Posts Tagged ‘Willard Espy’

And way before me was my Uncle Willard!

Monday, March 25th, 2024

Cornelius Kistemacher died September 17, 1943 so it is possible that Willard’s story about him appeared in this December 1943 issue of Good Housekeeping Magazine.

Just when I think that I’ve turned over every scrap of the “family papers” to the Washington State Research Center, I seem to run into something else.  Today it was a story that my Uncle Willard Espy (“Wede” t0 friends and family) wrote  for a column called “Family Man” for Good Housekeeping Magazine in the 1940s.  I tried to see if any of those stories are now online or if Good Housekeeping still exists.  As far as I can tell, they are not but it does.  I hope they don’t mind if I excerpt a little from one of Wede’s columns for this Blog:

A letter from the folks in Oysterville tells me that my old friend Mr. Kistemacher has died.  I feel especially sorry about it because when we were out there last summer we never visited him at his home.  I meant to sit with Hilda in his kitchen and drink green beer while his Edison phonograph played ‘Turkey in the Straw”  and Mr. Kistemacher accompanied the music very exactly and mournfully on an ocarina, doing a curious stately pelican dance, his big Dutch nose hooked over the instrument and his red cheeks bunched up like two wizened little apples.  But he was out the day we called, and it is too late now.  I suppose you would have called Mr. Kistemacher a ‘character,’ Oysterville used to be a great place for characters, and some are there yet…

Mr. Kistemacher was Gladys Kistemacher’s father — which made him Bud Goulter’s maternal grandfather.  In Marie Oesting’s  1988 book, “Oysterville  Cemetery Sketches,” she related two stories about him.  The first was by Helen Heckes:  “That’s Glady Goulter’s father.  He was a little Dutchman.  Rather excitable.  He just sputtered when he talked.  But he grew peonies, something I’ve tried to do ever since; I can’t make them grow.  But he had beautiful peonies.”

Bud Goulter

And Les Wilson had this to say to Marie about Mr. Kistemacher:  “He made real good home brew.  I used to work with a guy — off and on — on the mail trucks.  The North Beach Transit Company had a truck, 2 trucks, that they hauled mail and supplies.  I’d go with this guy, and that’s where we’d end up, was up at old Kisty’s and take up chicken feet, whatnot,  He always had a bottle of home brew there for us  This was just hops and malt with plenty of sugar in it; it had quite a kick to it.  We’d usually end up the last delivery with him, and then we’d have a beer or two.”

I was especially pleased  to note that Wede had called this series “Characters, God Bless Them!”  I think he would have loved my “Saints or Sinners? Characters of Pacific County” running weekly in the Chinook Observer  — and would probably have had a good many to add to the series!


September 13, 1987 seems so short ago.

Tuesday, September 12th, 2023

September 13, 1987

Thirty-six years ago today

Nyel and I were married

At Croquet.

Gordon was my Bridesmaid,

Roy was Best Man.

Joel Penoyar did the honors

Much to Willard’s chagrin!

Wedding Picture by Kati Downer

It was a surprise to everyone

Except to my son Charlie

My mother had the vapors

Dad had another drink.

I gave Michelle my bouquet

And she took it to class for sharing,

Proceeds?  To Water Music that year.

It was the best wedding ever!

Wedding Pillow from The Franks

From a book that never came to be…

Tuesday, June 13th, 2023

Willard Espy, circa 1940

I ran across a fat folder of typewritten pages — some apparently in order, some definitely missing, and all with crossed out sentences and margin notes in my Uncle Willard’s handwriting.  I believe that they are part of one (or more) drafts about his growing up years in Oysterville during the teens and twenties of the last century.  His working title: “Past Perfect.”

I’ve read other versions and probably this one, too, and am always saddened that he never finished the book.  More than that, I miss listening to him and my mother and their brother Ed, reminiscing around our library fire.  I wish I could take my own readers back to the 1940s and ’50s with me so we could listen together.  But for now, I’ll quote a few paragraphs from these old, delightful pages and hope you’ll catch some of the magic, too.

Mona at 7 or 8 — 1911

Because my sister Suzita is dead, it is significant to me that at eight she spat into pop’s boot, and was condignly spanked.  Because my sister Mona is dead, it is part of me that at the age of three she slept with her hands over her ears “to keep the dreams out.”  I like Suzita for wearying of her chores:  “Please, God,” she prayed, “send me four legs and a wing.”  I like her for empathizing with the Almighty, whose white robes she considered impractical; “Dear Santa,” she wrote, “please send God a pair of coveralls for Christmas.”

But how am I to find significance in the anecdotes shared by my brother Ed, my sister Dale, and myself, all still very much alive  Ed, before he could walk, crawled daily to the pigpen, where he would press is face against the chicken wire and grunt.  What communication am I to infer from that?

