren’t really a problem –(easy for him to say)– and there is always danger of infection from removing them..”  “Really?” I countered.  “That’s never been a problem for me nor has anyone ever said it might be.”

By then he had looked me over, and said very little more before he was outta there.  Wot the hell?  Why did they allow me to make an appointment for the removal of my seborrheic keratosis (which I had clearly specified as the reason for my appointment if their new hotshot doesn’t believe in that procedure.  I guess they are counting on my insurance company to pay them for an office visit.  But it was a waste of 2-1/2 hours of my time, however much gas it takes to drive 34.7 miles round trip and big-time wear and tear on my psyche.

I won’t go there again.  Ditto the eye clinic in Astoria — which I wrote about several years ago.  If there is one thing I know more about than any other human being, it’s me.  If I’m having a problem, I expect the “professional” I consult to at least give me credit for a little intelligence and to treat my concerns with considerateness and civility.  I may be elderly, but I’m not less important because of my age.  Shame on that young man and all the others like him!

Wait a minute! That IS what I learned about Thanksgiving!

November 23rd, 2023


I woke up late, rushed through Wordle (got it in three) and drank a quick cup of coffee before dashing over to feed Carol’s birds.  (They were waiting and only scolded me a little for my tardy appearance.)  Then, home-again home-again to pursue a fleeting impression of an article in the morning online edition of the New York Times.

Everything You Learned About Thanksgiving Is Wrong screamed the headline.  And I went on to read: the story of the first Thanksgiving, as most Americans have been taught it — the Pilgrims and Native Americans gathering together, the famous feast, the turkey — is not exactly accurate.   “But,” I said (rather loudly) to my computer screen, “that isn’t what I was taught.  Nor was it what I, myself, taught my students for 39 years when it came my turn to teach history — we called it “Social Studies” in 1st/2nd/ 3rd grades.”


The article went on with similar statements of “fact” about how schools and writers of children’s books have been misleading our populace for all these years — since the Mayflower landed in 1620, in fact.  “Balderdash!” said I.  And THEN the article had the audacity to state:  The Mayflower did bring the Pilgrims to North America from Plymouth, England, in 1620, and they disembarked at what is now Plymouth, Mass., where they set up a colony. In 1621, they celebrated a successful harvest with a three-day gathering that was attended by members of the Wampanoag tribe. It’s from this that we derive Thanksgiving as we know it.

Yes.  So that’s how I learned it.  And that’s how I taught it.  What in the world is your problem, NYT??  “They” seem to feel that we’ve been teaching that the Pilgrims and Indians sat down to mashed potatoes and gravy and all the other “trimmings” in 1621, gave thanks, and have called the holiday Thanksgiving ever since.  “They” also seem to feel that it is a huge revelation to us all that The holiday wasn’t made official until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln declared it as a kind of thank you for the Civil War victories in Vicksburg, Miss., and Gettysburg, Pa. Ditto that  both Native American and European societies had been holding festivals to celebrate successful harvests for centuries.

Being Thankful

Raise your hand if you missed all those “truths” when you were growing up.  If so, you weren’t attending public schools in California or Washington between 1941 and 2001.  In any case, I hope the Thanksgiving sentiment is one that got through to you and that your day truly is one of thankfulness for the bounties we share coupled with a firm resolve to work toward a time of universal thanksgiving and understanding.