Summer ’86: Part IX

As I pulled into the tiny hamlet of Kettle Falls, which appeared closed for Sunday, I thought, “Oh, my God, how am I going to find anyone who knows Kay and her whereabouts?” Fortunately, there was one place open, The Crossroads Café where the chief cook knew a Kay Beckwith (her former hubby’s name), but had only a clue as to where she lived, and that was somewhere up in the nearby mountains.  He did suggest trying the Barstow Grocery about 10 miles north on Hwy 395.  I thanked him and thought, “Was I getting close?”

As I pulled up to the store, I noticed a rugged-looking young guy sitting on a motorcycle, befitting a mountain man.  I asked him, “Do you happen to know where I could find a Kay Beckwith and her man friend Jimmer?”  He replied, “Sure I do.  Just follow me up that dirt road.”  I couldn’t believe my luck.  After chugging along for about a mile, we came to a gated fence where there just happened to be several of the local gentry hangin’ around.  My Harley friend, acting as an intermediary, explained to them my situation.  They opened the gate and waved me on through with friendly but cautious glances.  I felt like I was going into no-mans land, but I could sense I was just about there.

My heart was pounding like mad as I came into view of the small wood-frame cabin.  I knew instinctively that I had arrived.  I stopped about a hundred feet from the front porch, honked the horn, and got out.  Kay stepped out and I could see her amazed expression.  We met halfway and after a big hug, she exclaimed, “I can’t believe I’m seeing you.  How did you ever find me?”  I simply said, “By hook and crook, my dear.  I’ll explain it all later.”  I met Kay’s adopted 14 year-old son Clint and soon after Jimmer showed up.

Kay rustled up a simple meal of spaghetti and meatballs over a wood-burning stove, and then we retired to a candle-lit living area. That’s right, no electricity and no gas, but they did have running water by means of a spring-fed well.  We sat around bantering around the pros and cons of modern day America (in particular, the latter).  Jimmer offered me a “hit” off of his joint which I graciously declined. It was becoming obvious that Kay and Jimmer had chosen to divorce themselves from mainstream America.  They were mountain people, a throwback to the flower power of the 1960s and 70s, and loving it.

It finally got dark around 10 P.M. when I excused myself and made my way to Ol’ Blue through a darkness that was as black as black could be.  The only thing leading my way was the reflection of the stars off the front chrome bumper.  I had never ever experienced such a total blackout.  I was worlds away from any light pollution.  I reclined in the van bed, gazing up at a galaxy of stars and wondering how I could have been so lucky to find my dear friend.  It had been the longest and most eventful day that I could ever remember having.  I really, really thanked The Lord that night for getting me there safely.

After a splendid breakfast, I earned my fare by dragging out my 36-inch axe and splitting some logs for firewood.  Geeez, it felt terrific doing some strenuous manual labor out in the fresh mountain air.  Earlier over breakfast, Clint had mentioned that he was really getting to like baseball, so I dragged out my 34-inch Louisville Slugger, a glove, and a couple of baseballs and with two of his friends, we played a game of “pepper” in the front yard. Gosh, that was fun!  Later, some of Jimmer’s buddies dropped by and one of them said, “C’mon, Bill, we’re going to show you around some areas no other outsider has ever seen.”

The five of us jumped into Jimmer’s pickup (3 in front, 2 in the back bed) and took off on a sacroiliac-jarring journey on no more than a cow path across the mountainside. We passed by an abandoned school bus, which Jimmer explained was their home for a couple of years while the cabin was being built.  We eventually reached a summit where the view was unbelievable.  Below was the confluence of the Kettle and Columbia Rivers, and with a stretch of the imagination, one could see Canada to the north and Idaho to the east.  All I could say to them was, “I feel very privileged to be here.”  They all gave a nod of acknowledgement.

On the way back on Rocky Road, we finished off the rest of the Coors six packs as I enjoyed a camaraderie with guys I hardly knew.  One guy said (I can’t recall his name), “If you’re a longtime friend of Kay, you’re an okay friend.”  That said it all.  I felt like I had been initiated into a fraternity.  Back at the cabin, I found Kay tending to her vegetable garden and I had to tell her what a wonderful time I had with all the good ol’ boys.  She said, “I had no doubt you’d fit right in with them.” I commented that they seemed fairly self-sufficient, and she said, “Yep, we got all the veggies and fruit we need plus what salmon we catch and deer we shoot.  The only reason to go into town is for a few packaged goods like milk and coffee.”

After dinner, we sat around talking about what a genuinely good way of life they had discovered up in the wilderness of Washington. When I mentioned that it seemed like a communal-style of living, Kay agreed, saying, “We all share things with each other like swapping tomatoes for apples or a tire for a clutch. We help each out when someone gets sick. It’s a way of life we’ve adopted.” I couldn’t help but say, “It’s beautiful country with beautiful people.”  Then I had to add, “Kay, I can’t believe when I met you back in Dallas you were a high-flying Braniff stewardess.  You’ve come a long way, babe.”  She got a good chuckle out of that. Having exhausted ourselves of good talk, I retired to the bosom of Ol’ Blue for one more night in God’s country.

The next morning, I met Kay and Clint at the Crossroads Café for a farewell breakfast.  I told her I had photographed their house and that an original Early watercolor would be forthcoming.  She was driving to Spokane to pick up Mom for her first visit to the mountain cabin.  I’d bet that was one eventful week.  I went west on State Hwy 20 through a multitude of apple orchards.  After all, I was driving through the Apple Capital of America.  I stopped in the tiny town of Republic for gas, which was now selling for $1.05 a gallon, the first time I had ever seen gasoline go for more than a dollar a gallon.  I wandered my way across northern Washington on the same State Hwy 20 through little towns in what I liked to call the Northwest Territory.