Posts Tagged ‘Espy Family’

Anyone else feeling vaguely “unwanted”?

Friday, December 18th, 2020

R.H. Espy, born 1826 in Allegheny County, PA – died 1918, a 64-year resident of Pacific County, WA

Somehow, Wednesday’s front page headline in the Observer — “Out-of-state seniors drive up county age” — was a bit unsettling.  As I read the article, I realized that the finger-pointing by the U.S. Census Bureau was specifically directed to a group of us old ducks that I don’t quite fit into.  Almost but not quite.  And I’m not at all sure why I care.

The article’s statistics specifically target an influx of older residents who were born in states other than Washington and who moved here between 2015 and 2019.  Well, I moved here permanently (check!) and was born in Massachusetts (check!) but that was in 1978 and I was still twenty-plus years shy of being a senior.  Even so, the tone of the article made me feel a bit uncomfortable about being old and born out-of-state.  And then I felt annoyed.  And then totally pissed off.

I dragged out my copy of the 1860 Pacific County Census and took a quick look.  As expected, the only residents listed as born in Washington Territory were under seven years old!  Duh! At a time when our indigenous people were not allowed to be counted in the U.S. Census and when Euro-American settlers were just beginning to arrive, ALL  adults who were counted in Pacific County had been born elsewhere.  Double duh!

The one exception to the 7-or-under pattern  was 16-year-old George Johnson who my great-grandfather, the census-taker, counted despite George’s Indian heritage.  Knowing what I do of Great-Grandpa R. H. Espy, he snuck in as many Indians as he could.  I’ve been told that he mostly preferred their company to many of the early “born-elsewhere” settlers.

Julia Jefferson Espy born 1851 in Marion County, OR – died 1901, a 31-year resident of Pacific County, WA

Granted, most of those listed in the 1860 count were not “seniors.”  Actually, make that “none” were seniors in the present-day understanding (65-and-over) of the term.  Settling the wilderness was not an occupation for old folks.  The oldest people listed were John Crellin, Sr. from the Isle of Man who was 60 and George Wills from Kentucky who was 58.  Both were farmers and came here with younger family members.

The total number of residents in Pacific County in 1860, according to my GG and the U.S. Census Bureau, was 470 — all born out of Washington Territory with the exceptions noted above.  The total number today is 21,668, 46.9% of whom were born out of state.

I don’t find these latest statistics very compelling.  As in so what?  What I’d much rather like to know from our present-day, newly arrived, born-out-of-state residents is this:  What brought you here and what, if any, “connection” do you have to our area?  I’ll bet the answers would be fascinating.  Much more interesting than the latest census analysis of our changing demographics.  Just sayin’…



Stand up and be counted? Hmmm.

Thursday, September 3rd, 2020

Knock! Knock! Who’s there?

The U.S. Census Taker came to our door four or five months ago — “just to ask a few preliminary questions” she said.  “You can do the rest of it online.”  And so we did.  Months ago.

Monday there was a card in our mailbox addressed to someone that I assume was me.  “Cidney L. Stevens” it said.  The rest of the address was correct.  All my life (and that’s a fair amount of time, now) I’ve been Sydney M.  Granted, I’ve had several surnames — the part they got right.  But I’ve never spelled my first name differently and I’ve never used a middle initial other than M.  The card was a “reminder” to complete the 2020 census.  What a waste of time, paper, ink, etc.  Even in an automated world, good help is hard to find.

I also think it’s noteworthy that the 1920 census got my mother’s information wrong.  Her birth name was Helen-Dale Espy but, she went by “Dale” so there would not be confusion with her mother who was also a “Helen.”  At the time of the 1920 census, she would have been eight years old.

1920 Census

According to the census that year, Helen and Harry’s youngest child was “Allandale ” and was a son.  I didn’t come across that information until after my mother could no longer tell me what she knew about it, so I can only conjecture.

