The Bristlecone Incident

I don’t mean to alarm you, but what you are about to read is a quite accurate, though just slightly embellished event that I actually witnessed in Kallispell, Montana while on a camping trip with a friend. Scout’s honor.

The best fiction has truth in it they say. Well, this truth even included the price tag on….

Well, I’ll let the Bogwillow Editor tell the story.

Here you go….

Meanwhile at the Bristlecone Diner. . .

My dear Warren,

   I have been meaning to write to you for several days, but I must admit I’ve been inundated with work. I had no idea that this editor’s job would be so blasted time consuming. I guess I had some rather romantic notions about old man Matheson when we were growing up. He always seemed so relaxed, carrying around that rusty fiberboard notebook of his. All I can say is the man must have had nerves of steel. The things that go on in this town keep me running from dawn till midnight some nights.

   Anyway, I wanted you to know that I have finally started writing my novel. I have actually outlined the first five chapters and I am working on some character studies. Do you think there is a market for a quirky murder mystery set in a small town filled with eccentric people who may have married one too many of their first cousins?

  Speaking of characters, just the other evening I was over at the Bristlecone Diner, you know the one that is right next door to the Bogwillow Assisted Living Center? I was waiting for Councilman Fitzwater. He was going to give me the latest minutes of the planning committee meeting. At any rate, as I sat there in the booth, going over the menu for the fourth time, who would come in but the Grand Dame herself, Lydia Ambercrombie.

  My god Warren, you should have seen her. She always was a stout woman, but these days she’s, well . . .. She was accompanied by none other than Arthur Pibb.

   Old Arty had obviously dressed for the occasion. It looked like he had even gone to the trouble of shopping for something new to wear. He had found a pair of. . . I kid you not Warren, pea green polyester pants. I could tell they were new to him, because the tag from the second hand store was still hanging from a string pinned to the back pocket. He is still as thin as a rail and made a striking foil to Lydia’s rotundity.

   He helped her get seated at the table, which was quite a production with her walker and all. But with the help of the waitress, they finally got her settled. But not without a running monologue by Lydia.

   I don’t know if you remember that voice Warren, but let me tell you, she could be heard clear out in the parking lot I am sure. Her warbling is like a cross between a yodeler and an auctioneer. Melodic in its way, but incessant.

   As near as I can remember it, the “conversation” went something like this:

   “Arty dear, could you move that chair for me? No, on the other side. Yes, that’s right. A little further. Now I think I can get in there. Oh thank you Opal. Could you put my walker over there by the high chairs out of the way? What’s the special tonight? I’m so tired of the food over at the Center. I’m ready for something different. Aren’t you Arty? Of course you are. Where’s the menu? Oh here they are. Just give us a few minutes Opal. Oh could you bring me a glass of water? With ice? And a slice of lemon? That would be lovely, thank you dear.”

They sat quietly for just a few moments as Lydia gave the menu her full attention. Opal came back with Lydia’s water. I could barely hear Arty as he ordered his dinner. However I DID hear Lydia order fried chicken, baked potato and vegetable with extra sour cream. Then she settled herself in her chair and began her monologue in earnest.

   “Arty, do you know Hazel Sedwick? She lives right across the hall from me, since Rosie, God rest her soul, passed away. Well, Hazel watched one of those weight loss programs on television one day and decided to go on a diet. This was last fall. She has lost SO much weight, she looks like a ghost! All she will eat are salads and a few pretzels, and maybe some chicken. She carries a little baggie around with carrots and celery in it all the time. I saw her picking the meat out of the pot pie the other night and only eating that. Wasted all that food, she did, it’s shameful really, think of all the people who would be thankful to have that pot pie! And Arty, can you believe it, she had to go out and buy all new clothes? A whole new wardrobe! She bought that treadmill that fills up her whole apartment, and she’s on it all the time. She even walks right through Days of Our Lives, and The Price Is Right. And if the nurse didn’t make her take a break in the afternoon, she would just keep right on going through Judge Judy! And do you know what? She wouldn’t go to visit her daughter this year because she wouldn’t allow Hazel to bring along her treadmill. Imagine that! I think she’s lost her mind, I really do Arty. All new clothes. Can you imagine the expense?”

   This fascinating account was interrupted as Opal brought their food.
I myself, was chuckling into my handkerchief, trying to keep quiet.

Lydia chortled with joy at the sight of the plates of food, like the giant in Jack in the Beanstalk.

   “Oh, that looks delicious. Does yours look delicious Arty?” Arty made a gesture with his fork as if he would get in a word, but he was interrupted by Lydia launching into her running commentary on the food, full mouth and all.

   “My this chicken is nice and moist. Is your meat loaf good Arty? Did they put too much onion and celery in it? I just hate that in a meat loaf. Too much onion and celery can just ruin a good meat loaf. Are you going to eat your sour cream Arty? No? (Arty handed it over) I just LOVE sour cream! I’ll bet Hazel won’t touch sour cream now. Poor thing. What’s the use of living if you can’t have some nice sour cream once in a while?” She asked, as she spooned Arty’s portion directly into her mouth from the little paper cup, leaving a dab of it on perched the corner of her lips.

   “Opal!” she sang out at one point, “Can we have some more rolls?
And butter? Oh, that’s good, thank you. These rolls are surprisingly good don’t you think Arty? We will have to find out where they get them and tell the cook at the Center. Ours always seem so dry. I have to put LOTS of butter on them just to choke them down. But these, these are lovely. Are you going to eat your roll Arty? No? Well I will take care of that for you.”

   She proceeded to slather three pats of butter onto Arty’s roll. (One wonders how many pats were needed over at the Center!)

   She worked her way through her chicken, talking the whole time. She ended up alternately sucking on the end of a chicken bone and waving it in the air for emphasis at Arty, who by now was cowering protectively over his mashed potatoes.

   They finally finished their meal and he helped her disengage herself from her chair with much to do. They made their way out of the main dining area and I realized that except for a few indistinct whispers, Arty had not spoken a real word the entire time.

   The last glimpse I had of him was the price tag swinging from his back pocket as he reached for his wallet. So on top of everything else, the poor man was going to pay for dinner.

   I think I am going to nominate him for Citizen of the Year next time around. If anybody deserves an award, it would be Arty. The man is a saint. Either that, or he had left his hearing aids at home.

  Oh Warren, there are some days I get up laughing, and never stop till I go to bed.  I can’t help myself. I do love this place.

Your Brother.