Edwin Espy, 1915

When the Espys took a steamer from Astoria to San Francisco in 1915 to attend the World’s Fair, Ed, then six, watched the exciting bustle on the lower deck, and asked wistfully, “Can’t we pay extra and go steerage?”…

There must be a moral, too, in the absoluteness of Ed’s childhood honesty.  Sent to count the cows, he returned with a total of twenty-four and a half.  “Why not twenty-five?” asked pop.  “Daisy was behind a huckleberry bush,” replied Ed.

Dale, two years eleven months

Dale was a curly-haired, great-eyed, towhead whose hair grew darker as she approached adolescence. As the youngest, and a girl at that, she was subject to sore trials.  Her curls were ordinarily covered by a woolen cap and since all three of us wore overalls or coveralls except on dress-up occasions, there were times when her femininity did not instantly appear.  When a visitor exclaimed, “Three fine little boys!” Dale objected:  “I am not a little boy,” she said; “I am a little girl.”

In fact she was the only little girl in town, and none of the thirteen little boys would demean himself by playing with her in public.  One of our principle diversions was to try to hide where Dale could not find us; in our effort to escape her we even created a private club room in the dead heart of an enormous gorse bush.  But she always managed to hunt us down.

I wonder if present day five and six-year-olds will have as wonderful memories of these days fifty years hence.

Willard, Edwin, Dale in 1916






Thursday, February 17th, 2022

Willard and Louise c. 1980

Now why I ask you
Do won and won make too
And why I ask some more
Do too and too make for
And why I further state
Do for and for make ate?
Won too for ate they go
But why I do not know.
–Willard Espy

Downsizing in this household is endlessly fun!  Today it was an envelope of “ditties” sent by Willard’s wife Louise when she, in her turn, was downsizing!

The Fort North of Oysterville

Monday, January 31st, 2022

I. A. Clark

The story of Fort Oysterville is one of my favorites!  I think my Uncle Willard told it best so I will give his version here.  From Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village:

By the 1850s, reports of Indian uprisings sent spasms of apprehension through Washington Territory.  Forts rose in the forests almost as fast as high-rise apartments shoot up today in Manhattan.  Even Oysterville, perhaps more to be in fashion than through true worry, organized a militia.  Grandpa was elected commander, with the rank of Major.

John Crellin, Jr. circa 1870

Finding that the available ordnance was limited to a dozen dubious jager rifles and a few shotguns, grandpa dispatched an urgent plea back east for modern weapons.  He also ordered his men to construct a fort north of the village.  It did not occur to anyone to set up a picket stockade around the fort, and for the next few weeks, the Siwashes spent much of their time at the edge of the clearing, exchanging ribald comments among themselves while the white men sweated; though for hard cash the reds did occasionally lend a hand with the filling of one log to another.

By the time the walls were in place, it was generally agreed that the Siwashes had never represented a danger.  Besides, an exceptionally good run of oyster tides was due, and not to utilize them would have been criminal negligence  So the militiamen never got around to putting a roof on the fort.  Instead, they returned to their oystering.

John Briscoe

A few months later, the weapons grandpa had ordered — rifles as good as most fired later in the Civil War — reached Oysterville.  The settlers, having  enough guns already for their hunting needs, sold the government issue to the Indians.

And that is how grandpa became a Major!

(Pictured here are some of those early fort-builders who stayed on in Oysterville, contributing to the development of early Pacific County, Washington Territory, and ultimately, to the organization of Washington State.)

Maybe it’s not too late.

Tuesday, December 7th, 2021

Omak Me Yours Tonight – 2nd Edition, 1993

As I read yet another interesting bit of misinformation about my family — this time on a FB posting — I wished I had a nickel for every incorrect piece of news, history, rumor or piece of hearsay that I’ve run across in print. It used to be that “in print” mostly meant in newspapers, magazines and other periodicals, or books by authors who were not fully informed.  (The latter has included me as well as some of my writer-relatives and we usually categorize such errors under “shit happens'”)

Nevertheless… I have not yet learned to be totally philosophical about it.  The latest piece of “new information” came to me this morning and concerned my redoubtable uncle Willard R. Espy and his 1973/1993 book Omak Me Yours Tonight or Ilwaco Million Miles for one of Your Smiles.  The posting was full of praise for the epoch poem subtitled, A Ballard of Washington State, crediting it as the official Washington State poem.   How I wish that were true and, even more, how I wish that had happened in Willard’s lifetime.  He’d have loved it! .

