The next morning George headed to town. He pulled into the police station and stood outside for a while, wondering if he was doing the right thing. Then he walked in.
The dispatcher gave him a big smile and said, “Hey George. Looks like you got something on your mind. How can we help you?”
George replied, “Well, yeah, Sarah. I got some questions. You got any missing persons reports outstanding?” Frank, one of the two patrolmen visually eased himself into the conversation.
Sarah said, after looking at the computer a bit, “No, none I can spot right now, but I can check around with some of the other towns nearby. Why do you ask?”
George cleared his throat, “I found a girl in my woods.” Frank dropped his notebook, and Sarah gasped. “No no no no! She ain’t dead. I heard some noise the other night and went to check it out yesterday morning to discover her camped in the woods. We talked, and she even shared tea with me. I brought her some fish last night and asked if I could bring dinner again tonight.”
Sarah narrowed her eyes at George and asked, “How old is this girl?”
George grinned and said, “If there was any idea of hanky-panky, I’d not have brought it up with you in the room! She’s probably in her mid 20s. She could be my grand daughter, if I’d’ve had any kids. Yeah, I like her. By the way, she said I could bring a guest to dinner tonight, too. Seemed even eager to meet more people. Either of you game?”
Frank said, “Unless Sarah wants to go, I’ll go with you.”
Sarah said, “Yeah, I can check things out later if I feel like I need to,” as she smiled and narrowed her eyes again at George.
“Ya might want to come in civvies, Frank. I’d hate to scare her off to someplace she might be less safe.” said George. "I don't wanna get out to her camp much after 5:30, so I don't disrupt her bedtime schedule," George said.
Frank replied, "I'll try to be to your place about quarter to 5, if that's OK."
"Sounds great," said George. “If you don’t find a missing persons match, might I need to file something like a found person report? Is there any such animal?”
George got home and chopped some potatoes, onions, carrots and celery into a pot, and started to bring it to a boil. He added black pepper, a little salt and two pressed cloves of garlic. When it came to a boil, he threw in a cup of barley and chunked turkey breast, thigh and drumstick. It all came to a boil again and he turned it down to a simmer. Not wanting to dirty up Redtail's stuff, and maybe even more, that he had no idea how or if she washed her eating ware, George packed all the stuff they'd need for dinner.
The stew was off the boil, and packed up when Frank arrived. George packed another backpack and took the thermos of coffee. Frank took the bucket which had the bowl of stew, and they headed out.
George tried to let Frank know sort of what to expect of Redtail. “She’s a screwy girl. I don’t know if she’s got amnesia or something or just trying to hide her identity. I think she made up her name.”
Frank wondered out loud “Suppose she’s on the run from the Law?”
George concluded, “Nah, she’s too nice a kid for that. She might be runnin’ from something, but I don’t think she’s in trouble. She’s also pretty smart –comes up with some neat camping ideas. I just don’t think she’s got a whole lot of practical survival experience. She could use a little help, but not a whole lot.”
Redtail’s camp came within sight. George called out to Redtail. She answered pretty quick, and stood up from the fire she’d just gotten going by her new method. “I found some neat stuff over at Supply,” Redtail said eagerly. “It looks like some sort of antique lighter, like the ones you have to put lighter fluid in. It sparked after I played with the wheel for a while, then I got it to catch on my fat-soaked mouse nests! It was almost as easy as the lighter you gave me, but I’m saving that for emergencies.”
George looked and said, “I remember those Zippos. I also remember the chemical burns on the leg when they got a little over-filled. Redtail, this here’s Frank. He’s a friend of mine from town.”
They exchanged greetings and Redtail said, “If you’re a friend of George, you must be a good guy.”
Frank asked, “Are you just out on a camping trip, or are you lost?”
Redtail replied, matter-of-factly, “It must be a camping trip, because I’m not lost. Lost means you know where you should be, and I don’t think I know where I’m supposed to be, other than here.”
Frank then asked, “How long have you been in the area?”
Redtail smiled and said, “Oh, I’ve been in this area as long as I can remember.”
