Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Where Two Rivers Meet: A Matter of the Mother Lode, Part 6

By H.A. Silliman

Now, you mustn’t take me for a gossip. Naturally, living in Two Rivers one enjoys hearing curious stories. This kind of “intelligence” makes navigating life easier—and more interesting in a small village. And really, what is Mack Boyd’s Two Rivers Ledger but gossip legitimized by being printed in 12-point Times Roman. As The Nugget movie house only shows features on Friday and Saturday nights, entertainment sources hereabouts are limited. One
doesn’t relish deriving vicarious enjoyment out of folks’ troubles.

Who doesn’t have troubles? Who amongst us could endure the scrutiny of lookiloos if the roof were yanked off the top of one’s home?

In fact, if you were to query anthropologists on the intrinsic value of “local knowledge,” I bet they agree that this type of talk keeps a social unit viable: Gossip is a survival skill!

All this is to say that I was secretly anticipating my adventure with Sally. Seeing Mack would be OK as a mission of mercy. I really wanted to know what Sally was up to by visiting the golf course. But wouldn’t you know it—the next morning Jake woke up with a bad cold and stayed home from school. I called Sally with regrets, and she promised a report that evening.

I spent the morning in our quarters in the Carriage House making Cornish pasties—a favorite meal long ago of hard rock miners. Rex stopped by, and hearing Jake was sick, went upstairs with me and gave him a hard hat to wear for the day.

“We might need help with running wire,” Rex said, winking at me. “So be sure to have this on and ready to go.” Jake soaked up the manly attention.

Out of earshot, Rex told me that at his card game the night before the subject of Don Wyder came up. “I don’t think the marriage was a happy one,” he confided. “There was a general impression that Barbara lorded over him the fact that she had money—a lot of it—from her daddy’s Buick dealership. That’s why they always have new cars. But it was his money that built the house—an inheritance from his parents. He did OK in the insurance business—but nothing big. His drinking started to get in the way.”

I chipped in that Sally thought Don’s wife was having an affair—thus her departure and absence.

“Could be true,” Rex said. “I’ll say this again: I don’t think Don popped the old gal off. She was moneybags. Apparently, it was an allowance she had from her parents. So, no wife, maybe no moola!”

After Rex got to work, I finished the pastry dough and the filling for the pasties. Looking into the courtyard just before noon, I saw Babe Giovanni opening the picket gate. He moved very deliberately and kept an eye out in front of his feet. Guess he didn’t want to trip. If I were in my ‘80s, I’d do the same.

The former Ledger publisher rapped at the door and peeked inside. “Mind if I come?”

“Not at all,” I said. “Set yourself down for some coffee and cookies.”

He settled in and commented sadly that he hadn’t been here since Renwick took ill. As I remember, he left that day with his head down and his eyes moist. The two men were the town’s elders. They harkened back to a time that folks longed for now: No internet, no smartphones or social media. Just the telephone and newspaper. No out-
of-towners buying up our homes for vacation getaways and jacking up the prices for us locals. No need for health insurance. The good ol’ days.

“How’s your boy?” he asked. “Heard he’s sick.”

“A bad cold, that’s all. Rex left him a hard hat. That cheered him up.”

He sipped the coffee, and I sensed he temporized, sought an opening for his visit. I asked how he was doing, stepping in to run the newspaper for Mack. He said it was fun again because he knew it was going to be temporary.

“My wife says you’ve taken in the Wyder boy,” Babe said. “That’s nice. He’s very conscientious about getting the papers out. What a tragedy!”

I figured the Wyder situation to be where he wanted to go, so I mentioned the puzzle of Barbara up and taking off, but Babe didn’t take the bait. He merely said what Rev. Steve had opined: Marriages are a tricky affair—and I’m not sure that he intended irony by using the word “affair.”

“How’s it going with Richie?” he asked. “Is he a burden?”

“Not at all. The kids love him. He’s folded into our household like he was always here. That’s reassuring.”

Glancing around, he said, “You’ve certainly got the room for him. Why, you’ve got a lot of room, as a matter of fact.”

This was true. The carriage house had two bedrooms downstairs and two upstairs. The main house was three stories. The third story, a rambling warren of rooms that I intended to remake into at least three bedrooms and a common bathroom as time went along. With luck, I’d have a decent seven- or eight-room bed-and-breakfast.

Finally Babe said, “Better get to why I’m here. You know who called me a little while ago?” He didn’t wait for me to answer.“—Sally, where she was visiting Mack in that Truckee convalescent home.”

This caught my attention. I expected bad news about Boyd. “Guess what! They released him today. Sally’s on her way with him right now!” He stared at me straight on—leaving no way to avert my gaze. “Mack needs a place to stay until he gets his feet on the ground. I made some quick calls around town after Sally hung up. Everyone agrees—he should come here, since you don’t have to work and also have the most room.”

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