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Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Yesterday felt like a vacation day. It kicked off with tea and cinnamon rolls in the bar here, after which I strolled round to the Bean Broker where I had a meeting with Bob ‘Badger’ Buckley who had driven over from Crawford to get his car fixed. He’s another remarkable individual who has more or less made his living as a trapper, hunter and guide who can turn his hand to certain traditional crafts like flint-knapping, tanning (with brains, the Native way) and working in hides. He attends rendezvous around the region to trade, and sell his wares. I remember that some years ago when I travelled the Lewis & Clark Trail, from St Louis to Astoria, I met a number of  ‘mountain men’ (re-enactors, that is) who made that their full-time occupation. I was supposed to be doing a brief transaction with Bob, but it turned into an hour-long discussion – which is one of the pleasures, as I’ve said before, of smalltown life, and another reminder that these places are never what they appear to be on the surface. The longer you hang around the more you discover.

Jeannie’s mother, Evva, is still in town – she spends the summers here and her winters in California, not far from Palm Springs. I was chatting with her yesterday afternoon, when two bikers arrived at the hotel. One of them had worked behind the bar for Evva when he  was in college, forty years ago. Far from expecting to find his former boss at the bar drinking beer with a Limey, he admitted that he had expected to find she had passed on – but at 85 or thereabouts she’s certainly alive and kicking. The visit prompted Evva to dig out some old newspaper cuttings from the 1960s and `70s, including this advertisement for her in-house entertainment

It appears that some folk took a dim view of the go-go dancer and queried the legality of it as a form of entertainment – only to discover that jukeboxes and televisions in the town’s bars were also against the law.

The visitor reminisced for some time, on a variety of matters; what stuck in my mind was his recollection that Native visitors to town always felt welcome – safe – at the Olde Main, and were well treated. He recalled that parties would come in by truck on a Friday night to drink and party, but would generally sleep on the streets. More than once, when he was serving at the bar, somebody might hand him a bundle of cash and ask him to look after it, lest he lose the lot in some drunken card game.

The two motor-bikers had barely taken off when a car with Oregon plates drew up, and suddenly I was hearing a strong Birmingham accent. This couple were travelling the Oregon Trail, west to east – and showed me the guidebook they were using. That kind of floored me, because when I travelled the trail, back `91, it ran along the Platte river, along with the Pony Express route and the UP railroad. But the book was thick, well packaged and authoritative looking. What do I know? We were joined later by three bikers from Omaha and Lincoln – lawyers on a trip towards the Black Hills and the Devil’s Tower up in Wyoming. I think a writer could hang out at Jeannie’s, never go anywhere, and gather all kinds of material. Over breakfast this morning she had out her old flintlock rifle and a cap-and-ball pistol for the visiting Brummies. I’ll investigate those in time for tomorrow’s posting, I hope.

Well, I am now ensconced in the Sandoz Center looking through the archived collection, and have just found Mari’s death certificate. 3.05 pm on 10 March 1966.

Tonight I will hear again Yvonne’s talk at the public library, and with luck collar her for an hour or so in the Olde Main bar. Tomorrow, most likely, I’ll head to Gordon and a visit with Caroline.

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