Frank gave a choked snort, looked at George and held back a frustrated smile. George said, “Yeah, Redtail seems to remember back only about a week, and not a whole lot more. So, besides the lighter whatcha been up to today?”
“It was so fun at the Supply Depot! There was lots of new stuff there, “ said Redtail.
George gave a little grumble, thinking, “Shoot! Another dumper.”
Frank gave George a quick look, thinking the same thing. He broke George’s frustration and asked, “So, did you find any useable items?”
“I got a few things. I found the lighter, and a bunch of wire. I even got a pair of torn jeans. I can pull thread from the seam edge and use it for sewing if I need to. I made a needle, too, from a piece of the wire.” Said Redtail. “I also built a box for that neat cooking stuff you gave me last night.”
George looked around, not seeing Redtail’s new construction, and then it came into sight. “Wow! You got that stuff hid nice! Nobody’s going to find your camp without really hunting.” He smiled and added, “Are you sure you’re not hiding from someone?”
Redtail gave her first negative-looking expression, and replied with a pleasant, yet almost insulted tone, “No! I think the woods are so beautiful I don’t want to spoil the look with my home!” The smile came back as she asked, “You think I did a good job being tactical? I got the box and even the tarp set up right over there,” pointing to a newish-looking brush pile.
George handed Redtail the stew as he went to her hidden tarp and box. Redtail asked, “Do you want me to put this on the fire?”
“Only if it’s not hot enough,” George replied. “I better quit bringing you stuff or it’ll be harder and harder to keep the site nice.”
Redtail said, “You’ve done so much for me already!”
“Well, I got at least one more thing for you, and I think you’ll be pretty well set up.” said George. Both Frank and Redtail looked at him, waiting for him to finish the thought. “You almost got that deer yesterday –out of season, I’ll add, but so you can get other stuff that might be in season, I want to bring you a bow and some arrows. Squirrel’s almost never out of season.” While George finished his thought, Frank took the liberty of getting the dinnerware out of the backpack and Redtail put the stew on the fire. George looked over Redtail’s handiwork.
George came back to dinner and sat down by the fire. “Well, Redtail. Regardless of where you came from, you got some nice background in living out in the wild. You just seem so comfortable with it.”
Redtail replied, “As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing more enjoyable than basking in and admiring God’s handiwork!” Redtail handed him a cardboard soup bowl full of stew and a plastic spoon. They all ate, small-talked and watched the fire.
Frank noted it was starting to get late, and suggested he oughtta be heading home. George said, “Yeah, I better be lettin’ you get to bed and head back, too. I’ll take the dinner trash back up to the house.”
“G’nite George! Good meetin’ you, Frank. Have a safe trip through the woods,” Redtail said as they headed up to the house.
On the way back to the house, Frank and George discussed the evening. “Until she does something illegal or fits a missing persons report, there’s really nothing we can do but protect and serve. You gave her permission to stay on your place, so she isn’t trespassing. Her only possessions seem to be stuff you’ve given her or stuff you said she could have from (he coughed) Supply,” Frank said.
George asked, “You think we oughtta make up some sort of found person report?”
“We could start an unofficial file on her,” Frank said, “to at least create some sort of identity on her. It really couldn’t be a police report, so you could keep it at your place.”
“That gives me a bunch to think on tonight, Frank. I’ll let you know how it turns out.”
“George!” Redtail exclaimed the next morning, “You got all kinds of poison hemlock growing by your barn!” George was startled by Redtail as he stepped out on his back steps to feed the dog. He rubbed his eyes and squinted at Redtail. “Well, maybe not ALL kinds,” she said, “but one, at least, and a lot of it.”
George smiled and sat down on his step. “You know, you’re right about that, but I gotta ask you a question. How do you know it’s poison hemlock and not just wild carrot or Queen Anne’s lace?”
Redtail pondered the question and asked in a tone making it more a statement than a question, “Isn’t wild carrot and Queen Anne’s lace the same thing?”
“Shoot,” said George, “I thought I’d gitcha on that one. Want some coffee?”
“Sure sounds good,” said Redtail as she knelt down by the dog and started petting him. The dog looked up, wagged its tail and went back to eating. “What kind of dog have you got here? He’s nice.”
