Posts Tagged ‘Helen Richardson Espy’

I’m happy to report…

Tuesday, January 17th, 2023

By early afternoon yesterday, the leaky pipe under the house had been repaired (actually, replaced) and all water-related systems were “go.”   Water ran freely from each and every faucet, the refrigerator’s ice-maker was operating once more, toilets flushed at the drop of a lever, and all was well with the world.

Again, I must apologize to all of our Sunday House Concert musicians and guests who managed the water crisis with hardly a raised eyebrow.  AND, considering that the median age of the group (discounting the musicians) couldn’t have been much less than 70, I feel I must congratulate you all on excellent bladder control!  Only one toilet was flushed; the others not even used as far as I could tell.  Well done, music lovers!!!

As you might imagine, though, the kitchen was in a bit of a turmoil.  Someone had neatly stacked all the dirty dishes and put the silverware in a large bowl of water.  And more than one person apologized for not being able to fill the dishwasher, but “the plates really needed rinsing first.”

Not to worry.  I did two big dishwasher loads immediately following the plumber’s departure and went to bed with a spotless house and only happy memories of the House Concert.  Another adventure in this soggy season which is bound to go down in history as “The Wicked Winter of ’23.”

Or maybe it’s just me.  But it seems I’ve been colder, more apt to be schlepping firewood through the rain from the woodshed, and more reluctant to venture forth, even to the post office, than for many-a-year.

The first day of spring is March 20th this year — 62 more days!  I can hardly wait, weather-wise.  And, if I could write a story a day between now and then, I might have the first draft of a new book completed…    Tah Dah!!!




“My eyes say ‘quit’ so…

Sunday, January 8th, 2023

My grandmother, Helen Richardson at 18– the year before she married Harry Espy in 1897

Do you think if we grew old enough and had enough infirmities, we could finally empathize fully with those who have gone before us?

I’ve been thinking about my grandmother’s lifelong trouble with her eyes — suddenly made so painfully apparent to me as I wait for my glasses to be ready.  My distance vision is fine.  It’s reading, writing, and close work that’s the problem.  And just when I’m beginning to cull over old notes and research the moldering documents, too!

Helen Richardson Espy, 1930 — “Granny at 54”

But I, at least can see the end of this tunnel.  My beloved granny could not.  She was married in 1897 at age 19 and several of her love letters to my grandfather lament, “My eyes say ‘quit’ so I will continue tomorrow…”  And when I think that almost all communication — even if it was just a few blocks away — was of the written variety!  Oh my!

Telephones were installed in many homes shortly after Bell’s 1876 invention, but conversations often were enjoyed by all those on the party line.  Whispering sweet nothings definitely had to be done up close and personal.

Helen Richardson Espy, 1947 – “Granny at 69”

So… while I was greatly relieved that my distance vision is fine without any corrections, I didn’t really expect to be so encumbered by my nearsightedness.  And, since I am chomping at the bit to get going on this new book, I try to keep it all in perspective as well as possible.  After all, three weeks hardly compares with the lifetime of poor vision that my grandmother — and so many others — have endured.

Another reason to count my blessings!  And try to develop that hardest of all character traits (for me) — patience!

After I turned in my eyeglasses…

Thursday, January 5th, 2023

Mama, Granny, Me — Easter Sunday 1940
(About The Time I was Granny’s helper with the oil stove.)

When I accepted Cate’s New Year’s Resolution challenge — to think of something to add rather than to subtract from my life, I thought about it long and hard.  But aparently not long and hard enough.

I chose to try to become more compassionate more empathetic,  Little did I know that I would get my first opportunity by January 4th and that my compassion was extending backwards a few generations rather than sideways to those I may already know in the here and now.  And it all happened because I turned in my prescription eyeglasses!

Yep!  Turned them over to the  optician to have my lenses updated.  Since my same, round frames (which I love) are no longer available, I opted to have the new lenses placed in these beloved old frames — fingers crossed that there isn’t a problem — and to just go without glasses for a time.