I know that she was a Tomboy, that she wore rompers or coveralls when she was playing with Willard (11 months her senior) and Edwin (3 years older than she) or the 13 other boys of Oysterville who were the only children near her age.  No little  girls.  I also know that she sometimes wore a cap to cover her curls — for bellying under the barn for eggs or climbing and running and hiding in the woods with all its stickery threats to a little girl’s hair.

Willard and Dale, 1914

Too, when she was very young — three or four — her hair was quite short — a curly cap.  When strangers came to the house to see my grandfather on business matters and came across Helen-Dale with her brothers, they often remarked, “What a fine group of boys you have, Mr. Espy.”  An enduring family story was my mother’s indignant reply:  “I’s not a little boy!  I’s a little gill!”

So… how much faith should we have in the census information when it comes out?  Two big errors in the same family within a hundred years probably isn’t a big deal.  But by how many times should we multiply it and with how many grains of salt should we accept the results?



Patchwork Of Another Sort

Sunday, April 19th, 2020

Mom’s Patchwork Quilt

My grandmother wasn’t a quilter and neither were her daughters.  But my mother did make at least one patchwork quilt and, as old and tired as it is, I do love it dearly.  She made it in 1932.  She was at home here in Oysterville waiting until my dad was earning enough money at Roger Babson’s Statistical Organization so they could afford to get married.  It took two years.

For that two years, mom worked on her trouseau — mostly re-working discarded clothing of her older sisters so that she could have a wardrobe appropriate to far-off Boston.  She also hemmed napkins and embroidered tea towels  and put lace edging on pillow cases.  (I think the lace was re-cycled from things of my great-grandmother Julia’s.)

Two Greens – Not a Shadow

While she was at it, she made the quilt.  Once, long ago, she told me what each different piece had come from — a dress of my grandmother’s, an old pair of rompers of Willard’s or Edwin’s, perhaps some left-over fabric from the kitchen curtains.  I wish I had written it all down.

The only patchwork item (if you can really call it an “item”) that has been created in this household during my lifetime is our lawn!  And what a patchwork it is!  Different colors, different textures, different densities, different rates of growth!  And, different-sized patches!  Maybe this is more a crazy quilt pattern that a patchwork design.

There is no rhyme but plenty of reasons to it, and I do know something about each patch.  In the beginning when the folks first moved in, the main part was put in by my dad.  The part we call “the croquet court” was done by Willard.  Part is in place of a large flower bed and was done by Nyel.  Part (a big patch) was done by Beach Time Landscaping when we had to have our septic system re-done.  It obliterated most of Willard’s patch.  And then there are the scattered patches that I’ve worked on — the little round areas that repair the mole damage.

Green, Greenish, Greener

All-in-all… it’s a mess!  Ten thousand square feet of this and that.  But… it beats most alternatives and until we have a lot more than the promised stimulus money (which we haven’t seen yet) we aren’t intending to replace it.  We’ll just continue to patch, patch, patch.

A Visit from the Red House Cousins

Sunday, November 10th, 2019

Ab, Gin, Sydney, Dan, Si – November 9, 2019

We were just sitting down to lunch when there was a knock at the door and  in burst a bundled-up smiling, very tall and very familiar young person.  It took me a minute to realize that it was my cousin Gin.  Eleven years old, now taller than I am, and wearing shoes two and a half sizes larger than mine!  Recognition took me a few seconds!  What a treat!

“May I go look for eggs?” she asked.  It’s been her “job” since she was old enough to reach into the nest boxes.  She triumphantly brought back two lovely brown eggs.  “They’re cold,” she said, the implication being that I hadn’t checked recently.  I assured her I had looked in the early morning.  (Why did I feel defensive?  I think it’s just that she’s been totally competent about EVERYthing from the day she entered this world.  I think I could  turn over all household duties to her and the transition would be seamless.) She also reported that the new hen and rooster are “ginormous!” — a conclusion with which we agree  wholeheartedly.