George looked out the back door and said, “Oh, Mr. Ziffel is a blue heeler/border collie mix. He’s an oldtimer –almost got as much gray hair as I’ve got. How do you want your coffee?”
“Redtail looked around and picked up the dogfood can saying, “We can just rinse this out…” George got that at-a-loss-for-words look and Redtail continued, “…I AM just kidding. Black’s fine.”
George gave a chuckle as he shook his head. He extended an invite, “You can c’mon inside if you like.”
“Nah, I think I’ll stay outdoors as much as I can, but thank you,” she said.
“I just need you to know,” said George, “my place is always open for you. I’m even gonna show you where a key’s kept, in case the door’s locked.”
George returned with 2 big mugs of aromatic black coffee. He unfolded a couple lawnchairs he had leaning against the house and took a seat.
Redtail took a deep breath of the aroma, then a heavily carbureted slurp off the top of the cup. “Mmmm, this is gonna be good. I’ll let it cool a bit.”
“What can you tell me about that hemlock question?” asked George.
“Well, I’m not real sure. I just know one from the other,” answered Redtail.
George began, “I teach survival skills, and wild edibles is a huge part of survival. About hemlock, I also used to just know. I figured I needed a better answer than “Cuz I know,” so I looked into it. The leaves look very similar but hemlock leaves are slightly more geometric –prettier, really. Poison hemlock stems are smooth with purplish flecks to being almost purple-black with the markings. And they’re hollow. Wild carrot or Queen Anne’s lace stems are fuzzy with a pithy center. The flower shapes are different, too. But if you bruise the root, and it doesn’t smell like carrot, don’t eat it! There’s lots of look-alikes out there and I’m still trying to get past the “cuz I just know” stage with lots of them. (shaking his finger in the air) Proper ID! Proper ID! That brings up another topic I think we need to discuss.”
Redtail looked around and paused before saying, “I just checked my schedule and it looks pretty clear.” They both smiled.
“Frank and I were talking last night, and we figured you needed to be identified. Someone, somewhere, has got to be missing you. If you never figure out who you used to be, we thought you at least needed to have a new beginning. Here’s what I came up with last night. Feel free to break in if something feels out of line or if you want to add anything.”
Redtail said, with a little laugh, “OK, this sounds like fun. Might even be informative.”
“Let me start by telling you a little history about our town. Maybe it’s just legend, but anyway, if yours gets wrote down, by the eyewitnesses, it won’t be just The Legend of Redtail.”
Redtail said, “It does have a nice ring to it, but real’s better than just legend.”
George began the tale, “Back in the earlyish 1800s one Spring, the townspeople had finished all the requirements of making Wilder, MO, official. They finally finished the paperwork and headed to the county courthouse. Somehow, on the way, the paperwork got loose and blew into old Derche creek. One of the guys muttered under his breath, “a river Derche, paperwork.” Ever since then that little creek has frequently been referred to as the river, or Arivederci. OK, sorry, back on track. Anyway, most of the townsfolk were there, so they kept on going to the courthouse and got there almost at closing time.
They burst in on the county clerk and in a clamor got new paperwork all signed and handed to the clerk, and he asked, “What’s the name of the town?” Now, the mayor was distracted and didn’t hear the clerk. He assured himself all was well and said, “This’ll do.” The clerk thought he said, “Thistle Dew”, and repeated, “Thistle Dew” and the mayor answered, thinking he was saying the paperwork looked good, and said, “Good! Good!” And the paperwork for Wilder, MO was submitted as Thistle Dew, MO. That’s why the sign at city limits and the mail reads “Thistle Dew” while lots of the buildings in town say “Wilder.” I don’t know how true that is, but that’s the story. With that kind of local misidentification history, I wanted to get you documented. Made up or not, at least you can fall back on something. Seems you’re in just the right place for folks to understand your misidentification.
Since I’m talking “right place”, here’s your address. “114 County Road ZZ, Thistle Dew, MO.” That’s here. And since the townsfolk will start to ask, “Who’s that girl sharing an address with old George Peterson?” I hereby adopt you as my granddaughter, if you’ll have me.”
