Posts Tagged ‘Espy Family’

“I’s not a leetle boy. I’s a leetle geel!”

Thursday, January 19th, 2023

Someone in my past — my mother? my grandmother? — used to give a deep sigh about whatever was annoying her and say, “This will be the bane of my existence!”  I do believe it was often my wretched curly hair which one or the other of them was trying to subdue into “proper” Shirley Temple style corkscrew curls.  One or two portraits of me at age five or six demonstrate their success, but mostly my hair has continued to be “the bane” right up to present days.

Not that I’m longing for corkscrew curls, mind you!  In fact, I sometimes wonder if my life (and my mother’s)might have been greatly simplified if she hadn’t been so intent on those curls.

Helen-Dale, Edwin, Willard c. 1914

Perhaps it all hearkened back to her own childhood when her curls were cut short and, at least before she started school, she wore rompers similar to her brothers’ and they all hung out together — Edwin three years older and Willard eleven months older than she.  In fact, the family all remembered that Dale (my mom) was the only girl among thirteen boys in town of a similar age.  She said that she was often the “tag-along” that the rest of them were trying to lose as they raced through the woods or along the bayshore on their many adventures.

Dale at 16, 1927

When adults mistook her for another one of the boys,  three-year-old Dale’s indignant response was:  “I’s not a leetle boy.  I’s a leetle geel!”  Apparently, the census-taker in 1920 didn’t ask.  Instead of listing her as “Helen-Dale, a girl” she went into the public record as “Allen-Dale, a boy.”  I wonder if she ever knew about that listing.  I don’t think I ran across that bit of misinformation until after she had died.  But, I must say, I was indignant on her behalf!

By the time she was sweet sixteen, though, her hair behaved as her mother had always hoped.  Sorry, mom. that I didn’t follow in your footstepsl  It would have saved us all a lot of angst!



Memory Lane and Territory Road Converge!

Tuesday, November 15th, 2022

The final edition of Parade in print in the Oregonian was last weekend.

I couldn’t quite imagine why my friends Harry and Linda were emailing me a copy of this week’s Parade Magazine from the Oregonian.  But, a few lines into the editorial and I KNEW!  Our Oysterville Red House Cousins were in the news!  Again!

It seems that when  the first Parade supplement ran in the Oregonian on Father’s Day 1957, it featured a three-page story on a Portland family, the Williamses. The headline said:  “Meet a 1957 novelty: the Williamses of Oregon.  They’re an old-fashioned family where… Father is the BOSS.”

The article, written by two Parade writers began, “In a two-story stucco house here, with a wife and three lively children, lives a man who might be called a rare bird in modern America:  a genuine, old-fashioned father.”  As an example of his “rule the roost” ways, the article went on to say: he preferred long hair on women so wife Barbara and daughters Lex and BeeGee wore their hair long.

The Red House

And, then as now, Oysterville was an important part of the family story:  The annual trip to the beach house in Oysterville, Washington was an occasional sore point, the article said.  But either the entire family went, or no one did — the implication being that if Bronk didn’t want to come, no one else ventured forth.  I honestly don’t remember any years that they weren’t here for a while, anyway.

The original article is mounted on the wall of that 1871 coast home, still in the family, David Williams said  His father and mother both had ties to the Long Beach peninsula.  Great-grandfather R.H. Espy was one of the founders of Oysterville.

David, Lex, BG — circa 1948

Barbara Espy Williams was my mother’s first cousin and I must say that our family’s impression of Barbara and Bronk’s household was not quite in line with the point the writers of that 1957 article were trying to make.  I was happy to see that the current editor gave my cousin David the final word on that subject:

David gave a wry chuckle. “The article from our perspective, was sort of a misrepresentation of who ran the show,” he said.  “Our contention was our mother ran the show.”

Report from Oz – Day Six

Tuesday, March 15th, 2022

In The Center of Things!

Here in the Emerald City– sunny today with a shower now and then in the afternoon.  Everything seemed to move slowly — I was a bit late to Nyel’s hospital quarters and missed the Doctor Team’s visit.  Apparently, though, I didn’t miss much — no big changes in his oral meds or IV drips or other protocols.  Weight loss: miniscule.  Tremors, continuing.  Stomach distress, a bit better.  Lotsa questions.  Few answers.  And so the HUAW (Hurry Up And Wait) experience continues.

