Dear Medora: Child of Oysterville's Forgotten Years
by Sydney Stevens

Washington State University, 2007. ISBN 978-0-874-22292-0.
Reviewed by Laura Strathman Hulka
Posted on 09/12/2013

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: History/Current Events; Nonfiction: Relationships

As a reviewer, I am constantly surprised, and yes, awed, by the authors I come across in my reading journeys. This book is one that I have continually asked myself "how did I miss this!?" Dear Medora, by Sydney Stevens, was originally published in 2007, and yet its timeless message is one we should all read, to learn appreciation of our roots, which give us the wings we cherish.

Dear Medora is the story, told elegantly with letters and photos, of author Stevens' aunt and grandmother, known as Medora and Mama throughout the letters. The family originally lived in East Oakland, CA, and with the move to Oysterville in 1902, they needed to create their own sense of belonging and family strength. The correspondence began in 1908, when Medora was only nine. Her mother, having struggled and lost her first child, moved temporarily to Portland, Oregon, to be closer to the doctor whenever her several pregnancies were entering their last months. The letters between Medora and Mama provided the stability the absent mother needed to keep tabs on her growing family, and participate in their day-to-day life.

Between 1908 and her death in 1916, Medora and Mama faithfully corresponded whenever one of them was absent from the other. But the book embraces more than just one child and her letters; the family moved to Oysterville, Washington state, in 1902, when Medora was three. Here, in what was supposedly a temporary move to care for Papa's aging and ill father, the family sank deep roots that are growing strong still.

Oysterville itself is a cherished place to Stevens; she elaborates on its beginnings, its hard times, and on the beautiful home in which she now lives, that was originally built in 1869, and purchased by her grandfather, Harry Espy in 1902 (Medora's father). The book is peppered with wonderful genealogy charts, a diagram of the Espy house, and photos of the picturesque village founded in 1854 by Stevens' Espy forebears.

The book is charming and polished, with stories of community, church, a close-knit family and how the beginning of the 20th century evolved in this corner of Washington state. The advent of cars, phones and other modern "gizmos" are chronicled through Medora and Mama's letters, and illustrated by family photographs spanning over 150 years. There are tempting recipes, sidebars that enrich the reader's understanding of the time (postage in 1913 was two cents) and of delicacies such as mud clams and cranberries.

Whether you read this book straight through or meander with only the intent of browsing through the pictures, it is an easily digested history of one family and their long reach. You will find a glimpse of such events as the San Francisco Exposition of 1915, the shipping lanes in the nearby ocean, the family's frequent trips to Portland, and holiday celebrations of the family and the village. The reader feels the familial warmth, the distant but oh-so-real past, and the efforts of the present and future in restoring this uniquely beautiful hamlet. I hope you will take the time to find the book, and revel in it as I have done. I hope, too, that you will be inspired as I was to rethink your own family history and roots.

Sydney and her husband, Nyel, live in the H.A. Espy family home across from the Historic Oysterville Church. They participate actively in the local community and Sydney devotes much of her time to researching and documenting the history and folklore of the area. Visit her website, which includes information on her other books and her blog.

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