Redtail smiled and said, “This reality is sounding good. Tell me more, Grandpa.”
George chuckled saying, “Yeah. That does sound good.”
“Frank and I figured a way to keep “Redtail” but “MacSumpneruther” sounds too made up to be realistic on official forms,” suggested George.
Redtail cut in quick, saying, “That was really only ‘til something better came along anyway.”
George breathed a sigh of relief but hesitatingly asked, “The Scotsman thing really isn’t…”
Redtail interrupted again, “Oh, I know I’m not a man. That’s just what the detective at the park called me.”
George let out another sigh of relief and leaned back in his lawn chair. “Good! We figured the Scottish part was still credible. I know some folks whose real names are just initials, and with the Scottish thing, I came up with “RT Scot.” I figure it’s easy and fairly legitimate-sounding. If you like “Redtail” that still fits quite nicely with RT.”
Redtail replied, “Yep, sounds OK so far. I’m George Peterson’s granddaughter, RT Scot. I’m living out at his place for the Summer. Who knows, it might even be longer.”
George said, “Wow, this is going so much easier than I thought.”
RT replied, “Like I said, or at least thought, the whole identity thing was until something better came along. I’ve no memories on which to base a comment like, “Oh no! You’re wrong.” Now it’s getting documented, and it’s official! This is so cool.”
George asked, “How old are you, anyway?” RT smiled and raised her eyebrows. George grinned, “So, you’re not sure. I came up with an idea for that, too, just in case.”
“So when’s my birthday?” asked Redtail.
“We crossed paths a few days ago, and it was a few days before that the old guy at the park named you Redtail, so I set that as your birthday: May 25. I don’t think you’re 30, and I think you’re older than 20. You wanna be 23 or 25?”
“Oh,” Redtail hummed, “I sorta like my life. I’ll pick 23 so there’s more left of it, so I guess that makes it May 25, 1993. If this is my address, can I still live in the woods? I really like it out there.”
“You,” George said, “have permission to live anywhere on the place you want to.”
“Oh, thank you, Grandpa George!” said Redtail as she ran off into the woods smiling.
“I’m gonna have to show her what’s the place and what’s not the place soon,” thought George.
Redtail barely made it to the woods and she stopped quick and ran back to the house. “I almost forgot what I came up here for,” she panted. “Grandpa George,” she smiled, “Do you have about a hundred feet of fishing line I could have, and could you drop by this evening for some stew? I don’t know if it’ll be vegetarian or meaty mammal stew. Depends on the fishing line.”
George said, “Sounds intriguing. Sure, to both questions. It might need some dusting, but I’ve got an old Zebco 33 on a rod out in the barn. You can have it, and I’ll even put some new line on it as soon as I get some in town.”
They walked into the barn, and Redtail said, “I feel almost blind in here. My eyes are so used to being outdoors.”
“I was expecting it, so I squinted a bit first,” said George. They walked down a short hall and turned right, and George picked the fishpole off its nail on the wall. He also grabbed a lightweight bow and a handful of arrows. George handed both to Redtail.
She said, “I’ll keep these in really nice shape. Thank you!” After a short pause, she smiled and added, “Grandpa.” Redtail squinted again as they got back outside.
George said, “You’ll get used to the eye thing.”
Redtail said she had lots of work to do before dinner, so she’d better head off to the woods. “Dinner should be ready late in the afternoon, if all works out well. And I’ll try to make enough for company,” said Redtail.
George said, “I’ll be there.”
They parted ways for the day. Redtail got back to her site with the fishpole and bow and went straight to work. She baited a spot on a brushpile and placed a snare, made from fishing line and waited. It didn’t take long and the aroma of her bait reached the wood rat. The rat popped up from the pile, sniffed around a bit and cautiously approached the bait. It stepped close. Sniffed a bit more, then settled in on the meal. When Redtail thought it was positioned just right, she yanked the fishpole hard, and the snare tightened around the neck and one leg of the rat. She swung it hard enough that when it smacked down against the ground, it was stunned. RT rushed in and whacked it dead with a stick.