Cousins – Sydney and Si 2022

No one has yet broached the “go home” subject.  I’m sure they first want to have some “results” to show for all these days in Oz.  Tomorrow it will be a week that we’ve been here and, already, we are losing track of time.  Nyel was sure that he missed Jeopardy yesterday because it was the weekend.  I missed, too, because Cate called from Arizona — had heard at lunch (with Cindy and Tom Downer and other Peninsula Rainbirds) that Nyel is in the hospital!  Wow!

I checked in with the Oysterville Postmistress this morning — cleared Carol and Tucker for mail/package pickup.  Then got to worrying about running out of my own meds while up here — to say nothing of paying some bills and needing clean clothes.  And possibly sox!  Put out a distress signal to friend Michael Lemeshko who has offered to drive me to O’ville and back on Saturday — details not yet finalized.  What a guy!  It will be a wonderful chance to catch up on his progress on his latest book — this one about Seaborg and the beginnings of Ilwaco.   And to talk about the Community Historians and how we can contribute to next steps.  Michael already has a plan afoot…

The Oldest and The Youngest Espy – My Mom and Si – Labor Day 2007 

And this evening — dinner with Cousin Abigail Hook and family — “The Red House Cousins” in Oysterville.  I think we’ve seen one another (distanced and masked) only once since the Pandemic struck and it’s been longer than that since I’ve had even a glimpse of the kids.  I’m pretty sure they are both taller  than I am now and, let’s see.  Are they both teenagers by now?

Do I feel just a tad guilty about going out “on the town?”  You bet I do.  I console myself that there will be stories to relate to Nyel tomorrow and, if I remember to take them, pictures to share!


My Mother — The Fourth Espy Girl

Monday, February 21st, 2022

Medora, 1915

Of the four daughters of Helen and Harry Espy of Oysterville, my mother was the youngest.  Oldest was Medora (1899-1916), then Suzita (1903-1932), then Muriel who we all knew as Mona (1904-1970).  Only Mona was still living when I was born and it goes without saying that I knew her best. Although…  after spending a number of years with Medora’s letters and diaries and then writing Dear Medora, Child of Oysterville’s Forgotten Years (WSU Press, 2007) perhaps it was teenaged Medora I knew the best.

Each of the four had distinctive characteristics.  Medora was steadfast, practical, responsible — called by her mother:  “Mama’s  strong right-hand.”  My grandmother wrote this poem in her scrapbook after Medora’s death:


Dear helping hands that led,
Down life’s thorn strewn way.
Dear loving hands that fed,
The wants of every day.

Now in my greater need
And loneliness for thee
Dear gentle hands O, heed
The anguish of my plea.

Lean a bit across the strand
And lead me where you are
A beckon of your guiding hand
Will prove the gates ajar.

Suzita Espy, c. 1920

I always think of Suzita (or “Sue” as most of us called her) as a flapper (which she was) who married a rum runner (which she did).  My grandmother wrote this of her: “Suzita dashed into the world one bright July morning before I could even get my shoes off.  There is not a definite incident that seems to mark the memory of her – just her glowing personality and gorgeous eyes that won the hearts of all men from the time she was two years old.  She could achieve her own ends and dismiss obstacles like a magician.  Brighter than average, she bluffed her way through school – was asked by a teacher in the third grade once what a dumb waiter was.  ‘Mama is a waiter,’ she said, ‘she waits on everyone, but she isn’t dumb.’  Suzita – staunch, loyal, loving, reckless Sue, my beautiful red rose.”  Sue had several bouts of pneumonia during her life, finally dying of it four years before I was born and leaving two young sons, Wallace and Charles Pearson.

Mona circa 1946

Mona was tiny — maybe five feet tall — a practical nurse, an Eisenhower Republican, and taught me how to smoke and how to drink my coffee black.  (“You’ll always enjoy it that way, whether or not cream and sugar are available.”)  Of Mona, my grandmother wrote:

Little Mona, born the night Albert was taken ill – a two and a half pound wisp – had 75 convulsions in five days when five weeks old.  Up she came, frail, unstable, completely dominated by Suzita’s force and vividness.  Twice during her fourth year she had pneumonia, and had to learn to walk all over again.  It was about this period that she used to sleep with her hands over her ears “to keep the dreams out.”’  Always a pathetic hungry little creature unable to assimilate her surroundings.  At four she used to sit by the hour perched on the fence accosting every passer-by with “Hellow what you goin’ to do tomollow? ”

Dale c. 1928

I once overheard a conversation between my grandparents. the gist of which was that Mom had all the best qualities of each of her sisters.  Many years later, Mom told me that her folks had shared that thought with her, too.  Typically, she blew it off but I could tell that their expressing it meant the world to her.

