2010 - Making the Rounds
After lunch when I stepped out of the K-Bar Café and into the sunshine, Mom was there waiting for me.
“Well?” I said.
“Well?” she teased. “Are you talking about a hole in the wall?”
“Oh for the love of God," I said, "Let’s go find the bakery.”
Highway 89 comes into the north end of Gardiner from Livingston. It becomes the bridge that expands over the Yellowstone River which cuts the town in half, then it turns right at the stop sign at the top of the road by the Sinclair Gas Station. Across the street from the Sinclair Gas Station are rolling hills and then mountains and Yellowstone Park. This section of Highway 89 is lined on the right with businesses and the left with mountains. If you were to continue on this road, it would veer back to the left and then it would lead you to The Roosevelt Arch, which is the gateway into Yellowstone Park. Electric Peak is part of this scene and it’s a mountain I remember well, after staring at it daily, sitting at a table in the front room of the bakery, which had been located in that very row of businesses.
On this particular day, there was a four-wheeler parked among the cars in front of the Chamber of Commerce Building and a German Shepard was draped over the seat.
[one_half_last]This has to be the place,” I said pointing in front of the dog, who paid little attention to us. “ Those are the windows of Gabrielle's apartment up there.”
“Let‘s go inside, Millie.”
We walked in the door and stood in a stuffy cluttered little room trying to take it all in and remember how it once was. Of course it didn't look the same. There were shelves of brochures, books and magazines and a wall completely blocking off the back of the shop and a chatter-box-of-a-woman at the desk, going on about geysers that are more interesting than Old Faithful, hikes we must take and sights we must see while in the area.[/one_half_last]What I really wanted to see was the back part of the Chamber of Commerce, the bathroom, the broken wooden walk-in cooler, the trap door, the rickety old steps to the dirt floored basement, the whatever that thing was that was located in the middle of the cellar and the upstairs of the building, but I didn't tell her any of that. I just picked up a few brochures and promised her we'd see all the sights.
Mom cut to the chase. “Do you know if this building ever had a bakery in it?”
"No, I don't. Never heard of any bakery. I've only been here a few years though so I'm not a good source for town history. Now if it's a question about the park I could probably answer that."
It wasn't really a surprise to me. It had been more than thirty years ago and the bakery had only existed for a short while. And all she seemed to know about were geysers, trails, rapids and wildlife. But if she worked in this building, did she know that the place was haunted? Was it still haunted? If it was, she would probably wouldn't stop talking long enough to notice a ghost anyway.
Mom and I left the Chamber of Commerce and visited a few of the gift shops along highway 89.
After tiring of trinkets, t-shirts and jewelry, we entered the Blue Goose Saloon. Willie Nelson was singing , 'And remember my love, it's the sound that you hear in your mind.'
The place seemed untouched in three decades. The windows still framed the rolling hills and Electric Peak. The walls were still cluttered with dead wildlife and a hundred beer signs and a young guy with long wavy blonde hair and a bushy red beard took our orders.
“Now this is more like it,” Mom said, slapping her hands on the bar. “This is the way I remember Gardiner, Montana. There should be a law that this is the only kind of music they can play in this town.”
“What? No Jimmy Buffet? No Frank Sinatra?”
“Not in here Millie. ”
A man walked behind us in a white chef outfit complete with the tall white hat and then he walked behind the bar and then past us going the opposite direction with a couple of drinks and then he disappeared around a corner.
“He’s from next door,” John, the bartender said, watching us watching the chef.
“Where did he just go?” Mom was giggling as she spit out her words. He didn’t exactly fit in with the décor and it seemed like he'd just vanished into thin air.
“There is a deck back there?’
“There is a deck up there. The stairs are around that corner.” John pointed in the direction the chef had disappeared. “The café next door serves food up on the deck and we serve the drinks.”
So, The Blue Goose Saloon had been altered and according to the people sitting next to us, it had also been re-painted, a new ceiling was dropped in and the bar had been re-finished within the last year. But what hadn’t changed was the music, the mountains and the kid behind the bar who'd drifted in from West Virginia. He was filled with a dream to own a rock climbing business and he was bartending so that he could eat. That's how I remembered Gardiner.
1976 – Rodeo
It was hard not to think about a couple of bloody events as I sat there in the Blue Goose Saloon, listening to Willie croon about love. The first memory that came rushing in was the rodeo.
It was early July. It was hot, dry and dusty. Cowboys and more cowboys flooded the streets of Gardiner wearing chaps and spurs, with guns hanging at their sides. These weren’t the local cowboys I was used to seeing. These guys were rodeo cowboys. These guys were the cream of the crop. These guys were cowboy stars.