Redtail picked up the rat and cleaned it fast, so the bruising wouldn’t have time to set in, or burst organs could contaminate the meat. She set the trap again, after hanging the rat on a wire along with several almost-dry mouse bodies from yesterday. She had the feeling she was starting to understand why shrikes impaled their game. Up near the barn, Redtail managed to dig up half a dozen decent-sized wild parsnips and about 30 little wild carrots, as many wild onions and a handful of chickweed and dead nettle. She still looked, but didn’t find any wild garlic. Redtail worked ‘til a bit after lunch time and figured she had enough fixings for a decent meal of stew for three, and maybe even four.
George called city hall to see if he could catch Frank and let him know of the morning chat with Redtail. “No,” Sarah said, “Frank’s on a fender-bender out on the highway. Sounds like you got a lulu of a screwball with Redtail.”
“Careful, Sarah, that’s my granddaughter you’re talkin’ about there,” answered George.
Sarah, sounding surprised, said, “Well George, I never knew you had any…”
George interrupted Sarah with, “ADOPTED granddaughter. We agreed on it this morning and this should make you happy: you’re the first to know. Ready to meet her tonight at dinner?”
Sarah suggested, “Might be short notice for that, unless you’re fixing the dinner. That, in itself, might give me pause to think.”
George laughed, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Redtail’s fixing the dinner and she already said she’s fixin’ extra in case of guests. You’ll probably be surprised.”
Meanwhile, at Redtail’s camp, she busily dry-scrubbed the dirt off her root vegetables, rinsed all the fixings and cut them into the stew. She soaked the dried meat and stripped it from the bone as best she could. Into the pot went the meat. “This’ll have a couple hours to simmer to nice and tender! I should run back up to the house to see if I can find any peppergrass for extra flavor,” Redtail thought.
George took a trip not just to town, but he drove the old truck all the way in to the Higginsburg Walmart where he knew he’d find an enticing variety of soda and chips to supplement whatever Redtail was preparing. On his way back to Food, George stopped and looked into a mysterious part of the store. To him, it was almost like the dark, forbidding forest of fantasy movies. He wondered, “I don’t think that girl’s even got a change of clothes.”
He detoured from Food and stepped into Women’s Clothing for the first time in the years since his wife passed. The memories did not come flooding back, because when he and his wife went shopping, he usually went to Hardware, Automotive or Sporting Goods while she did the fabricky stuff. The few times he did venture into that Otherworld, were usually spent averting his eyes from the frilly colorful undergarments and looking only for specifics like “black, knee-high socks”
His daze was broke by the sales girl when she asked, “Can I help you find something?”
George said, “Ah, yeah, I hope so. I want to find some working-in-the-woods clothes for my granddaughter, but I have no clue where to start. I’m not even sure of her size.”
The clerk said, “Well, you might be in the right department. How old is your granddaughter?”
George smiled, “That, I know! She’s 23 –had a birthday just late last month.”
The girl took George to women’s jeans and khakis. He looked blankly, not knowing where to start when three late-teen girls went giggling past. George said, “She’s a little taller than her, but built more like the girl on the left, but rounder –not skinny, or fat, but, well, pretty.” The clerk made suggestions and he picked a pair of olive slacks and two brown and green plaid cotton shirts.
The clerk suggested, “Louie’s Farm and Home carries a bigger selection of women’s work and outdoor clothes.”
On his way to Food, George almost closed his eyes while grabbing as medium a 3-pack of undies as he could, and then a mediumish 3-pack of cotton socks. George thought, “I’m really gonna have to have her come in to pick out anything else.”
In Food, George looked at the vast array of cola products –at least four different brands and a multitude of flavors in each. George thought, “No store brand tonight. We’re goin’ for the good stuff,” as he took a two-liter bottle each of Diet Coke, a regular Coke, a Mountain Dew and a Diet 7-Up off the shelf. “Oh man, I should’ve gotten a cart,” he thought. He did an about face and scanned left and right and up and down ‘til he found his purple Doritos and the Nacho Cheese Doritos. “This is so much easier than Women’s Clothing,” he said out loud. The guy shopping with a passing woman gave a chuckle.