Willard did approach a few of the movers and shakers he knew, among them Slade Gorton, as we were gearing up for Washington’s centennial celebration in 1989, pitching the idea of using Omak in some capacity at that time.  There were no takers and I remember lamenting with him on th9e shortsightedness of the planners in leaving out that aspect of the arts.  In my own opinion, the simple fact that a Native Son had written a poem about our state’s place names AND. that said, a poem about our indigenous people, should have made it a shoe-in.  Besides which, the 24 whimsical illustrations by Roy McKie, are collectors’ items in their own right!  (We have the originals, if you are interested.)

Omak Illustration #22 of #24 by Roy McKie

But, I don’t know that our state has ever been very heavily into the arts — or not the literate arts, at least.  Even the position of Poet Laureate of Washington (unrelated to the possibility of a state poem) was not created by the Washington State Legislature until 2007, eight years after Willard’s death and is accompanied (some years) with a yearly honorarium (now) of $20,000.  On the other hand, the position of Poet Laureate for the United States was first created in 1937 and the current yearly stipend is $35,000.

Well… there you have it!  I wonder if I should collect some of these bits of misinformation and write a book about them.  Maybe it’s not too late to correct the record.  Though, once the errors are out there, can they ever be retracted?  And does anyone really care?

As much as I hate to admit it…

Monday, October 18th, 2021

Debi and Sydney – Porch Visit

… I really don’t like oysters all that much.  Fried oysters, yes.    My great-grandmother’s baked oysters, yes.  Smoked oysters — especially those!  But on the half-shell or in stew or in a sandwich, I’d just as soon pass.

So, when Debi Snyder, my 4th cousin twice removed, told me that she wasn’t crazy about oysters either, I was pretty sure it’s a genetic thing.   I use as proof of this an “infamous” (in the Espy family) comment made by my redoubtable uncle Willard Espy.  When, in 1980, he was interviewed for a Seattle TV Station and was asked about his feelings concerning oysters he said in his most dramatic tones,  “Actually, I was very nearly conceived, I am sure, in an oyster bed and I certainly was reared in oyster beds.  When I was a boy when we had guests for dinner we would have oyster cocktails, oyster soup; we would have fried oysters and surely we must have had some form of oysters for dessert.  And I can’t stand an oyster!”

It was during a “porch visit” with Debi a few days ago that our Espy oyster disconnect came up.  She and her husband and daughter were here on one of their periodic Peninsula visits and had just been having a bite to eat at Oysterville Sea Farms.  “Oh!  How was it?” I asked.  “The business recently sold and we haven’t been up there as yet.”

Oysterville Sea Farms, 2015 — A Bob Duke Photo

“My husband and daughter loved it!” she said.  “And I loved the view, as always.”  And that’s when she confided that seafood — even oysters — were simply not her thing.   “I feel a little guilty saying so, right here in Oysterville!”

“I think it’s genetic,” I told her.  And we laughed.  That’s another part of being Espy that might be genetic.  We all like to laugh and we all have a great sense of humor.  Well… almost all of us!

Due Diligence with Capital D’s

Tuesday, April 6th, 2021

Cover Design by Mark Nero

The 12″x 12″x 5½” box arrived by priority mail day before yesterday.  It was heavy — $21.90 worth of heavy — and mailed from Seattle by Marilyn Nero.  Perhaps you remember her?  She and her husband Mark Nero ran the Cranberry Press which had an Oysterville address but was physically located in the 1990s in Ocean Park — in the  area where Anita’s Coastal Cafe has been in recent years.

The Cranberry Press was an elegant operation.  They did small, specialty press runs and my uncle Willard had them publish his book Skulduggery on Shoalwater Bay (illustrated by Nancy Lloyd) in 1998, the year before he died.  The book design and typography were by Mark, himself.  His expertise in those areas are part of what made Cranberry Press special.

Original Cover Design on Printmaking Stone

Sometime in the early 2000’s, Mark and Marilyn moved — to Arizona, I think.   Some years later, Mark wrote and asked if Nyel and I would like to purchase (at wholesale) the remaining copies of the book.  Even though we no longer had the Bookvendor, we did buy the copies.  Several years after that Mark sent a package of still more of the books– this time no charge.  He said he was going out of business.

Last February (2020), I received another message concerning Skulduggery — this time from Marilyn Nero.  She said that Mark had passed away several years previously and she was closing up the studio.  Did I want “a collection of paperwork and original correspondence regarding the publication in 1998 of Willard Espy’s book, Skulduggery?”  She said she’d send it when the weather warmed up and that she was moving to Seattle…

Detail from Original Skulduggery Cover Art

I am so grateful for Marilyn’s diligence in returning these materials to me.  Willard’s original, typewritten manuscript, corrections and commentary on correspondece from both Louise and Willard, plus the cover design on lithographic limestone (I think) were included in the package.  Plus a few more copies of  the book.

