“…as ithers see us.”

May 8th, 2021

Our Garden in Early May – Photo by Cate Gable

My take-away from Robert Burns’ 1786 poem, “To A Louse, On Seeing One on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church” has always been that we would be disabused of our pretensions if we could see ourselves through the eyes of others.  But, lately, Nyel and I have received or run across photographs of things near and dear to us that have simply given us a different perspective.  If there have been pretensions involved, they have yet to come clear.

Like the photo of our garden that Cate sent yesterday taken from the path to the east — a path seldom taken by us these days.  “Your yard is gorgeous!” said the accompanying note, and we had to concur. In this case it’s probably one of those “can’t see the garden for the grass that needs mowing” or “the weeds that need pulling.”  It is so lovely to look again!  Through Cate’s eyes!

Sydney at Greenridge c. 1962 — Photo by Bill LaRue

And then, midst the  “treasures” (NOT!) that we are clearing out of our nooks and crannies came some photos of me taken 50 or 60 years ago by my (then) photographer husband Bill La Rue (Marta’s Dad.)  I remember that I was getting ready for work, putting on my makeup, and he was somewhere behind me with his Hasselblad.  I was in a hurry and he was an annoyance.  There are six of those photos, each 7×9 inches, mounted on heavy cardstock.  Were they once on display somewhere?  I don’t really remember.  I don’t think I liked them much.  And now???  All I can think of  is “was I ever so young!?”

Come to think of it, that’s what’s so hard about this down-sizing and purging process — at least to me.  It’s coming to grips with how we “saw” things then and how we see them now.  After a lifetime, perspectives change.  I see myself and Robbie Burns’ “ithers” from a totally different point of view now.  A better one?  Not necessarily.  And does it make the sorting-and-discarding process easier?  Not that I’ve noticed.  Not so far, anyway  I wonder if everyone goes through these agonies when the time comes…

 

 

Purging the Back Forty Report #1

May 7th, 2021

Tin File Box

That tin file box has been sitting on one of the shelves in the back forty for so long neither of us had “seen” it for ages.  It is a nondescript brown and has a handle — portable, you might say.  It also has a lock which, apparently, has been engaged since I put it  in place.  (I say “I” because it looked vaguely familiar and Nyel said, “Not mine.”)  The key?  No Clue.

Nyel spent a half hour or so going through our Memorial Key Repository.  No luck.  “Just torque it open with a screw driver,” said I.  “It’s probably full of love letters,” said he.  “Really? Do you have love letters?” I was immediately interested.  “Of course.  They’re upstairs in that blue box on the dresser in the twin-bed room.”  “Who are they from?”  “Mostly from you,” he said.  “Really?  I wrote you love letters?”  “Lots of them,” he answered, and I made a mental note to take a look sometime.

When the box popped open we saw several packets of letters tied with various colors of ribbon.  To me!!  Pre-Nyel.  From… well, never mind.  I have set them aside for now… Maybe I’ll read them.  Maybe not.  I’ve made another mental note.

 

Hip! Hip! Hooray! Winter Hiatus Is Over!

May 6th, 2021

THOM Cannon – May 2021

General Nyel gave the order yesterday that the cannon belonging to The Honorary Oysterville Militia (THOM) should be returned to its place of honor at the west end of The Willard R. Espy Memorial Croquet Court just north of our house.  Private Eugene Busenius did the honors, returning the replica 1842 Howitzer from its winter resting place to its customary cement pad along with the bronze plaque listing the names of the Militia’s founding members.

Created in 2004 at the time of Oysterville’s Bicentennial, the group’s purpose was to acquire a cannon to replace the one originally used for ceremonial purposes in Oysterville during the 19th century.  That one met an inglorious end when some over-zealous revelers inadvertently blew it up.  Although I told the story not many months ago, it’s well worth re-telling — for the happy ending if nothing else!