Back home, George packed up his dinner bag as Sarah was pulling in. He wondered what the mystery mammal might be, but for some reason, neglected to hint to Sarah what she might be getting into. Maybe it was because of his harrowing shopping experience. They headed off to Redtail’s camp. George started to regale Sarah on his adventure at Walmart. She pretty much rolled her eyes and laughed at him, saying she’d barely try to pick something out for another woman, herself. As they neared the camp, it actually smelled like something was cooking.
Redtail spotted them before they saw her. She said, “I think I’m getting better at hearing differences in the woods. I actually heard you from quite a way off, not that you were being loud or anything.”
“Redtail,” George said, “I’d like you to meet one of my really-good friends, Sarah.”
“Glad to meet you. So far, I’m seeing any friend of George’s is a friend of mine. Is she like a girlfriend?” Redtail asked.
Sarah said, “Oh no. We’re just good friends. I think lots of people think we’re an item, but I like to think we’re best friends …or?” Sarah looked at George with a twinkle in her eye.
Redtail said, “I don’t mind, at all. I’m George’s granddaughter. Are you guys hungry?”
George said he was, and handed Redtail the soda, and the package, giftwrapped in a paper bag. George said, “Happy birthday, a bit late.” With a soft, delighted squeal, Redtail looked at the package and back at George, who said, “Go ahead, open it.”
“Oh wow! I really really needed this! Thank you!” said Redtail. She wanted to try it all on right then, but reluctantly set it down in her ‘house’.
She returned to the stew pot and took out bowls, cups and utensils. “I hope y’all are hungry,” she said, “I think there’s lots. The day lilies didn’t thicken it quite as much as I’d have liked, but they add a faint peppery bite. I’ve got some minced peppergrass greens for more seasoning, if you like.” She handed the loaded bowls to Sarah and George. George set his down and poured drinks.
“This is pretty good. What do you call it?” asked Sarah. George looked up hesitatingly.
“I call it ‘rodent stew’,” said Redtail.
“How did you make it?” asked Sarah, assuming it was squirrel.
Redtail began, as Sarah and George each seemed to run into a little bone, “I got the mice while I was getting fire-starter…” Sarah froze in mid-chew. “ …and the rats, I snared this morning.” Sarah set her bowl down and examined the little bone. Redtail said, “I tried to get all the bones, but some didn’t want to break loose from the dried meat before I put it in the stew. I think it turned out pretty good.”
George kept eating, but Sarah said she’d had a pretty big lunch.
George said, “This is some pretty tasty stuff here,” as he finished his bowl and picked up Sarah’s. He asked, with a hidden smirk, “Do you mind if I finish yours?” Sarah gave a glare, but with a slight smile behind it.
Sarah knew about George’s culinary experimentation, so very little truly shocked her. “Oh, sure, go ahead George.” She refilled her drink. Sarah asked Redtail, “So what do you see yourself doing in the near future?”
Redtail said, “I don’t really know. I’d sort of like to find out more about myself, but in the meantime, I’m really enjoying life like I feel I’ve never done before.”
Sarah suggested, “George, you oughtta bring her into town and show her around a bit. Maybe something’ll jog her memory.”
George said, “I think that’d really be fun. What do you think of the idea, Redtail?”
“Something about ‘going to town’ makes me nervous. It’s not a big town, is it?” asked Redtail.
Up 'til now, Redtail always showed a friendly, joyful disposition. This morning, however, she was nervous. She tried to hide it, but Redtail was obviously not herself. She got to George's door, knocked once and slowly pushed it open and peeked in. "Good morning, Grandpa George," she said with a bit of tenseness.
George looked from the sink, thinking she actually looked frightened and said, "Good morning. You OK?"
RT sat down at the kitchen table. "I don't know. There's something about a city I find unnerving, but I'm not sure what it is."
"Wilder's not at all a city like most folks think. It's barely even a town. Ya know, it's more a mall-like museum than anything. It's really one of the more peaceful places you'll find," said George. Redtail gave George a skeptical smile. He said, "Oh, you'll be just fine. If it'll make you feel better, I can be with you the whole time."