Three weeks???  Say what?  Still… I only need the reading part — my long distance vision is fine.  So I can drive and I can manage on the computer where it is possible to enlarge and/or darken fonts.  No problemo, right?  WRONG!

the Library of Congress provided record players and “talking books” on records so my grandmother could read.

Right off the bat I wanted to check on an old recipe of my mother’s.  Didn’t couldn’t wouldn’t happen.  A magnifying glass didn’t help.  My astigmatism is too strong and even though both doctor and optician had told me that those “cheater” glasses at the drugstore would not help me, somehow I though one of these strong magnifying glasses that are scattered about our house would do the trick.  WRONG1

My grandmother was legally blind by the time I was born and almost totally blind by the time I was in fourth or fifth grade.  Yet, she lived in this house, managed to cook on a wood stove (for which she even chopped kindling) and took care of my grandfather’s needs until after the war when she was able to have one of the first cataract surgery operations in NYC in 1946.

The first thing she saw when the bandages came off was the doctor’s tie.  She was totally amazed.  Never before had she seen a tie with bright colors on it!  And, of course the list grew.

These days audio and large print books are readily available at most libraries,

But… as I maneuver through this big house — now with all the amenities of electricity and running water, toilets and thermostatically controlled heat, my compassion for granny knows know bounds.  I remember that from the time I was four or five, it was my job to  help her light the oil heating stove early each morning.  She couldn’t tell if the matches she dropped in one after another had “caught” and so I would say, “There she goes granny!  Lit for another day.”  And we would get up off our hands and  knees and go into the kitchen to fix breakfast.

Was I compassionate? I have no idea.  But I certainly am now.  And for all the other people who go about their daily tasks undaunted, but unsighted.  OMG!

Oysterville – 1902

Monday, October 17th, 2022

H.A. Espy House, 1902

By this date, October 17, 1902, my grandparents (“Granny and Papa”) had been living in this house in Oysterville for three months.  They had left behind the gas lights and trolley cars and other refinements of East Oakland, California, and had come to took after my great-grandfather, R. H. Espy who had been recently widowed.

“It will just be for a short time,” my grandmother assured her children, three-year-old Medora and two-year-old Albert.  After all, Grandfather was already 76 years old — how long could it be?

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

I’ve never been quite sure why they moved into this house — the Tom Crellin House that Grandpa had purchased ten years previously to serve as the Parsonage for the newly completed Baptist Church across the street.  Grandpa continued living in his own house (newer by several years and larger by several bedrooms than this one, built in 1869) just two blocks to the north.

Of course, Grandfather’s youngest children were still “at home” (when not away at boarding school) and Papa’s unmarried sister still lived at home “to do” for her father.  And, perhaps, Mama had insisted that if they were going to live in the wilderness of the northwest, they could at least have their own home.

The H.A. Espys On Their Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary – 1947

Mama’s “short time” morphed into fifty-seven years.  By the time Grandpa died in 1918, Papa had established a successful dairy farm here, had served a term in the Washington State Senate and he and Mama had buried two of their seven children.  The H.A. Espys and Oysterville were as one.

In later years Mama likened herself to Lord Byron’s Prisoner of Chillon, eventually growing to love the place where she had felt imprisoned for so many years.  She was beloved by the community, looked to for her calm wisdom and gentle advice, and Oysterville still bears her imprint in oh! so many ways.

A touch of home for Helen…

Thursday, September 8th, 2022

Granny’s Oil Lamp

My grandmother, Helen Richardson Espy, left the comforts and cultural amenities of East Oakland, California in 1902 to set up housekeeping in Oysterville — “just for a short time,” she assured her three-year-old daughter Medora and year-old son Albert.  Helen and her husband Harry had come to look after his aging father, patriarch of Oysterville and recently widowed.  Surely it wouldn’t be for long.