We sat on bleachers in the mid-afternoon heat, munching on popcorn and sticking to cotton candy as we watched the young men ride bulls, really mad bulls, getting whipped around, hats and fringe flying, bull hooves kicking up in the front, up in the back, violently trying to shake the sinewy guys off their spines. And when they did shake them off, cowboy clowns ran in right in front of those nasty bull horns, diverting the wild beast’s attention by being ferociously chased and they'd jump over the fence just in the nick of time all the while the bucked off cowboy lying in the dirt scrambled to his feet and jumped the fence on the other side.
I thought the whole thing could have been avoided if they would’ve just stayed off the backs of those bulls. I’d seen rodeos on television a few times in my life and I'd changed the channel after a couple of seconds, so I’d never stopped to consider how perilous a sport it was. But you know the saying, When in Rome do as the Romans do.
Or as my mom would have said with her new hobby, When in Rome, does the pope shit in the woods?
So there we were, at the rodeo. As I sat in the stands that day the only danger I was in was a sun burn, a junk food gut ache or a lifetime of therapy brought on by witnessing someone being gorged or trampled to death. Thankfully I suffered no trauma.
That evening just after rubbing a heavy dose of lotion into my dried out, sun burned skin and reapplying some mascara in anticipation of a night on the town, Jason said, "Millie, I think we should stay home."
“What? Why? Everybody is going out tonight. I told Gabrielle we'd meet her at the Goose."
“Millie,” he looked at me all serious-like. “Do you want me to get killed?”
“Why would you get killed?”
“In case you haven’t noticed there are a lot of cowboys running around.”
“I have noticed. That’s why we should go out. It’s going to be wild and we do not want to miss it.”
“Oh, it’ll be wild all right. Wild with fights.”
“Why, who’s going to fight?”
“Cowboys, Mill, cowboys like to fight.”
“How do you know what cowboys like to do?” I said. “And so what if they do like to fight? It’s not like they’re going to fight us. We’re not going to pick any fights.”
“They’re not going to fight with you Millie. They’re going to fight with me. I’m a guy, a guy with long hair. Have you noticed they’re all carrying guns? Cowboys don't like hippies, Millie.”
I’d wanted to see the bars full of those bucking bronco dudes with their chaps and their spurs and their guns. They were real cowboys who lived and breathed in a world all their own. I thought it would be like going out and watching a live movie. I was at that moment, to put it mildly, super-pissed off. We argued for a little while longer and then we stayed home and played cribbage.
“Fifteen- fucking two, fifteen- fucking four, fifteen- fucking six, fifteen-fucking eight.”
“Millie, quit your swearing.”
"Technically fuck is not a swear word. Look it up."
“Do you love me Millie?”
“Forever and ever?”
“Even after forever and ever?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
The next day Jason swamped the Blue Goose Saloon with a mop. It was a second part time job he’d picked up and he came home full of gory details, happy to drive in his point that the only reason he was alive that day was because we’d stayed home where he’d beaten me at cribbage, every game.
“You are so lucky you didn’t have to see it Mill. There was blood everywhere. I have never seen so much red plasma in all my life and I worked at a hospital you know and you know how I feel about blood." He gagged. "It was even splattered up on the mirror behind the bar, it was on the wall, it was on the bar and of course it was all over the floor and then there was a pool of it under the second stool from the end, over by the juke box. Puke too. Millie, there was a boat load of barf in the bathroom and out on the sidewalk, right in front of the door. And those dicks left it all there for me to clean up. They didn't even lift an fn' finger. I could have killed them. Assholes. And," he continued, "I heard that Deputy Dean tried to bust up a big fight out in front of the K-Bar, but they just pointed their guns at him and told him to get the fuck out of town.”
“What did he do?” I gasped.
“He got the fuck out of town. He drove back to Livingston with his tail between his legs. It’s a good thing we stayed home.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Good thing we stayed home.”
Of course Gabrielle had been out that night. When I ran into her later she told me it was one of the best times in her life. She’d been at The Two Bit and Louisa and Cowboy Ned were there doing the two step. “Well,” she said, “Ned was doing the two-step and Louisa was hanging onto him. And Tina and Dan were there too. Everyone in town was out partying and dancing the night away. There was a really cool band and everything, Millie. Of course it was a country band but they were decent. You would have liked them. And I, yes me, as in Gabrielle Lane, was invited to a slumber party,” she said with a big white smile. “Yesserie, Mill, I rode on a real cowboy last night and I never fell off.”
