Eve Marx/For The Daily Astorian
SEASIDE — “I’ve been told that in 1938 this building was a grocery store that supplied the guest cabins in the neighborhood,” Nell Hutchison said, speaking of her charming home in south Seaside where she’s lived since 1998.
Hutchison, who arrived in Seaside by way of Sacramento and who grew up in Minnesota, has been a well-dressed figure in the neighborhood for 20 years. She is a regular patron of the Pacific Way Bakery, known for her droll humor, her poetry, and her head-turning outfits.
“I worked for the Department of Justice from 1955 to 1992,” Hutchison said. “I was an administrator in criminal-justice record keeping. I had between 50 and 80 people, including supervisors, reporting to me.”
While at the Department of Justice, she took her college degree, first falling in love with the poetry of T.S. Eliot and then majoring in English and writing poetry. She said it was the tumultuous ’70s that inspired her to write. She wrote about family, her frustrations as a woman, and the concept of vulnerability. In 1996, the Sacramento publisher Laverne Frith published her memoir, “When I Was A Child in Minnesota.”
These days Hutchison occupies herself taking pictures, writing haiku and playing pinochle.
Her house is full of collections. She is a great collector of ceramics, china, dolls, figurines and cut glass. An entire blue-painted room has been given over to things reminding her of Seaside: shells, sand dollars, images of sea birds and African violets. “The secret to keeping them is light, but not too much heat,” she said.
Her color-coordinated wardrobe draws people in.
Hutchison has a wall of caps and handbags in her tidy bedroom, as well as color-coordinated drawers of gloves and socks and little purses. A large box of delicious vintage costume jewelry is arranged by brooches, earrings and bangles. Her closet is turned over seasonally. Purple is her winter color. The summer closet is filled with blouses, trousers and skirts in shades of aquamarine and chartreuse with a smattering of black-and-white graphics and Monet-inspired prints.
“A lot of times I’ll have a scarf I really want to wear,” she said. “So I’ll plan my day’s wardrobe around it.”
Hutchison said her fashion sense is innate. She’s never been a reader of fashion magazines. She said she got into clothes while working for the Department of Justice. “Nice clothes get attention,” she said. “I’ve always tried to fight invisibility.” She said she has always enjoyed being a head turner, and regrets, just a little, that her chosen beach lifestyle doesn’t afford many opportunities to dress up.
Now in her 80s, Hutchison said she enjoys her pinochle games that take place twice a week. “It’s a mixed crowd,” she said, meaning there’s men and women. She plays at the Seaside senior center and also at the senior center in Astoria. “It’s something to look forward to.”
Nell’s advice for living well into her eighth decade is pretty simple. “Take care of business. Don’t stress over things.”
She says she’s not overly sentimental and remains the practical person she’s always been. She has a cat who goes by the name of Ms. Truffle. Ms. Truffle has been a kind of artistic muse, inspiring photographs and the writing of haiku. “She’s definitely a ms., not a miss,” Hutchison said of the feline. “She’s permitted to sit on any surface she wishes, but I never forget she’s just a cat.”
— Eve Marx