But even so, she brought along a few of the amenities that she could not bear to part with — a few treasured pieces of furniture, her china and crystal and sterling silverware and a lovely kerosene lamp with hand painted globe and pedestal.  Somehow, they have all survived — through Helen’s fifty years in this house, through the raising of seven children and through the vicissitudes of life as a dairy farmer’s wife.  They were used with love by my mother for twenty-plus years and continue to be used by me.  For all these years Granny’s treasures have symbolized realities embraced even as unrealized dreams have been set aside.

The Switches — one for the top, one for the bottom.

When FDR’s rural electrification program came to Oysterville in 1936, Papa saw to it that Granny’s lovely “oil lamp” was electrified.  I remember how proud I felt over the years when I was allowed to pull the little chains that activated the on/off switches and the top and bottom of the lamp would light up.

Forty years ago or so, the switches wore out.  And ten years ago, give or take, Nyel took the lamp apart and wired it so that it would work without the switches.  You could just plug it in and…voilà! Let there be light!  But it wasn’t the same.  Nyel knew it wouldn’t be, so he ordered new parts, got a wiring diagram, and put everything carefully in a zip lock bag.  For when he had time…

Dell at work!

Meanwhile, there were hospital stays and therapy sessions and uncertain recoveries and more doctoring.  And where was that zip lock bag, anyway?  Not long before Nyel died, I ran across it but… And then we both thought about Tucker’s friend Dell.  Not only did he seem to like to tinker and repair and clean up and revitalize all manner of things — he was good at it.  Really good!


So last weekend when he was here at Tucker and Carol’s, I asked him if he’d take a look.  Two days later — ten hours of work, Tucker told me — the lamp was back to 1936 condition — only better.  LED bulbs replaced the old incandescents, not only giving more light but less heat.  The brass fittings (which Dell had carefully cleaned) wouldn’t corrode as they had before — or at least not so rapidly.  And I learned that the style of switches and other hardware in the lamp did match that 1936 time period for the conversion to electricity.

 And best of all?  I totally enjoyed listening to and watching Dell and Tucker (who have known each other for many years) banter back and forth as Dell worked and Tucker acted as his assistant, finding just the right tools, the right sized bulbs, or wires or…  Of course to me it all comes under the heading of “magic.”  I can never thank the two of them enough!  And how I wish my grandmother could see her precious lamp glowing even more brightly 120 years after coming to Oysterville “just for a short time.”

A Flowery February Friday!

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

Birthday Bouquet from John and Steve (and their garden)!

Last night’s “usual” Friday gathering was festive, fragrant, and generally fantastic!  Lively conversation, a good mix of “regulars” and “once-in-a-whilers” and food to die for — as I had hoped, the perfect birthday celebration!

Prompted by our Wednesday’s Community Historian lecture, I actually had some “sharing” to present to the gathering.  Tucked away in my closet are a number of my grandmother Helen Richardson Espy’s “unmentionables” dating back to the time of her 1897 wedding.  Her corset (which had both steel and whalebone ribs), a pair of her split-leg bloomers, a chemise, a petticoat, and a pair of size three shoes with bows decorated with seed pearls!  Among other things!

Roses from Cate!

I hadn’t looked at any of those items for ten or fifteen years and it was great fun to see them through the eyes of my friends and loved ones!  I also was reminded of two things about her courtship days that my grandmother took pride in for all of her 74 years.  One was her very small shoe size and the other was that my grandfather could span her 19-inch waist with his hands.  I always thought that was her own bit of self-pride.  It wasn’t until Tames Alan pointed out that these were common Victorian aspirations that I realized just why she remarked on those particular aspects of her youth.

Carnations from Maggie!

She also confided to me once, “It’s far worse to have had beauty and to have lost it than to never have had beauty at all.”  Photographs of her reveal that she was, indeed, a beauty and I always took her remark to be a lament as well as a reassurance to me that I needn’t worry in that regard.  I did, anyway.  Didn’t we all?

This morning the house smells of Daphne and birthday cake and still echoes with laughter.  Such a lovely evening it was!  How blessed I feel!