Early ‘Oyster Boys’ Abe Wing and Jimmy Johnson

From one of Frank Turner’s “From Auld Lang Syne” columns written back in the 1950s for the Ilwaco Tribune.  (Perhaps Mr. Turner’s great-grandson, Keith Cox, can weigh in with the exact date.)  The column fills in some of the information about that first cannon that had heretofore been missing:

There was little in the way of entertainment for the young people and bachelor oystermen, aside from church and school, and the young men, waiting between tides for their work on the oyster beds were accustomed to displays of strength and skill for a certain amount of recreation.  There was a pile of pig iron, and one stunt was to lift it by the teeth.  Shooting with the white man’s gun, and with the Indian’s stout yew wood bows, was practiced in competition.  But top competition in weight lifting was practiced on a 400 pound cannon, or cannonade, that had been unloaded from shipboard on the high tide bank of the bay.  It took a he-man to lift the three-inch cannon as some claimed they did.  However, although the remains of the cannon are still said to be here and there in Oysterville, there is now no way to check on the prowess of the young pioneers.

THOM Plaque – May 2021

The fact is, the thing blew up.  It happened, according to the best recollection of the late Mrs. J.A. Morehead, on Lincoln’s Birthday in 1878 — perhaps a year or so earlier.  The young men waiting on the tide, including Captain Peter Jordan and Johnnie Clark, loaded her up good, ramming home a big charge of powder, followed by a heavy round rock from the pile of discarded ballast on the beach.  They touched her off.  There was a mighty roar.  One chunk fell through the roof of the Chris Johnson home 500 feet away and others in sundry places about the village.  But the worst was one that slapped Peter Jordan on the side of the head.

It was nip and tuck with Jordan in the days that followed, whether he would live or die.  Possibly the skill of  Mrs. Stevens, as a nurse, and the prayers of her daughter, Laura Belle, pulled him through.  On a July day in 1881 Captain Jordan married Laura Belle, but he carried the scars of the cannon all through life.

Look who’s playing first fiddle this year!

May 5th, 2021

Lilacs 2021 – The Sky’s The Limit

The Merry Month of May in our neck of the woods means rhododendrons!  And at our house, it means Jean Marie Rhododendrons, in particular. Or to be really exact:  Jean Marie De Montague Rhododendrons.  They were my dad’s favorite and he planted them — lots of them — in the 1970s and 1980s with the help of Paul Clarke.  They are usually out in all their glory by May 12th which was my father’s birthday.  This year he would have been 112 but I’m not sure this year’s crop of Jean Maries will be in full fettle, even by then.

Jean Maries along Our East Fence Line – May 2014

They are slow and spotty this year.  It’s probably due to the severe haircut Nyel and I gave them last fall.  We were a little late in our pruning duties and, since we had missed a year or so, we were probably overly severe.  The Jean Maries are still scolding us about it, apparently.  It’s either that or it’s this whole weird weather pattern and climate change thing we have going.  As in who has EVER heard of a burn ban as early as April here on the Peninsula?

However, the reluctance of the Jean Maries is giving the lilacs their time to shine.  They are reveling in not having to play second fiddle this year to those flashy ladies in red.  Usually, by the time we even take notice of the lilacs, they are on their way out.  It’s a yearly regret — especially if I haven’t filled the house with their sweet fragrance at least once or twice!

Jean Maries along Our East Fenceline – May 2021

I think this year will be different.  Those lilacs are bursting out all over the yard.  I’m not sure what kind they are — I just think of them as common every day lilacs — they smell like lilacs, are lilac colored, and for once are struttin’ their stuff before anyone else is dominating the garden.  Sorry, dad.  But… things could always change in the next week or so.

A double edge? Here? On the cutting edge?

May 4th, 2021

A Seller’s Market

The current housing market news here at the beach is both encouraging and alarming.  If you are planning to sell your place, you probably couldn’t pick a better time.  But, you’d better have a firm plan about next steps.  “It’s a seller’s market,” as they say.  And, once you’ve sold, finding something to buy is another story entirely — especially if you want to stay here at the beach.

I can’t really remember ever hearing about bidding wars over and above the listed prices happening before.  Not here on the Peninsula.  Nor have I heard of people just approaching homeowners whose houses are not for sale, and making an offer they can’t refuse.  But, that’s what’s going on now according to several of our friends who have had recent first-hand experiences along those lines.  Unbelievable!