With a bit of reassuredness in her voice, Redtail slowly said, "Oh, OK."
George was finishing up some dishes and prepping some fresh-picked lamb's quarter for storage. "You want some coffee," he asked?
"Oh, prob'ly not this morning," Redtail said as she got up and helped herself to a glass. "Maybe just some water."
Dishes were finished, so George washed up the soaking greens. He stripped the coarser stems and rinsed the tender stuff in a colander. He offered Redtail some before he bagged it. She smiled and took a handful. "
I like lamb's quarter," she said, "It's good raw, steamed, baked in bread and even makes a good quiche."
"Sounds like you'd have fun in a full kitchen," said George. Redtail smiled. George continued, "Looks like this is it. Let's muster up that courage and head out."
Out the back door, Mr. Ziffel met George and Redtail for some head-pats. When he saw they were headed to the truck, he put a healthy spring in his step and a vigorous wag in his tail.
"Oh, OK. You can come too, old boy," George said as he dropped the tailgate. Mr. Ziffel put his front paws on the tailgate and watched as George pulled two weathered 2 by 6s fastened together with 1 by 2 slats from the bed. He dropped one end to the ground and Mr. Ziffel ran up the ramp and into the bed. "He can't jump up there like he used to, but he still loves those force-fed aromas and airborne tastes from the ride," George said as he closed the tailgate. "He's eager to go, so it can't be all that bad," he added.
"Oh, I know it'll be OK,” moped Redtail as she dragged her feet to the passenger door of the truck.
Both doors opened at about the same time, and the breeze took a puff of dust out and into George's face. With a bit of a cough, George said, "I really gotta get this thing cleaned out."
"I don't know," said Redtail, "the dust sort of gives a peaceful, calm, soft-focus, almost surreal feel to everything."
George said, "I gotta remember that, if I ever need an excuse not to clean it."
Redtail scooted some dusty junk-mail and a spool of fence wire to the middle of the seat and climbed in. Mr. Ziffel eagerly paced back and forth behind the cab. Redtail poked around the seat a while and finally fished the seatbelt end back to accessibility. "Click click" went both seatbelts.
The truck started and rumbled to life. “My wife, Mae-Mae, was a bit peodorized when I brought this old truck home. It was a friendly bone of contention between us for those few years before she passed. She was on her deathbed and laughed as she choked out, “OK, I give in. The truck WAS a good buy. It’s sure gonna outlast me.”” George swallowed the lump in his own throat and continued, “Yep, it’s probably gonna outlast me, too.”
Redtail said, “It sounds like she would’ve been fun to meet.”
“Considering what all she put up with, she must’ve been the most patient thing on Earth,” George said with a smile. He sighed again, “Life’s been good to me so far. Dang! Now I got Joe Walsh stuck in my head.” George started singing, “My old green pick-up can do 65. I got a license, and I still drive.” Redtail rolled her eyes, grinned, and with mock-disgust in her voice, said, “Gray-um-pa!”
During the short almost four mile trip to town, Redtail loosened up a bit. They small-talked and Redtail studied the plants along the road. She thought she even spotted a garlic patch. George pulled into City Hall, let out a deep breath and asked Redtail, “Well, you ready for this?”
She hesitated, looked around and said, “This isn’t very big.”
“This is the ordinary side of town. The special stuff is yet to come,” George said. Across the road from City Hall was a gas station, café and garage business. It was the biggest road-frontage business in town. One car was being refueled and three parked in front of the café. George said, “I’ll buy us lunch over there a little later. What say we drop in here and say ‘Hi’ to Sarah?” Redtail smiled and they walked in.
Sarah looked up from her paperwork. "Well, Hi, you two! Seems like it's been at least overnight since I've seen y'all. Welcome to Thistle Dew, Redtail."
"Thank ya ma'am," Redtail giggled.
Sarah asked, "George, has she seen the Wilder side of things yet?"
"Nope, not yet, but it's a-comin'," replied George. Redtail gave an expression of hesitation again. George said, "Oh, it's not ‘wilder’ like more-intense, but ‘Wilder’ as opposed to ‘Thistle Dew.’ I think you'll like it. Let's walk through here and out the back door."