About Aunt Dora and the Christmas Roast

Monday, December 27th, 2021

Dora Espy Wilson at 80, c. 1951

Leave it to my friend Maggie to remind me about my Great Aunt Dora’s story of the Christmas roast.  I mentioned it in my blog about holiday dinners “In The Best of Regulated Families” the other day and promised to tell about it later. Then, of course, I promptly forgot about it.  (My Forgetter is the best of all my faculties, bar none, these days!)

Well… Aunt Dora was my grandfather’s older sister.  When I was a child, the two of them were known as “the talkative Espys,” unlike their three surviving siblings (Will, Susie, and Cecil) who were “the silent Espys.”  Aunt Dora lived in Portland and when she came visiting, she and Papa would sit in our library and tell story after story about their early days in Old Oysterville.  Papa was said to talk about the saints, Aunt Dora, the sinners.  You don’t have to guess which stories I liked (and remember!) best.

I believe the events in “the roast story” occurred during my mother’s childhood, perhaps before she was born, but during that generation.  The various Espy siblings and their children had gathered here at the Red House (the “family seat”) for Christmas dinner.  The women were busy in the kitchen with last minute touches and beginning to carry the laden serving dishes to the dining room table.  Someone took the roast out of the oven, “done to a turn” said Aunt Dora, and finding no counter space available at the moment, set down the roasting pan, roast and all, on the kitchen floor.

Aunt Dora with Hilda and the Espy Girls, Mona, Joey, Freddy, Cassy – 1947

“One of the little boys — I don’t remember which — but a youngster about two or three years old, dashed into the kitchen just then,” said Aunt Dora.  “For some unknown reason, he pulled down his Christmas britches and tinkled right on that gorgeous roast!  We women all looked at one another in horror and then did the only sensible thing.  We pulled up the culprit’s rompers, sent him on his way, and transferred that gorgeous roast to the serving platter!”

At that point in the story, Aunt Dora would interrupt herself with her contagious chuckle and (every time we heard it) we asked, “And what did you do with the roast?”

“Ate it for dinner, of course,” she laughed.  “It was, after all, the main dish and a ‘culinary masterpiece’.  Everyone said so!  In fact, for years (at least until the story came out) everyone remarked on that being the best piece of beef they’d ever eaten!”  And we all laughed along with her, all the while looking at our uncles and cousins and wondering which of them that little boy had been…

And Cuzzin Ralph Got His Limit!

Tuesday, December 21st, 2021

Cheryl, Ralph, Syde, Nyel, Virg

Third cousins two times removed, Cheryl Kocher and her brother Ralph Jeffords, arrived yesterday with Cheryl’s husband, Virg.  It was SO great to see them!  It had been four-and-a-half years since we’d seen Ralph (who lives in Virginia) and a bit less than a year since we’d seen Virg and Cheryl who divide their time between Lacey and Manson here in Washington.  But even so…   This time we were unmasked, not very distanced, and not only had lunch together but spent the afternoon visiting and catching up.

It was one of those Virg-and-Cheryl-haven’t-changed-a-bit (probably in the 20 years we’ve known them) but OH THAT RALPH!  When he walked in the door Nyel immediately asked if he had come directly from the set of “Duck Dynasty.”  I said not a word.  I was too busy wondering which of our Mountain Men ancestors Ralph might be a throwback to.  (Probably a badly worded sentence — but you know what I mean.)

Nyel and Virg — Soup’s On!

I don’t even know if we have Mountain Men in our background, but if we do, Cuzzin-Ralph-the-family-genealogist is the one who would know.  Unfortunately, I never got around to broaching the subject.  We were too busy catching up with one another, eating Chef Nyel’s fabulous lunch — African Peanut Soup, fresh-out-of-the-oven sourdough rye bread, and green salad with pears — and just plain old basking in familiar company.

Later we sat swapping reminiscences in front of the library fire and Cheryl presented Nyel and me with Christmas socks and documented our visit with a few photos.  They left in time to hit the beach so Ralph could go clamming.  Later, another photo from Cheryl showing Cuzzin Ralph and his successful clam hunt results.  Yay!  Nyel says the photo should get a place of honor in the Family Gallery in our stairwell.  Great idea!

Cuzzin Ralph and Clams


Just Say No

Friday, December 17th, 2021

Santa Ralph in Lacey, 2021

I remember that it was in the 1980s that Nancy Reagan kicked off her “Just Say No” campaign as part of the U.S. “War On Drugs.”  Those three words quickly became a catch phrase for just about everything whether it was illegal substances, an unsolicited (or unwanted) invitation, or a tempting dessert that promised a gazillion extra calories.