Great Place To Visit…

But, of course there’s a downside.  Most sales are being made to out-of-area folks — people from California or Seattle or Portland.  Local residents simply cannot afford the prices.  Even scarier — “some renters are being asked to move with nowhere to go,” according to realtor Doug Knutson.  “Rents are being driven up beyond some folks’ ability to pay.”

I remember visiting in Nantucket some years ago and finding that several restaurants were still closed even though “the season” was well under way.  The problem as one owner explained to us — “The workers have been priced out; they can’t afford to live here any more.”  His answer was to build a housing facility for his employees and to fill it with seasonal workers from the Barbados or other Caribbean Island Countries.  “Not my first choice,” he told us.  “But we’ve run out of options.”

We’ve already heard that one of our well-known Peninsula businesses is considering a similar move — building affordable housing for their employees so they can keep good workers here.  It reminds me, once again, of Ted Holway and “The Apartments” that he had his oyster workers build for themselves in the 1940s.  His purpose was to encourage seasonal workers to stay year ’round by providing low-cost housing for them.  Maybe we are circling back to a similar solution to providing for our local work force.

“Ted’s Apartments” – 1950

Meanwhile, the number of second homes here appears to be on the increase.  There seems something so wrong with this picture — houses empty for much of the year while hard-working parents need to move their families elsewhere to be able to find a place they can afford.  And yet, I can scarcely begrudge those vacation home-owners their opportunity to have “a place at the beach.”  It’s the American dream come true.  I doubt that there is an easy answer…

 

 

It certainly wasn’t the first time…

May 3rd, 2021

Historically Speaking – The Baptist Church and Parsonage

I had to chuckle a bit at someone’s remark about our house a few days ago.  I had written something on my blog about Oysterville needing a museum and a reader responded, “I thought your home was the Oysterville Historical Museum.”  It’s not the first time that the “museum” word has come up in connection with this old house but, usually, it’s in the context of a question and not always with complimentary overtones —   As in, “Don’t you feel like you’re living in a museum?”

The answer to that, of course, is easy.  I’ve known the furniture and many of the other contents of this house for my entire life.  At various times I lived here or stayed for prolonged periods with my grandparents and with my parents.  The old rocking chairs have associations going back to sitting in granny’s lap to have my tears dried or a skinned knee bandaged or just to hear a story on a rainy afternoon.  I’ve set the table with my great-grandmother’s silver and my mother’s china a gazillion times.  Not once have I ever thought or uttered the word “museum” in connection with any of it.

All Set for Dinner

Nyel, on the other hand, as the most recent full-time occupant of the house, may feel differently.  We met shortly before he received his Master’s degree from the UW in museology and the only remark I’ve ever heard him make relative to the house is something like, “…and little did I know that before long I’d become an owner and full-time curator of our very own house museum!”  But said in a joking way.

But, I do sometimes feel a bit of responsibility beyond family when it comes to some of the “stuff” that has been deposited here.  Take Reverend Robert Yeatman’s chair, for instance.  His daughter, Dorothy, brought it to my mother shortly after my folks had retired in the early ’70s and moved into the family house.

Reverend Yeatman’s Chair

Dorothy, who lived in Ocean Park,  had spent several years in this house when she was a little girl.  “My father used to sit in that chair when he was writing his sermons,” Dorothy told Mom.  “The chair belongs here as a reminder of the days the house served as the Parsonage for the church across the street.”

And, though I never knew Reverend Yeatman, I do think of him each time I use that chair!  I “remember” that he and his family lived here from 1898-1901 — just before the Reverend Josiah Crouch took his infamous turn as the Baptist pastor and left behind his ghostly wife.

In a way, I guess, that sort of memory-association with the things in the house do make it seem a bit like a museum. The house not only provides a context and an environment for the artifacts that are associated with it, but it also helps keep the stories of those artifacts “alive.”  The downside, though, is that our “artifacts” are still in use so there are no guarantees about their longevity or protection.   And, as wonderful as it would be to have an honest-to-goodness Oysterville Museum, the reality is that it takes more resources than our little village could possibly provide.

So, until that changes,  let’s hear it for the Columbia Heritage Museum and the Pacific County Historical Society Museum – two worthy institutions that we all need to support in order to keep our local history alive — even the history associated with our old houses and old folks!  Hear! Hear!