Nyel with Ab and Dan – Nov. 9, 2019

She stayed long enough to tell us that she had auditioned for “Aladdin” which will be presented by Seattle’s Broadway Bound Children’s Theater in January.  She was cast as Abu, “the irrascible little monkey who is full of personality, and easily fascinated by sparkling riches.”  I don’t know about the sparkling riches aspect, but the rest of the description offered online fits Gin to a ‘T’.

Later in the afternoon, Gin brought the whole family calling — Mom Ab with Dad Dan and brother Si.  We learned about Ultimate Frisbee from seventh-grader Si who told us that it’s all about running and he LOVES it.  And his team is way better than the eighth grade team.  Yay, Si!

We learned that all of them, plus Ab’s sister Anna and Rob and their children, plus Ab and Anna’s dad, Jim (Grandpa Hook), plus Rob’s dad (Grandpa Spooner), plus Dan’s mom and dad (Grandma and Grandpa Ronco) will be back in a couple of weeks to celebrate Thanksgiving.  On the Friday!  I’m so glad!  It makes my heart sing to know that the Red House is still at the center of Espy celebrations now and then.

“The Red House” by Sedem Akposoe – 2010

Plus… they told us that friends would arrive later in the day for their first “Beach Experience” which translates, they explained, to “Oysterville Experience.”  They lamented the weather (a little) and that there wasn’t a clam tide (a little) — but knowing the Red House Cousins, they will find plenty to do with their guests — even if it’s getting into the Dress Up Trunk or exploring the nooks and crannies of the old house or building a fort in the rain.

Thanks to all of you Roncos for warming our cockles once again!!!  We love you all!

Already, I am torn…

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

Welcome to Oysterville! (The real-life one.)

Last night, I began reading Susan Wiggs’ hot-off-the-press novel, The Oysterville Sewing Circle, and though I’ve read only 14 of its 362 pages, I am already finding it hard to keep focused.  It’s not that the book is poorly written.  Not at all.  Wiggs is an accomplished wordsmith and, in fact, is almost overly adverbed and adjectived for my taste.  I’m sure her plot development is strong and the romantic content intriguing.  (In fact, the blurbs on the back of the dust jacket say so.)

My Great Grandfather R.H. Espy (The H is for Hamilton)

No.  It’s not the technical aspects of the novel that are a turn-off to me.  It’s the content.  I’m really not one for “romances” or “women’s fiction stories” as Wiggs’ books are often described.  I’ve never read any of her books, though she’s written well over thirty.  Yet, the very title of this book compels my attention.  After all,  there really was an Oysterville sewing circle.  My grandmother, my mother, various aunts and cousins — to say nothing of my great-grandfather’s third wife, Aunt Kate — all belonged to it.

“So,” thought I when the book arrived, “I’ll give it a try.”  By page two my very strong can’t-continue gene was kicking in.    And then on page three my own family’s name popped out at me.  Mr. Espy, the owner of the shop, used to claim he was part vampire, manning the register every night for decades.  Every hackle I possess was suddenly on full alert.  It’s not that Espy is a particularly unusual name.  It’s just that Espy and Oysterville in real life — at least for the last 165 years — have been practically synonymous.  And here was my family name in a story involving a town with the same name as the one my Great-Grandfather Espy co-founded!

The Espy Plot – Oysterville Cemetery

In the very front of the book there is the usual disclaimer:  This is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real.  Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

I don’t think the names “Oysterville,” “Oysterville Sewing Circle.” and “Espy” used in the same novel are exactly “products of the author’s imagination” or are “entirely coincidental.” Though I’m tempted to put aside the book as another one of life’s wastes of money, I can’t help but wonder if I’ll meet a Sydney Stevens if I continue on.  Perhaps I’ll just wait and let one of my friends tell me ‘the rest of the story’ — someone who enjoys Susan Wiggs and her romance novels.  Meanwhile, I’m heading to the Oysterville Cemetery to see if there is any grave-spinning going on in the Espy plot.

Caught Up in The Moment

Sunday, February 17th, 2019

Willard at 20 (1930) — Family Resemblance?

