I never did like King Wilson. First of all, who would have a name like King? And never mind that I found out years later that his real name was Alexander King Wilson. King was a family name that his parents chose as his middle name and he, apparently, made a conscious decision to use it like a title. Talk about putting on airs.
Also, he was married to my Great Aunt Dora — my grandfather’s oldest sister. I adored Aunt Dora. She’s the one, you might remember, who was likely to call a woman she greatly admired, “a fine double-breasted sort of woman.” In 1948, she boarded the Lurline for its first post-war San Francisco — Honolulu voyage and four years later celebrated her 80th birthday by going on her first-ever roller coaster ride at Jantzen Beach. (She had no compunction about telling the ride operator what he could do with their rules saying she was too old). A role model!
Mostly, though, I didn’t like King Wilson because he was an attorney from the East Coast who right away convinced my great-grandfather, R.H. Espy, to add an ‘e’ to the family name and, for a while, all of the Oysterville branch spelled their name Espey. He (King) thought it had more cachet. Uncle King right away became the family attorney and, it was whispered among some that he made a lot of very costly mistakes with the Espey timber and oyster holdings — both here and in California.
Suffice it to say, I never knew King Wilson. Although I grew up knowing Aunt Dora’s and Uncle King’s children (Robert, Mary and Julia) very well, I missed out on their father. He died in 1918 (18 years before I was born) during his second term as first mayor of Lake Oswego, Oregon. Dora lived until 1955 and never remarried, although my mom hinted that sassy Dora had had several “close relationships” over the years.
‘Dora really loved him’
It was their youngest daughter who said, “I once asked Uncle Cecil why mother married King. Came the reply: ‘King thought he was marrying into an old family with money, but Dora really loved him.” It was Julia, too, who told me that though Dora never remarried after King died, she had her share of love affairs. “When we three children learned how she was carrying on, we would no longer call her ‘mother.’ She was ‘Dora’ from then on.” I remember learning that tidbit when I was in my 30s or 40s and all I could think of was how sad for Aunt Dora that her children didn’t inherit any of her indomitable spirit.
So it was, that I always felt a bit prickly about King Wilson. On the other hand, he must have been quite a guy to marry spunky Dora Espy! Aunt Dora lived into old age and was my very favorite of all the “greats.” She loved to tell about the olden-days and was the one in the family who had all the ‘bawdy’ stories! It was Aunt Dora who told about the young man-about-town here in Oysterville who kept a snippet of pubic hair from each of his conquests and bragged to the other local boys about his ‘souvenirs.’ And it was Aunt Dora who remembered (and talked about) the ‘fancy ladies’ who occasionally came to town in the days of her childhood — the ‘beautiful creatures’ her mother wouldn’t allow her to speak to.
A shadowy character
Among all the stories Aunt Dora told, I don’t remember any about Uncle King. Until a few years ago, he remained one of those shadowy family characters. And then… eight members of the Dills family came calling.
“He’s my Great Uncle King Wilson, too,” said Cathy Dills. She is a woman just my age, descended from Uncle King’s side of the family. The Dills brought with them a most amazing book. It is one of 12 bound copies of the letters that King Wilson wrote his wife Dora on the occasions that he needed to travel away from home.
They left the book with me so that I might have time to read it. It is the first one, “Trip East in June 1902” by A. King Wilson. In it are the daily letters he wrote home from the train and from the places he visited. It includes photographs, menus, and all manner of ephemera, the day-by-day description of the train trip, itself — to say nothing of an intimate look at King and Dora’s relationship.
His final entry in Book One: The train arrived in Portland, Oregon on time, 5:20 PM. Saturday, June 28 1902. There in the Union Depot stood my smiling wife and boy. The boy was dressed in pants and seemed much older than when I left. Thus ended a very pleasant Journey and the happiest moment of it all was when I arrived at home in Portland, and saw my family.
Hoping others may enjoy the pleasures of such a trip, I remain,
Yours very truly,
A. King Wilson
So… I’ve had a change of heart about King Wilson. At least, a slight one. Perhaps this is yet another reason to keep a journal or a diary or to write a line a day. Those who come later deserve a chance to see us through our own words as well as by the (sometimes erroneous) impressions we might leave with others. After all, do we really know that the King was in his counting house? Maybe he was; maybe he wasn’t. How would he tell the story?