 

 

 

 

Hard to believe! Clara’s back!

May 2nd, 2021

Movin’ Slow

She’s not talking.  Not so much as a cluck or a chirp.  And she’s walking ever-so-slowly.  Like it hurts to put one foot in front of the other.  When I offered her some scratch, she pecked at it disinterestedly.  Farmer Nyel and I were concerned.

Yesterday was Day Four of Clara Missing.  We were pretty sure she had joined Snow White and Ida Mae in the Great Chicken Beyond.  But… yesterday afternoon as I was working at my desk, my phone rang (no… it wasn’t Clara) and Nyel said that he was just going into the yard at the “Cannon Gate” and Clara was coming toward the gate to meet him!  Slowly.  Oh so slowly.  I went to the window to watch her progress and it was painful.

The conclusion of Farmer Nyel: she had no visible signs of injury.  Maybe she was sick.  And where had she been?  She wasn’t saying, but it didn’t appear that she had left the premises.  Nyel went down to the coop to let the others out and, though it took some coaxing, they eventually came up and joined her.  I gave them all a bit more scratch but only Slutvana seemed “normal.”  Both Clara and Little Red were less than interested and were moving slowly — like their hips were giving out.

All Three Together Again!

But… an hour or so later, there were all three on the east porch begging for treats.  The two sickly ones a bit more subdued than usual but… even so.  They were all there!  And, even later, when I went to say, “good night,” all three were huddled together on the roost — LRH on one side and Slutvana on the other side of Clara.  Like bookends, securing her between them.  Like good friends always do.

We are cautiously optimistic.

 

 

 

Spires, Inspirations and Aspirations

May 1st, 2021

The 1892 Spire Handoff, April 30, 2021

The closest thing Oysterville has to a museum is “Tucker’s Arcade” which you probably know is a work in progress.  Probably always will be.  Tucker is a collector, after all, and an eclectic one at that.  There is never an end in sight to interesting possibilities.

Meanwhile… for years our Back Forty has been the repository for many Oysterville-related items — paintings by known and unknown artists (especially of the church), old photographs and letters and documents from or to or concerning old Oysterville residents and, almost anything church-related that needs storage for “a while.”

Perhaps the church connection dates back to the 1892 construction of the church by my great-grandfather — the same year that he purchased this house to be used as a parsonage.  Somehow, the house has been collecting odd bits and pieces ever since.  For years before the church had heat, the little pump organ spent every winter here in the house.  Votive candles left over from weddings and vases from vespers and extra reflectors from the (now) non-existent kerosene lanterns all wait against the day they will be needed.  And that is to say nothing of the many boxes of walking tours that await distribution once the church can be opened to the public again — an ongoing responsibility for whoever lives here, it seems.

Doubly in-spire-ing! September 2012

As Nyel and I begin our Big Cleanout Project, we think about these things.  Some items  will eventually go back to the church but some… we’re not sure.  So it is with the 1892 church spire.  When it was replaced in 1980 during the Church Restoration project, the old one came to our house and, in lieu of an Oysterville museum, here it has stayed.  Waiting.  In 1912, the current spire (made by Ossie Steiner and, actually, just a little bit bigger than the original) came down for re-painting.  Tucker and I had our pictures taken with the new and the old spires and Tucker said something like, “If you ever decide you need to get rid of this original spire…”

So it was that, last night, Nyel and I turned over that historic piece of Oysterville to Tucker.  He says he has the perfect place for it in his Arcade.  “But what we really need in Oysterville is a museum,” he said.  We couldn’t agree more.  Even though we love and adore the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum and have great respect for the all-encompassing history archived at the Pacific County Historical Society Museum, it would be nice if Oysterville had a little place of its own.  You know — an inside space to reflect the history of the Historic Oysterville and the National Historic District (which is a museum, of sorts, all on its own.)

A day late and… you know the rest.

April 30th, 2021

Clearing Out The Back-Forty — A Scary Proposition

As I wrote a few days back, Nyel and I are doing what we should have done during the Sheltering Time of 2020 — clearing out, cleaning up, relegating, and passing on.  It’s one of those love/hate jobs.