Last evening Max and Micah came for dinner.  It was a momentous occasion – at least for me – and I promised myself I would take lots of pictures.  More importantly, I promised my cousin Mona, I send her some.

Did I remember to capture a moment or two?  No, not even one picture.  My camera was in my back pocket the entire evening and I never even gave it a thought! I tell myself that I was too much ‘in the moment’ which is true as far as it goes.  But, let’s face it… my memory is getting wonkier these days.  Damn!

Max is my 24-year-old first cousin twice removed.  To put him in context with Espys and Oysterville, he is Willard’s oldest great-grandson – grandson of my first cousin Mona and son of her oldest son Alex.  (If my remeberer is correct.) Micah is his beautiful girlfriend of seven years’ standing.  It was the first time we had met her and the first time we’d seen Max since he was here with his mom in 2004 for Oysterville’s sesquicentennial.

He remembers that occasion… barely.  “Something about coonskin hats, I think,” he laughed.  That triggered a memory of a picture of him and his three younger brothers – on our lawn with their mother, Kathleen.  I should have dug out the album then and there.  It might have made me think to take a picture then and there.

The Schreiber Boys and Their Mom, 2004

Max had made one other visit here with his brother Sam (the next oldest) and his dad.  They came to my classroom at Long Beach School way back in the ’90s, and Alex did a great presentation on frogs for my 1st/2nd/3rd graders.  His research (he’s a biologist/professor) had something to do with adaptation and genetics and applications for cancer research – I only remember my fascination with the idea that whatever makes a tadpole’s tail disappear when it becomes a frog could have implications in making tumors disappear.  And the fact that the kids were entranced by the slide show of ‘exotic’ frogs that could be found right here in the Northwest.  I think there were many forays out into the swampy areas of the Peninsula following that visit.

We spent last evening catching up.  I had no idea that Max had gone to the “U” and that he is a computer game designer and works for a small company in the Kirkland area.  Or that he’s a percussionist.  Or that his brother Sam is a fine jazz/blues musician and has just completed an extensive interview process with Google.  Or that his brother Jack, a senior in high school, has been accepted into the army’s cybersecurity program.  Or that the youngest brother, Ben, is the one who Max thinks will become an attorney.

Ben, Max, Sam, Jack — 2016

And Micah?  A yoga instructor as well as a para-professional in a self-contained classroom for middle-schoolers with special needs. She is itching to get out of the city and back to a rural area – more reminiscent of the farm she grew up on.  She LOVES to work in the garden which she misses in the small apartment where they live.  Needless to say… they have a standing invitation to Oysterville!  “I can hear the garden calling you already, Micah!” I told her.

Now, if we can just arrange for peaceful co-existence between their rescue puppy Shanti and our chickens…

Listening in Our Stairwell

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2019

I wonder how many times I’ve said, “If only these walls could talk.”  And yet… they do.  Not the walls, perhaps, but the likenesses of the many people who have lived within them over the years.  Or, in some cases, people who have visited or who have made a difference in our lives.  Sometimes they murmur, sometimes they call out, occasionally they scold or congratulate.

It’s in our stairwell that I hear their voices most clearly.  It’s where so many of our family pictures have been hung – “The Portrait Gallery” David Campiche once called it.  He had Laurie photograph me standing on the stairs with the pictures in the background for an article he did about me in Coast Weekend once. (Actually, it was mostly about my redoubtable Uncle Willard – perhaps that’s who David heard talking that day of the interview…)

The Portrait Gallery (or “Wall of Ancestors” or “Display of the Dead” as some have called it) was begun by my parents when they lived in the house.  So much wall space!  So many photographs!  It seemed a natural.  But they went up in a rather helter-skelter fashion, so when Nyel and I entered the picture (so to speak) and my OCD proclivity kicked in, we reorganized them.

The Oldest H.A. Espy Children – Medora and Albert, 1904

Now, at the bottom of the stairwell are my grandparents (since they were the first family members to live in the house) and proceeding upwards are their children, oldest (Medora) to youngest (Dale, my mother).  Spouses and progeny are included along the way and at the top is me and then in the upstairs hallway, Charlie.  I’ve never done a careful count, but I think there are between 75 and 100 in all.  They vary from formal studio portraits to candids.  Frames are varied, sizes disparate, and probably all need attention by a feather duster.