Unfortunately, those three words still rattle up to the surface when least expected and when I certainly don’t want to acknowledge them.  Take an email I received from my cousin Cheryl today.  Her brother Ralph — Cuzzin Ralph of the Amazing-Research-on-Reverend-and-Mrs.-Crouch fame — has just arrived here for Christmas.  Not “here” here — but not far, either.  Cheryl and husband Virg live in Lacey and they are proposing to come visiting with Ralph on the 20th and 21st.  YIKES!

Cheryl and Virg, 2016

Talk about conflicted!  We haven’t seen C&V since Valentine’s Day 2020 and it’s been even longer since we’ve seen Ralph who lives far, far away in Virginia.  But, quite honestly, we have way too many things happening between now and Christmas to squeeze in one single additional thing.  “Just Say No!” said my head.  “Maybe just one day but not overnight,” said my heart.  And so, we are “negotiating” by email.

I’m not sure how it will turn out.  Sometimes, you just have to leave things in the lap of the gods…  I hope they are feeling benevolent this Holiday Season.


But I just had it a minute ago…

Wednesday, December 1st, 2021

Senator H.A. Espy at his desk, 1911

It really is nuts-making.  Now that I am actually gathering together some final bits and pieces of things to take up to Ed Nolan at the Washington State Research Center, I cannot find Papa’s diary — the one written when he was sixteen in 1892/93.  The one telling about the Reverend Josiah Crouch’s stay in Oysterville!

Papa (aka Harry Albert Espy, my maternal grandfather) was an inveterate note-maker and diary-keeper.  I still have several of his diaries in my possession and have, at long last, decided that they need to join the other family papers in Tacoma.  The most important of the diaries, at least by my reckoning, is the one which includes his father’s 1913 statement about his trip across the Plains, his first months in  Pacific County, and his journey in 1854 with Isaac Clark to the shores of what is now Oysterville.

I also have my grandmother’s book of poems “Compiled and Arranged” in 1895 and 1896 and presented in a leather bound book to Harry, probably on the occasion of their engagement.  All in her gorgeous spidery handwriting and all credited to the poets she loved.  She told me long ago, before I was old enough to appreciate it, that she and Papa would sit under a favorite oak tree overlooking the Golden Gate (not the bridge — it wouldn’t be built for another 40 years) and read poetry to one another.  Do you think young couples do anything half so romantic today?

H. A. Espy Children, 1913

While I was madly searching for the missing diary, I ran across a news column, perhaps from the South Bend Journal, perhaps from 1912 or 1913.  It is titled Not For Sale and begins like this:

At the beginning of the school year of 1912’1913, a bright young family from Pacific county was moved into a quiet residence on a side street in Olympia, leaving the comforts of their own home, because the head of that home was called to spend sixty days of the coming winter in the State senate.
It was the family of our senator Espy.  He had rented or leased out his dairy farm to attend the duties of his office.
It would be no trifling matter for a young couple, graduates of the University of California, to have their children’s schooling broken into by a move into the capitol later, or for the family to be separated for a large part of the winter.
Also it takes great economy for any family to pay the prices the Olympians charge during “the Session” and comes out even on the salary allowed by the state.
So it is no wonder that Espy said, when we were last together, that he was uncertain whether he would run again or not…

It was interesting to read what the editor’s take on Papa’s situation was and even more interesting to speculate whether the family version of our history or the public version (at least this particular public version –there were many) was accurate.  There’s no telling what else I’ll run into while I continue the search for that diary.

I just know it’s here somewhere…  Mrs. Crouch, do you know anything about this?

A News Clipping of Note

Friday, November 26th, 2021

Part of Early News Clipping

There are several things that drive us collectors of bits-and-pieces-of-history to distraction — old photographs with no identifying names or dates and yellowing news clippings without any indicators of when or whence.  I think the following excerpt from just such a clipping was from the The Tribune of Ilwaco — probably in the late 1940s judging by snippets of ads on the reverse side.

Under the headline Espy Describes Early Settlement is an article about my grandfather’s talk at a dinner meeting of the Ilwaco-Long Beach Kiwanis club.  The part of particular interest to me describes the first road survey on the Peninsula.

An interesting document read by Espy was one made under date of October 1859, a petition addressed to the commissioners of Pacific county, Washington Territory, requesting the building of a road due west out of Oysterville to connect with the “weather beach” route to Pacific City at Baker’s Bay.