I love the re-discovery parts — coming across all those once-upon-a-time treasures that we couldn’t part with back in the… well, in the once-upon-a-time days.  But now that time has passed and our lives have actually taken on some semblance of “patterning,” we are almost having a good time of it.  I’m not sure “patterning” is the right term.  It’s whatever you call having lived long enough that your memories and the physical things connected to them fall into clear(ish) categories.  Mostly.

And it has something to do with having put chunks of things behind us.  Like the years before we lived here or before we met.  Or some of our vacations that we know won’t be repeated.  Or the events we participated in or, perhaps organized, that are over  and done with.  By now, all of the “stuff” associated with those things are easily parted with — but so fun to look at one more time and do some reminiscing.

Granny’s Cake Plate, 1897

We’ve also made it easier on ourselves by finding “homes” ahead of time for many of the things we’ll be sorting through.  Any Espy family related stuff — especially documents and photographs will go up to the Washington State Historical Research Center to join the Espy Family Archive.  Or to appropriate family members.  Our personal treasures, especially if community related, will go to appropriate local organizations or to relatives if items are family connected.  And then there’s the Good Will and Friends of the Library and local thrift shops.

The “hate” part of this chore, of course, is facing up to the fact that most of the “stuff” that has brought us so much pleasure during our lifetimes will have little or no meaning to anyone in the years ahead.  It’s just the way it is.  Especially when you leave no grands or greats.  No one to say, as I so often do about things in this house, “This cake plate was the first purchase my grandmother ever made with her own money, after she was married in 1897.  It cost her ten cents as I recall.  Or maybe it was twenty-five.  (Perhaps in all our purging I’ll find that list of her wedding gifts and the one of her first household purchases somewhere.)  History seems so much more “real” when it’s entwined with family and memories.  Doncha think so?

I never did like Home Ec…

April 29th, 2021

Florence Sewing Machine – Patented 1850

Back in the 1950s,  Home Economics was still part of the required curriculum for eighth grade girls and Shop was the equivalent requirement for boys.  For some reason, the year I had “Home Ec,” as we called it, the cooking component wasn’t taught — just sewing.  I think that was fine by me.  I wasn’t really interested in any of the “domestic sciences.”  (I understand the term is now “Family & Consumer Sciences” in most school districts where home ec is still taught — usually only as a high school elective, now.)

I have to reluctantly admit that the skills I learned at age twelve stood me in good stead — especially during college and my early married years.  Money was scarce and if I wanted a new skirt or dress, I could usually justify spending a bit for fabric and thread.  My Aunt Mona gave me her portable Singer sewing machine which I still have, though I use it infrequently these days. We also have, upstairs, a very old treadle sewing machine — a Florence patented in 1850.

Judging by the letters she wrote to Medora in the early 1900s talking about borrowing Tina Wachsmuth’s machine, I don’t think that the Florence machine belonged to my grandmother.  Perhaps it was my great-grandmother Julia’s and came into this house later on.  Or maybe it wasn’t working properly.  I’ve never had the gumption to try it.

An Antique Sampler

But I do have a drawer of “sewing stuff” at the bottom of the wardrobe closet in my bedroom — boxes of buttons, papers of pins and needles, odd bits of rick-rack and a tape measure or two.  There are remnants from various sewing projects, a collection of old patterns and even a darning egg I think.  (I don’t think I’ve darned a sock since 1960!) I get into that drawer less and less frequently nowadays.  But every time I do, I remember that eighth grade sewing class and the patient advice of the teacher.  What was her name?  Mrs. Curry?

One of my cousins has a sampler so carefully stitched by one of our great-great-greats  (Mary Ann McKee ?) in the 1800s. These samplers were stitched more to demonstrate knowledge than to preserve skill. The stitching of samplers was believed to be a sign of virtue, achievement and industry, and girls were taught the art from a young age.  That style of needlework reached its height of popularity between the 1830s and 1870s.   I wonder if home-sewn clothing will ever completely disappear and if examples will be found framed on the walls of the seamstress’s descendants.  Or, perhaps, in museums.