Perhaps introductions are in order?

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

Won’t you come into the garden? I would like my roses to see you.

Isn’t that the loveliest thought?  Roland A. Browne, author of The Common Sense Guide to Flower Gardening said it.  I’ve added it to my ‘list’ of things I wish I’d thought of first.  It’s a long, long list!

Right now, roses are taking center stage in our garden (such as it is).  I think the first week of June is supposed to be best for rose viewing in the Northwest.  Or, at least, that’s when the Rose Festival occurs in Portland.  But our roses out on the coast seem to be at their height a bit later.  Like now!

Not that we purposely cultivate roses.  Whichever ones bravely appear each year were planted long ago, either by my grandmother or by my father.  They were the chief gardeners on this property – my grandmother, from the time she arrived in 1902 until blindness overtook her in the 1950s; my father, from the time he retired here in 1972 until his death in 1991.

I don’t actually associate roses with either of them, though.  I tend to think of violets and silver dollar plants and sweet peas when visualizing my grandmother and flowers.  For dad, certainly for the years he lived here, dahlias and rhododendrons claimed his attention.

I do remember that we had a ‘rose garden’ when I was a kid in Alameda.  It was actually a garden bed carved out of the lawn in the back yard and I remember the rose plants standing stiffly and prickly row on row.  And speaking of prickly, in another area of that garden, up against the house, we had a ‘cactus garden’ which I never did feel friendly about – especially not after my neighbor Robert Reading fell into it from our sunroom window!

Now, with our seemingly endless policy of benign neglect, it’s a wonder that anything at all flourishes in our garden.  We do tend to have a lot of people coming and going, though.  Perhaps our roses enjoy seeing them as Mr. Browne seemed to suggest. I must remember to introduce them purposely now and then.  It seems the polite (and prudent) thing to do.

Granny’s Gates – Golden and Pearly

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014
Under the Golden Gate Bridge

Sailing Beneath the Golden Gate Bridge

Growing up in the Bay Area as I did, “Golden Gate” was a familiar term. Even now, however, I associate the ‘Gate’ with the bridge linking San Francisco to Marin County. It’s hard for me to think of it as the strait that connects San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean.  In my mind, a gate has substance, like the bridge; it’s a gateway that is an opening. Had John C. Fremont asked my advice back in 1846 when he named the strait, I’d have suggested “Golden Gateway.”

I pondered some of these childish misunderstandings last week as the Norwegian Pearl made her way under the bridge that I’ve known from above for most of my life. It was built the year after I was born and though I’ve walked and ridden across it and have looked down on it from private planes and airliners, gliding beneath it was a new experience.


The City by the Golden Gate

The seas were calm and we seemed to slip underneath the span – both arriving and leaving twelve hours later – without effort. I managed to look up and to see the bridge from below, but I found it difficult to tear my eyes away for the view of the city. As many times as I see San Francisco, from whatever vantage point and whether or not it is shrouded in fog, I find it a spectacular sight. The view from the Golden Gate was no exception.

My thoughts wandered backward in time – clear back to 1895 when my grandparents were courting. How did they travel from East Oakland where my grandmother lived clear to Muir Woods in Marin where they sat under a “special tree” and declared their love for one another? My grandmother told me the story many times when I was a little girl – of how they crossed the Golden Gate on a family outing and she knew in her heart that, by day’s end, her life would be forever changed.

Helen Richardson (Espy) 1896

Helen Richardson (Espy) 1896

Of course, I always pictured them crossing the bridge. Never mind that it would not be built for another forty-plus years. As it turned out, though my grandmother had crossed the bridge many times when she visited us from Oysterville, she didn’t ever see it for a good many years. By the time it was built, she had lost her sight, and it wasn’t until she flew into San Francisco after her 1948 cataract surgery in New York that she got her first glimpse of the magnificent span.

That was only a few years before she died and, even now, my thoughts of my beloved Granny and the Pearly Gates and the Golden Gate are all a-jumble. A very pleasant jumble, indeed.