Isaac Alonzo Clark

The petition was signed by 25 pioneers of Oysterville including E. Ward Pell, R.H. Espy, Chas. Anderson, H. Wing, A.C. Wirt, Geo. Dawson, H.K. Stevens, Frank Warren, G.W. Warren, G.S. Foster, I. M. Chichester, J.A. Cole, Irving Stevens, Il Wheeler, Ezra Stout, George Wills, F. Hopkinson, W.H. Gray, E.G. Loomis, I.A. Clark, W. Sutton, Jr., and Thomas J. Foster, Jr.
The penmanship of the petition was very well done, and easy to read, in spite of an ornate style.  The language used was on the flowery side, and in true chamber of commerce optimism indicate a huge influx of business and visitors over the proposed road.
The following May of 1860 the records of the county commissioners, who are not named, signed by H.K. Stevens, clerk of the board, reveal that E.G. Loomis, George Willis and Dennis Colby were appointed “viewers” for the road project.
 Their detailed report was accepted by the board of commissioners and placed on file July 2, 1860.  (For a description of that survey, read my April 18, 2021 blog, “Metes and Bounds and Willow Posts”
A photostatic copy of this original record was recently made by Verna Jacobson, county auditor, who reported to Mr. Espy:  “As nearly as I can ascertain, it is the oldest document in the office as to commissioners’ proceedings.”

Harry and Dora Espy circa 1896

The concluding paragraphs of the article amused me greatly.  My grandfather was known as a man of many, many words and, according to the reporter:
H.A. Espy was accompanied to the meeting of the Kiwanis club by his sister, Mrs. Dora Wilson of Portland, who, according to Harry “pulled my coat tail three times” when she felt it time for him to conclude his address.
However, the Kiwanians appeared to enjoy both the amusing anecdotes and the historical documents of the oldtimer of Oysterville, giving him a hearty round of applause.


I think Uncle Cecil gets a bad rap…

Tuesday, October 19th, 2021

Sydney and Uncle Cecil, 1979

What I’ll be the first to say about my grandfather  and his brothers and sisters is that there were the taciturn Espys and the loquacious Espys — about an even division among the ones I knew well.  Uncle Cecil and Uncle Will were the quiet ones; Papa and Aunt Dora were the talkative ones.  But, I think they all had a sense of humor, though it was sometimes harder to tell with the quiet ones.  And even though many of my Red House Cousins would disagree.

However, two stories involving Uncle Cecil (Grandy to those RH Cousins) stick out in my mind and I think of them as the tip of the proverbial funny-bone iceberg.  If you could have seen the twinkle in his eyes when he was delivering his punchlines, you’d have to agree that, though it was tinder-dry, Uncle Cecil’s sense of humor was completely intact.

The first incident involved a party — a Christmas party, I’m sure — hosted by my folks a year or so after I moved here fulltime — 1978 or ’79.  Uncle Cecil, a retired banker from Portland and a widower, had been living by himself at the R.H. Espy House for some years.  He took pride in the fact that he was sleeping in the very bed (“NOT! “said my mom) and in the very room (“probably” said his children) in which he’d been born in 1887.  Mom worried about him being too solitary and so, of course, invited him to every event that came along.

On this particular occasion, Mom had teased him ahead of time and said, “Maybe you’ll meet someone interesting who’d be willing to cook you a dinner now and then.”  Uncle Cecil “harumphed” but the night of the party I did notice him sitting on the sofa between two local widows who seemed to be vying for his attention.  The next evening when he came for a dinner of left-overs, I mentioned the two ladies who had him “captivated” the night before.  “Oh, those two!” he said.  “Lemons!  Both lemons!”  His eyes twinkled and so did ours!  He was spot on in his assessment.

R. H. Espy and Aunt Kate, 1918

It was at another dinner at our place  (Mom tried to have him often; she didn’t trust him to cook himself a balance meal) that the subject of R.H.’s amorous proclivities came up.  R.H. had married “Aunt Kate” as all the village called her, some years after his wife had died.  R.H. was Aunt Kate’s third husband, the first two having served at Baptist preachers in Oregon and Washington.

Aunt Kate had been a friend of the family for more than fifty years and,  shortly after she was widowed for the second time. she got in touch with “Mr. Espy.”   My mother and her siblings remembered her as wearing long dresses, high-buttoned shoes, and taking pride in “the one tooth in the front of her head with which she could scrape the meet from an apple.”

“I’ll bet Aunt Kate is one of the few women who was married three times and died a virgin,” my mother announced over dessert.  Back came Uncle Cecil’s twinkle:  “Not if you knew father,” he said.