The Youngest of the H.A. Espy Children — Dale in a P-38 – at Lockheed on a PR Tour for General Engineering Shipyards, 1944

The scary part, as I am wont to tell people, is that I ‘know’ almost all of them – even those who died long before I was born.  I not only know who they are and how they are related, I know their stories and the skeletons in their (maybe our) closets.  Not only do they talk to me, I talk to them, as well.  I miss those I knew and lament the ones I didn’t know and wish for more chances to visit in person with those who are still among us but far away.

Whether going up and down the stairs or simply standing at either end, it’s an area to linger, to reminisce, and to be thankful that our walls (and their denizens) do, indeed, talk!

Thanksgiving 1947 – History Remembered

Thursday, November 22nd, 2018

1947 Golden Wedding Thanksgiving

My grandparents were married on November 25th – Thanksgiving Day – 1897.  I was lucky enough to be among the celebrants for their Golden Wedding Anniversary fifty years later, in 1947.  I don’t remember now whether we celebrated on their actual anniversary or on Thanksgiving which, that year, was on November 27th.  Or, in the interest of family members getting to Oysterville for the grand occasion, perhaps it was on the Saturday just before or just after the holiday.  I don’t remember.

Helen Richardson, November 25, 1897Saturday just before or after the holiday.  I don’t remember.

I do know that the time and place of their 1897 wedding had to be changed at the last minute.  They were scheduled to have a large church wedding in Oakland, California where my grandmother had grown up and where the young couple had met at California College a few years beforehand.  But young Helen’s mother became very ill at the last minute, and the church plans were cancelled.  The wedding took place at my great-grandmother’s bedside on Thanksgiving Day.  I’m not sure if that was before or after the originally planned date.

Fifty years later, all of their surviving siblings and spouses plus their four surviving children and spouses, plus many of their grand nieces and nephews, plus most of their seven grandchildren, plus a few close family friends, gathered at the Moby Dick Hotel in Nahcotta.  It was the only venue at the north end of the Peninsula large enough for the celebratory dinner.  I don’t remember much about it except that I was placed next to my grandmother at the table and I felt almost like the guest of honor, myself.

50th Wedding Anniversary Celebrants

I also remember that my cousin Freddy was the only one of Willard’s four little girls to attend.  She sat across from me, next to our grandfather.  Her three sisters were all home with the measles (I think. It might have been mumps or chicken pox.)  As I look at those pictures now, it saddens me to realize that I am the only one still living – even darling Freddie is gone.

The H.A. Espys On Their Fiftieth – 1947

I wouldn’t trade my years and my memories for anything.  I am thankful for all of it.  Even for the realization that this, then, is another of what my mother called, “the secrets of old age.”  If you live long enough, there is no one who left to share your memories.  I guess the flip side is that there’s no one to contradict your version of the events – the revisions of that 1947 Thanksgiving will be left to history.  Just like the corrections that are being made now to the very first Thanksgiving in 1620… but that’s another history lesson altogether.

Or is that an oxymoron?

Thursday, September 27th, 2018

Reference Books

One of my go-to places when researching local history is the two-volume set of books, History of Pacific Northwest: Oregon and Washington that sit on one corner of our library mantle.  They were published by the Northwest History Company of Portland, Oregon, in 1889 and, together, weigh 19 pounds.  Not that you can learn about the past by the pound, mind you, but they are certainly impressive, beginning with their size!  They belonged to my great-grandfather R.H. Espy.

One of the reasons for my frequent visitations to these tomes is their abundance of illustrations.  Beautiful lithographs, mostly of people but, also, of notable places, can be found every few pages.  Unfortunately, they are not indexed nor is the artist credited.  Looking for the likeness of a specific person requires a page-by-page search – a time-consuming operation which I usually undertake as a last resort.