“Did you see any fights?” I asked her, uninterested in her slutty sex life. I wouldn’t have wanted to have witnessed any fights. I probably would have done something stupid like gotten in the middle of one and tried to break it up. Jason knew that I would not be able to deal with confrontation. And according to his blood reports there were plenty of them. He would have been forced to defend me or at least he’d have had to pull me out of something. Who knows, I might have stood up for Deputy Dean, which would have embarrassed him to death and then Jason would have been gunned down for sure. He’d probably made the right choice. Damn it. I hated it when he was right.
“No, I didn’t see any fights,” she answered, “but I heard there were a couple at the Goose and a big one in front of the K. Deputy Dean went to break up it up and they chased him away. They were probably all fighting over me,” she grinned and batted her baby blues. “Where were you guys anyway? I waited at the Goose till nine.”
As I sat at the bar in Red's Blue Goose Saloon with my mom, I took a sip out of a Bloody Mary and I remembered another bloody event. It was the beginning of our first winter and Jimmy the Gun was gutting a black bear in the kitchen of the blue Goose. I’m not sure why he was gutting a bear at there. Maybe it was because it was a big enough area to do it; maybe it was because he owned the place; maybe it was because he didn't want his kids to see it since they were going to eat it; maybe it was because he was bartending that day so he brought it along to kill two birds with one stone; maybe it was because his wife would have killed him if he'd done it at home.
Jason started gagging and making those noises that he always makes when his senses are disrupted as soon as we walked in the door and the rancid smell hit us in the face. We sat down anyway with our noses plugged and Jason's body convulsing under the pinching of his nostrils and together we wondered what in the hell was going on at the Goose.
Jimmy the Gun came out to the bar, his white sleeves rolled up all the way to his hairy elbows, blood on his hands and up to those sleeves. There was a deep rich red blotch of blood on his left chest pocket. It looked as though he’d been shot in the heart. He stopped to pull us a couple of drafts and to shoot the shit because he was friends with Jason, because everybody liked Jason. I don’t think he realized that he looked like an ax murderer with a gunshot wound to the heart and that if you are going to gut a bear you should not wear white.
"What's going on?" Jason asked, pretending that he could breath and that Jimmy the Gun looked normal and that we were not freaked out.
"Oh, just cleaning out my bear. Poached him this morning and gotta get rid of the evidence."
Maybe it smelled real bad because the bear was poached. But poaching, we learned, was common for the locals and it was an unspoken law that nobody spills the beans about nobody. It was how some people survived. They didn’t kill anymore than they needed to eat. They were just keeping their families fed during the long, quiet winters when all the tourists went home and all their money went with them.
Jason and I didn’t stay for a second beer that day. I don't think we even finished the one we had.
2010 - The Pink House with white shutters
Mom and I began searching for the pink house with white shutters after leaving the Blue Goose Saloon. It was the last place Jason and I’d lived during our stint in Gardiner. It had been on the opposite side of the river than the little brown cabin and the blue house apartment. It was on the K-Bar side of the river, so if you walked toward the river from the Corner Café, and crossed the street that the K-Bar Café was on and continued another block, it had been there on the right. It was on a corner and across the street that the Ice Factory had once been on. There had only been a few feet between our pink house with white shutters and the pea-green one next door. The pink house with white shutters had a miniature fenced in yard. Belle could’ve rested in the shady grass anytime she’d wanted to. If only there’d been a tree or a blade of grass.
Jason and I were still putting away our belongings in the pink house with white shutters that second spring in Gardiner when Snicker Doodles surprised us with a batch of four tiny kittens. We found homes for all of them as soon as they were ready at six weeks. That was fortunate because Belle was getting rather large herself and the puppies she was carrying could only belong to one dog and that dog was her own brother. I remembered them frolicking together in Jason’s parents’ backyard when we’d been there for a visit. The situation had me worried as hell. I was afraid her puppies would be born with two heads or extra toes or overbites.
Jason came running to get me out of the bakery when the puppies began to arrive.
“Millie! Mille! We’re having puppies. Come on!”
“Right now? I’m covering the counter.”
He ran up the stairs and banged on Gabrielle’s door.
“What?” I heard her yell.
“You gotta take over. Belle’s having her babies.”
“I'm on my way.”
I raced behind Jason down the street and we barged into our pink house with white shutters. There were low voices coming out of the bedroom.
Belle was on our bed surrounded by a group of spectators and Bobbi was rubbing her ears. There were two little red peanut sized puppies next to her. She was gently licking goo off of them and then she stopped. She bore down and another little red peanut popped out of her.
“Oh sweetie,” I said. “Your babies are so cute.”
She began to lick the new arrival. Their little pink slits for eyes matched their little pink noses.