Snowy Thoughts from Oysterville

Sunday, January 15th, 2012
The Oysterville Church, December 2008

     My Grandmother Espy hated snow.  And who could blame her?  Three of her seven children died before she, herself, was much beyond middle age, and all of them in winter: four-and-a-half-year-old Albert in January 1905; seventeen-year-old Medora in January 1916; twenty-nine-year-old Suzita in December 1932.
     Each of the deaths occurred in Portland and, in each case, city and graveyard were blanketed by snow.  As long as I knew her, my grandmother likened snow to a shroud.  Ironically she, too, would die in winter – in January 1954 in Oysterville.  I was unable to attend her funeral and I have no idea if it was snowing, but it would have been fitting.
     I thought about all of that as we drove back from Seattle last night.  Here and there, the world was covered in white and occasionally our windshield wipers could scarcely keep up with the falling flakes.  We were returning from the funeral of an old friend.
    Except for the snow and the occasion for our being out in it, however, there were few similarities between my grandmother’s long-ago experiences and ours of yesterday.  Our friend, Chuck Huggins, was 91 when he died.  He had lived a long and productive life.  At the service, his widow, Dorothy, was surrounded by their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren and at the reception following, the mood was cheerful.  This “Celebration of Life” was far different from the snow-enshrouded funerals of her offspring that forever haunted my grandmother.
     I was glad to get back safely to the snug warmth of home last night.  Unlike my grandmother, I don’t hate snow.  But I can’t say I like to be out in it, either, especially on the roads at night.  I am content to sit near our library fire and watch the outside world morph into a Currier and Ives lithograph as the flakes fall – picture perfect here in Oysterville!

Counting Blessings

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

The Stevens' fence is falling down, falling down...

     We’re beginning to think of these last few months as “The Autumn of Calamities.”  First the wretched water pump on the car needed to be replaced.  Now our north fence is falling down.  We can only hope that when we had half of the roof replaced last summer it was the correct half.  We don’t need our troubles to come in the usual threes.
     It has helped to stave off gloom and doom that I have been deep into a research project involving correspondence between my grandparents and my Uncle Willard.  Most recently, I’ve been reading the letters to and fro that were written right after World War II.  Things here in Oysterville, and on the Peninsula in general, were in a sad state.  Goods – any kind of goods – were scarce and workmen were even scarcer.
     My grandmother reported that gradually the men were coming home and she was hopeful that things would get better soon.  Meanwhile, on February 11, 1946, she wrote:
     We are feeling pretty much in the depths as the whole place seems to be going to pieces at once.  Because the shingles were not all put on last Fall our north side is leaking badly, especially in the living room.  Even if there were such a thing as a paperhanger, we could not have any hung until the roof is fixed and so it goes all over the place.  The east door will not open and pa has tried everything…
     A few weeks later, on March 6, she wrote:
     We have no idea whether our own house will be standing when you arrive.  It is in a deplorable state of dilapidation – leaks from end to end, windows do not work, doors do not open, the paper is hanging in festoons in the living room.  The plastering in the upstairs hall has fallen down in chunks.  The oil stove is blocked up with timbers and the kitchen is afloat.  I have to put my galoshes on to go in there in the mornings.  Yes, and there is no light in the bathroom.  The fixture, itself, is broken and does not turn on.  The radio has been at the shop for a month and both clocks have stopped short.  There are plenty of other things which I will not try to enumerate.  We have given up hope of ever living like civilized human being again but it is said that more workmen are arriving now… so we hope again.
     Apparently, in spite of all, the house survived.  Just three months later, I arrived for the summer, and I don’t remember any trauma or travail with regard to this dear old place.  Of course, I probably wouldn’t; I was only ten years old and coming to Oysterville for the summer was just about the best thing in the world.  The state of the house mattered not.
     As I read my grandmother’s words of all those long years ago, I couldn’t help but count my blessings, not the least of which is having those letters with her wry humor at my fingertips.