George stepped through the back door of City Hall and held the door for Redtail. Sarah was close behind. She wanted to see Redtail's reaction.
"This... is... so... cool! It's like stepping out of a time machine into a Wild West town," gasped Redtail. She stomped a couple times on the wood back porch of City Hall and admired the tin awning that overhung the whole porch. As she turned around, she spotted the "Wilder Jail" sign on City Hall. "Wow! This is wonderful! It's so 1800s, well, except for the truck dropping off mail at the Post Office and the car parked in front of the library."
George and Sarah smiled like grandparents with little excited grandkids on Christmas morning. "The whole town's pretty proud of the restoration work. Higginsburg's got a weekend called "Dog Days", but we got a weekend, a week, and a finale weekend of festivities where we block off the roads from anything but period 1800s traffic --and sightseers on foot. It's called, ‘Walk on the Wilder Side.’," explained George.
George continued with a hand-gesture, "Boardwalks and almost-period store-fronts all around the town square, bands and shows on the square stage, whittlers on rocking chairs... Sarah, did we have the gunfight last year? Oh Redtail, you missed some of that by a couple weeks. The weekend two weeks before Memorial Day is sort of a farewell to Spring 1800s thing."
"I want to look at all of it! Where should I start? Oh, I feel like it's my first trip to a big playground my friends had been telling me about!" said Redtail.
George said, "Let's try clockwise, starting at Sarah's Place."
Redtail looked at Sarah with smiling disbelief. Sarah said, "Yep, it's mine, and so's the next building." Sarah unlocked the door to their first stop. She went in first and turned on lights from behind the bar. The electric chandelier and wall-sconces lit up to make a realistic look of gas light.
Redtail said, "A saloon. Why, Sarah, I didn't take you for a saloon girl."
Sarah laughed and said, "When we're open for business, the hardest stuff we serve is ginger ale. This place was originally a clothing and hat shop. My husband bought the bar and saloon fixin’s off Gus in the mid-'70s. Nineteen '70s, that is. Gus has got the big place straight across the square from the jail. He needed the space when his fishin' tackle business started to take off. His great-grand dad built and ran the original saloon. Gus was happy to see the stuff stay in town."
George added, "Sarah and I run the saloon now, during Farewell to Spring weekend and Saturdays and Sunday afternoons in late July through August and for the two weekends and in-between week of Walk on the Wilder Side right before school starts in Higginsburg. If you're still around, you might have fun. We got a full kitchen to keep Wilder Edibles flowin'."
Sarah mentioned, "We also let people use this place for meetings and stuff, so it stays fairly clean through use."
"This is so cool. What's in your museum next door?" asked Redtail.
Sarah began, “The museum is where we do data collection and artifact collection. Not only do we collect information and stuff, we also like to share it. We all like to look for neat stories and when we find ‘em, we put ‘em in the museum to always keep ‘em alive.
Redtail asked, “Can I see it?”
George said, “Why sure, and don’t forget to sign the guest register. That way, your documentation can begin to be official.”
Three sets of feet, clomp, clomp clomping on the boardwalk made their way to the museum. Sarah told Redtail, “Go ahead. Open the door.”
Fifteen kids looked up from books and one of the elder ones got up. With a smile, he eagerly spoke, “Welcome! We’re The Relics, because we’re based here at the Museum. How can we assist you?”
Redtail looked at the kids and the boy who stood up, then at George and Sarah. “This isn’t quite what one would expect of a museum,” she said cheerfully.
George smiled and said, “Yeah, home-schoolers can be a little different, but we love ‘em! Rick, tell my granddaughter here about our town’s restoration project.”
One of the littler girls said, with a self-assured tone, “She has to sign the guest register first!”
“Henceforth, it is official, announced Redtail with a smile and ceremonial tone as she signed the guest register for her first time: RT “Redtail” Scot. “I’m documented!” exclaimed Redtail, “and in the museum of Wilder, Missouri!”
George told the kids, “Redtail’s got an interesting story we’ll need to document in here some day.”