Fabric Swatch

During a recent perusal for information about an early resident of Washington Territory, I ran across a swatch of fabric tucked between the pages of Volume II.  A scarlet and white checked pattern, perhaps from a woman’s dress or skirt. My first thought was of my great-grandmother Julia’s wedding dress.  Her wedding photograph, of course, is in black and white but, for whatever reason, I’ve always thought that the color was red.

Somehow, it made sense to me that she might have saved a bit of the fabric.  They were married in 1870 and, in the thrifty was of our pioneer forebears, it is likely that she saved any left-over fabric or even remade her wedding dress for her own use or for one of the children.  I know for a fact (well… as factual as family lore can be) that after nineteen-year-old Julia had said “yes” to Mr. Espy’s marriage proposal, she finished out her teaching contract at the Oysterville School and went home to Salem “to sew up the family” for her impending wedding.  That was her responsibility as the eldest of Delos Jefferson’s eight children.  (Her mother, Matilda, “remained unbalanced” after the loss of two young daughters to diphtheria within two days of one another.)

Julia Jefferson Espy on her wedding day, 1870

Julia’s wedding photograph shows her in a checked dress – probably made for the occasion but, possibly, simply her best dress which was the still customary attire for many brides in those days.  (Dressing brides in a special gown of white did not become de rigueur until sometime after the Civil War here in America; in the American West practicality overrode fashion for some years after that.)

But, when I checked the fabric against the photograph, I realized that the pattern was much smaller and more delicate than young Julia’s wedding dress.  And, then, in one of those déjà vu moments, I remembered that I had “discovered” this fabric swatch once before and replaced it for someone else to find someday.  In all, I prefer to think of this “re-discovery” as a sort of oxymoron rather than a failing of my aging mind.  Or… is it possible to really discover the same thing twice?

Not only had he been to Oysterville, but…

Saturday, February 24th, 2018

In Seattle Yesterday – Definitely Fake Sky

It was about three o’clock yesterday when the doctor came in to talk to us before Nyel’s ‘procedure’.  We were back at the University of Washington Medical Center, this time for a long-planned implant of a cardio mems into Nyel’s heart.

“It’s essentially an antenna,” said the doctor.  “It has no battery, no moving parts, nothing to go wrong.  It will stay with you forever.”  In conjunction with the pillow-like device (in its own rolling suitcase) that Nyel will rest against each morning, the CardioMems device will send information back to his doctor in Seattle concerning the pressures in his heart.  It’s a way to keep track of his congestive heart failure without those frequent trips to the hospital – a management-by-long-distance-method.  Or so we all hope.

The doctor had a sample one to device to us and explained how it would be inserted into an artery in Nyel’s heart.  They would go in through the right side of his neck and the device would be placed in an artery on the back of the left side of his heart.  The process would take about 45 minutes.  No anesthetic required; just a bit of numbing at the insertion site.  Wow!

CardioMEMS Sensor


“Will I be able to drive afterwards?” Nyel asked.  “Sure,” said the doctor.  “Where do you live?”

Usually, we respond “the Long Beach Peninsula.”  We’ve found that people from the big city are more likely to have heard of the general area – not necessarily our little corner of it.  But for some reason I said “Oysterville” and Dr. Wood’s eyes lit up.  “Have you been there?” I chanced.  “Actually, yes,” he said “a friend of mine has a house there.”  And I thought to myself, “Probably not.  Probably out in Surfside.”

Dr. Gregory Wood

Imagine my surprise when he said his friend was named Lexie.  “Lexie Hook Bemis?”  I asked.  “Yes,” he said.  “Brock and I were colleagues.”  We chatted then about my Red House Cousins, their wedding at Timberline Lodge (which we found we had all attended back in 2007), and how the Bemis family had moved to Sun Valley a few years back. And how things weren’t the same anymore.

It was one of those small world moments to the max.  There’s nothing like a shared memory to make you feel bonded – unless it might be having someone look (literally) right into your heart!  Wow!  What a world we live in!