I will be taking them up to the Washington Historical Society Research Center to be added to Willard’s section of the Espy Family Archive.  Maybe when the weather warms up a bit…

They come in a boring cardboard box…

Sunday, December 6th, 2020

Nyel’s Box of “Darks”

Anyone who knows Nyel very well knows that he loves chocolate — the darker the better.  Me… not so much.  Especially not the darkest kind.  However, there is a special place in my heart for Dilettante Chocolates (especially the Not Dark ones) from Seattle because they were significant when Nyel was courting me.  But that’s another story.

Recently, I ran across some of the articles my Uncle Willard wrote in the 1940s for his “Family Man” column in Good Housekeepting Magazine.  The name of this particular piece was “On my likes and dislikes in chocolate candy” and it could have been written about Nyel and me!  Here is how it begins:   

Almost “A Plain Brown Wrapper”

This is a highly personal plea to anyone who may ever take a notion to present our household with a box of chocolate candy.
First, a clarification: the card on the box may read “to Hilda,” but it is Hilda’s husband who will do the eating.  Hilda is not particularly fond of chocolates, and I am.  This fondness is partly responsible for our marriage.  When we were courting, I used to bring her boxes of choice candy, which I always ate; the arrangement was ideal, killing two birds with one stone; I would never have dreamed of buying such fine candy for myself.  One night I bit into a particularly toothsome caramel, and before the taste had faded from my tongue I found myself engaged.

One other paragraph in his column also could have been written by Nyel (If Nyel were a writer.  Which he is not.)
Alas, one man’s sweet is another man’s poison.  Mixed chocolates plucked from a drugstore counter contain much of heaven, but much also of hell.  I have never learned to decipher the insignia which mean to the initiated that this piece is flavored with peppermint and mint, while that one is a compound of ragweed.  So I go fumbling doggedly through each box, still confident despite inumerable disillusionments that every square chocolate is a chew and every round one a vanilla drop…

Sydney’s Box of “Lights”

Nyel has solved that particular problem by just ordering “Dark Ephemere” — the darkest of the dark chocolate truffles from Dilettante Chocolates by Dana Taylor Davenport, Chocolatier.  Each toothsome bite is guaranteed to be dark chocolate through and through!  Too bad he and Willard never had the chocolate conversation!  I wonder if my sainted uncle even knew about these morsels of perfection?  They’ve been around since 1898, so maybe…




My Uncle Wede, Raconteur and Word Man

Tuesday, December 1st, 2020

Willard Espy:  Author, Wordsmith, Raconteur

In same ways, my uncle Willard Espy had a checkered career — as in a number of disparate jobs.  But all of them, one way or another, had to do with writing.  Now he is remembered mostly for his books on wordplay, or if you live around this neck of the woods, for his book Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village.  But it was his hob-nobbing with the rich and famous that always interested me most.

In the 1940s, Wede was the Public Relations manager for the Reader’s Digest.  Part of his work in that capacity was to write the back cover for each monthly issue.  Actually, he was a ghost-writer (in lay-terminology) and, as such, he set up interviews with prominent personalities who then “wrote” endorsements for the magazine.

This morning I ran across some of Willard’s notes — apparently impressions from some of those interviews and also from a later radio show called “Personalities in Print.”  The format was fifteen minute (daily?) interviews, also with well-known people who had, for one reason or another, a book or article currently in print.  How I wish I could ask him a little more about each.

Duke and Duchess of Windsor

Duke of Windsor (and the Duchess) — her remarkable capacity to seem to focus her whole attention on what was being said to her.
Albert Einstein — his patched sweater, his lack of sox, the halo of hair behind his head, his aura of utter saintliness, his sailing ability (well — not too hot.)
Winston Churchill— watched him consume a bottle of brandy before delivering a stirring address to the joint Houses of Congress.
Richard Nixon — his disquisitions on luck, with examples from his own life; his stopping all other work in the Vice Presidential office to locate Adlai Stevenson when Stevenson’s son was injured in an accident.
H.L. Mencken (before my Digest days), sitting in his backyard and consuming bottle after bottle of beer.

Lillian Gish, Silent Film Star

Lord Halifax in a receiving line, somehow causing even his most distinguished guests to look like red-faced butchers as he shook their hands.
Jim Gavin’s crash course in French when he was made Ambassador to Paris — all the French he knew before was what was required to haggle with the madams in the towns his division captured over the rates she would charge his boys.
Lillian Gish and the seagull.
Trying to persuade Betty Friedan to serve me breakfast in bed.
And dozens, scores, more — some from my old radio program, others from Readers Digest.

That last sentence makes me think he was compiling the list for his editor with an eye toward another book.  I wish it had happened; it would have been a fun read.