Old times at Ocean Park and other stories

Russ and I happened to be here at Illahee in Ocean Park when the Coast Weekend printed a story about me and my writing. I had been interviewed by Patrick Webb several weeks before, but had no idea when it would be featured. We continued our routine like at home, only here Russ worked to take care of our burn pile and deter squirrels from bedding in our attic, as I worked virtually. We were grateful to encounter cold, sunny days when we could finally pop out to enjoy late afternoon beach walks, rain arriving in time for the weekend. Was it simply coincidental that our wonderful neighbor Sandy showed up for our previously scheduled glass of wine bearing a copy of Our Coast Weekend?

Local author contacts Astoria with short stories

As much as I prefer walking on the beach, I too like the opportunity to walk the nearly one mile overland into Ocean Park when we need just a thing or two from Jack’s Country Store. My favorite part of this is to stroll along Park Avenue, past cottages, some that are historic, a couple whose current owners I grew up with. I suspect, though, this walk is about more than what I see now but about the memories that hover through me. Stories from my great aunt who would sit on a nearby bench with friends on summer nights, peering out past the ocean into the sunset. Or my own memories when my brothers and I walked to Jack’s for what was then penny candy. Or the time our own kids took off to Oysterville on bikes without telling us, them remembering a scene from Now and Then, us parents worried about where they were. Or this one from my grandfather.

In 1914, I started Ocean Park’s first lending library in Harry Haseltine’s store just across from the railroad station. My father was general manager at Gill’s, and so I was able to buy my books at a favorable price. Mr. Haseltine very kindly gave me the space and so –as my first business venture– I had a busy season renting books to the Stearns, the Howells, the Claytons, the Wiegardst and others who came to “the Park.” It was a most interesting experience. It was just then that war in Europe broke out –World War I…”

Richard G. Montgomery, Old Times at Ocean Park, Sou’wester, 1974.

As we too stand in these worrisome times, war in Ukraine, on the brink of what we hope doesn’t become another world war. I would like to think we are wiser about the devastation of war. And while it feels odd to write about simpler things, that I continue for now.

This morning on my way to Jack’s, I decided to drop a copy of Humanity’s Grace off at the Ocean Park Library. Although I know I can request that they order one, this felt like the better thing to do, carrying on some version of my grandfather Daddy Dick’s work. After picking up a grocery item from Jack’s I headed home along N Place, and began to think about the Door House, or what my grandparents referred to as the Door Cottage. They had rented it in between staying in the Gill Cottage and prior to building Illahee in 1950. We grew up marveling over this house: how could a house be made completely of doors? I hadn’t thought about this place in years, and wandered in front of the house, identifying subtle outlines of doors, although remodeled (and no longer pink) since my childhood days. A different day I might have walked on, consumed with my own musings to not even notice. Today, though, I walked up to the house and tapped lightly on the door. When asked, the much younger women than I who answered the door, smiled as she confirmed this house to be the Door House. We chatted briefly about our childhood voyages to Ocean Park, she now living fulltime in this house her grandmother once owned. I impulsively gave her a copy of My Music Man, for whatever reason I had stashed in my bag. I directed her to the chapter about the Long Beach Peninsula, reassuring her in case she was a reluctant reader to feel free to place it in the Little Library just down the block. Yes, of course there would be a Little Library just down the street.

I called my oldest brother Patrick to trade notes about our memory of the Door House. He confirmed that our grandmother (Whowho) told us the doors all came from a shipwreck long ago. He admitted, there may be little truth to this legend, although what I find today on the internet seems to agree. How many generations do our stories travel, often deviating from what really happened? He reminded me how Whowho also told him about the Spyhouse near the Klipsan beach access. I told him I thought that was the house with the Widow Walk, which I know to be closer to the truth. So many times I imagined the woman who might have lived in that house, peering out to the ocean for her mariner husband to return from our rough Pacific Ocean. Some guess nearly 3,000 ships have gone down in Oregon waters, many meeting this fate at river bars like the Columbia where the river bottom continually changes because of river deposits and Pacific water creates unpredictable sea conditions. And yet, Spyhouse or Widow Walk, in the end we love to tell stories.

Later after my walk, I dropped in to visit Sandy. On my way out she handed me part of a recent Chinook Observer; she’d been meaning to ask if the Richard Montgomery mentioned was my dad. I shook my head at the serendipity of it all: no, but it was my grandfather. Yep, the letter to the editor references the same Sou’wester article I quote from above.

I appreciate this day to step back from other parts of my life. To write and muse, even though I didn’t imagine that I would today. These stories and memories swirl among us, back and forth, past and forward. As I remind myself, even then, to be in this moment.

Crew of the Alice, shipwrecked in 1908 from Montgomery’s Sou’Wester article.
“January 15, 1909, Alice
During a storm, a French square-rigged ship, the Alice, ran aground near Ocean Park with 3,000 tons of cement. The entire crew made it to shore, but the cement hardened, causing it to sink deep into the sand. The mast and rigging became a landmark and tourist attraction until about 1930. Today, the Alice makes rare appearances during extreme low tides.” From Pacific County Tourism Bureau.
Photo accompanying Richard Montgomery’s 1974 Sou’Wester article.

Other Long Beach Peninsula musings
From Deep River to Westport: then, now, fact, fiction
Books as a refuge in times of fear
The gift of imagination
A road to the coast
From Zidell to Ilahee: put these bunks to bed
Resurrecting the magic of a Peninsula expedition

2 thoughts on “Old times at Ocean Park and other stories

  1. Dede, although I’m not familiar with Ocean Park and Astoria, I loved reading your vignettes in this post and times spent there. Bob and I especially enjoyed the story of your grandfather’s venture into a lending library. You see Bob built a little library at the top of our driveway and has been the guardian of the books placed there and takes care of changing inventory. Librarians don’t have an easy job, do they? Glad you dropped off a copy of Humanity’s Grace at the Astoria Library.


  2. Pingback: Into the deep blue yonder of past and present | Dede's Books and blog

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