She stopped licking the third one and then another one arrived.
“Wow, four puppies. Good job Belle. You are a good girl.”
Jason was rubbing her forehead.
She began licking the fourth puppy and then she stopped so that she could squeeze out number five.
“Oh my gosh, Belle that’s a lot of puppies. What a good girl.”
She began licking the goo off of number five and then number six arrived and then number seven and then number eight. She never made a sound.
Gabrielle’s cousin John picked each one up to examine its junk.
“That makes eight girls. They are all girls,” he said.
“That’s not normal is it?” I asked. “They’re all girls? Is she done?”
Belle sat up again. “Oh my God! Another one?”
Well it wasn’t another puppy. It was the gooey after birth and blood, blood, blood and more blood.
My mouth was hanging open. It was gross. Not only was it gross, it was on our bed. Not only was it on our bed, it was on our new quilt. Not only was it on our new quilt, it was on our new quilt that we’d received as a wedding gift from Sissy who’d sewn it by hand. She’d spent hours putting together the patchwork quilt with the center being a mountain scene. She’d embroidered our names and our wedding date there too. That’s where the placenta landed, on the mountain scene; on the mountain scene sewn by Sissy, by hand.
“We have to get them all off the bed,” I shrieked.
“No Millie. We can’t move them yet. Belle is staying right there.”
“Jason, the quilt, look at our quilt.”
“It’s too late to save that quilt.”
“It’s the one from Sissy.”
“I can see that.”
“Oh my God!”
“Relax Millie. It’s a quilt for Christ’s sake.”
“She made that you know.”
“Well, it’s too late to save it. You just give your dog a hug and don’t worry about the quilt.”
Eventually the spectators went home and we helped Belle off the bed and fixed her a place in the spare bedroom with an OLD blanket. We carried her little peanut girls to her and she lay exhausted as they squeaked and made tiny snorting sounds nuzzling up to her teats.
Jason disposed of the placenta, I have no idea where he disposed of it and I ran to the Laundromat with the quilt. He was right. It was too late. The mountains were forever brown.
Eight weeks later Jason was searching for Bobbi because I’d let her take the wrong puppy. I'd accidentally given her the one that we‘d picked to keep ourselves. We’d chosen the crazy one who’d acted like she wasn’t crazy at all as she slept in the palm of our hands. Her name was Nelle.
Gardiner was full of female Irish Setters that summer. They were the same Irish Setters who’d paid our rent that month. We sold seven of them for fifty dollars each. They were beautiful pure bred, inbred, Irish Setters without papers. Had they been pure bred, not inbred, Irish Setters with papers they each would have been worth eight hundred dollars. It didn’t matter. We didn’t know a soul who had eight hundred dollars, much less eight hundred dollars to spend on a dog. Whenever we saw an Irish Setter taking a walk with its owner or just running loose, we’d call out, “Girls,” in our sweet sing song way, the same way we’d done it the first eight weeks of their lives and the dog would always stop in her tracks, look at us and cock her head, trying to remember something deep in her past. I’d wonder if she was remembering the room she’d shared with her sisters and her Mom and the board that blocked them from the rest of the house. There wasn’t a sight cuter than all eight of their little faces and sixteen of their paws with the correct amount of toes, all lined up across that board calling for Belle to come and feed them or for us to come and pick them up.
“Yes,” Mom interrupted my thoughts. “The pink house with white shutters was right here, Millie. I remember walking down this street from the bakery to it. It had to be one of these two don’t you think?” Her sunglasses reflected the bright blue sky and the cracker box homes.
There was still a cluster of houses where we stood, but none of them seemed to be in the right spot and there was no Ice Factory to judge the distance.
We gave up and walked through the dusty back alley to highway 89 where we turned right and then took a left before reaching the Sinclair Station.
We were on the road that led to Charlie’s Hotel, the hotel I was hired to clean rooms for after leaving the K-Bar Café. Eventually Louisa and Tina worked there too. It was the only AAA hotel in Gardiner at the time and Charlie had been very proud of that.
“Sorry Mom,” I said as I sprinted ahead on the sidewalk once we’d reached the place, unaware of what I was going to do, passing the hotel office and running past several doors, I ended up at the laundry room so I guess I did know where I was going.
The door was wide open and I stepped inside. The little brown Formica table was right there within reach with two metal chairs. The industrial washer and dryer looked the same. Maybe they always look the same, big and white. Clothes pins still hung on the lines in front of the appliances where Charlie and I used to talk as we folded hot white sheets that smelled of bleach. The white laundry carts were shoved into the corner. They were done for the day. Tomorrow it would all start again.