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Somewhere in Eastern WA...

The Find

At a combination gas station/Taco Time in the middle of wheat country in a northwestern state that shall remain nameless, I inquire about an inn that has an address that does not exist. The attendant and her girlfriends, smoking cigarettes and drinking diet pop, are stumped. One of them recalls a place across town, which prompts the attendant to dig through a stash of maps for hiking, hunting and fishing and produce a brochure for a handsome Victorian Bed & Breakfast.

My friend, Bernardo, who is traveling with me, agrees that we should check it out. When we arrive, the setting looks like the picture on the brochure — a big yellow Victorian, white trim, wrap-around porch. So far; so good. We go up the path across the trim green lawn, daffodils, tulips and grape hyacinth in bloom, onto the porch, only to see a cardboard clock on the door indicating "back at 6." It's quarter till six, so we take a chance and ring the bell. No movement, except dogs barking from within. We wait a bit, peek in the windows, sit on the porch swing, and finally decide to leave. Just then, a middle-aged man opens the door a crack and nervously peeks out. He explains desperately that he can't open the door because he mustn't let the cat out.

"Kitty, kitty," the man calls frantically behind him. "Where are you kitty?"

"You mean that one?" Bernardo says, pointing to the cat on the lawn that just streaked out the door between us.

"Oh! Bad Kitty," the man shouts, lunging out the door, advancing toward the cat, who, struck with fear, lurches toward the highway. I want to scream "No!" but instead grab Bernardo's arm almost digging my fingernails into his flesh through his jacket, as though this gesture would somehow hold the cat back. The man, whom we have guessed is the proprietor, stalks the cat, which darts back and forth on the lawn, bewildered, terrorized, suddenly on a planet unknown in every element. Thankfully, the cat dashes under the side porch at which point a woman in her late seventies, wearing slippers, a faded housedress and red apron shuffles out from the house in a panic. The proprietor shows her where the cat has hidden and both of them kneel, looking under the porch. We take this as our cue to depart, but the proprietor leaves the woman to deal with the cat and directs us back onto the porch and inside to be greeted by two overfed dogs that are tied to the kitchen table.

The pall of cloistered winter hangs in the air — steam heat, bacon fat, dogs, cats and humans confined.

The original 1890's interior woodwork is in fairly good shape as are the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s furnishings. It is a jolting contrast, the grand Victorian structure, the Naugahyde couch. But the proprietor is proud.

"The Hostess and I bought this place seventeen years ago as is and didn't need to do a thing. We just moved our things in."

We nod approvingly. It is exactly as we guessed. After shushing the dogs, the proprietor shows us the parlor and dining room, then gestures toward the ornate oak staircase.

We step onto the stained gold shag carpeting of the stairs and suddenly Bernardo looks at me in balking horror reminiscent of that poor cat. However, I am too curious and follow the proprietor's lead. Bernardo reluctantly follows, only, I think, in a wonderful macho gesture of protection in case the proprietor has an axe hidden in one of the rooms with which to dispatch potential guests.

The upstairs rooms are a marvel of faded 1940s chenille spreads and amazing wallpaper. My favorite room is covered floor to it's 14' ceilings in yellow and white huge petal-ed fantasy flowers on a brown background — the classic '60s flower style that one can find still tacked on glass patio doors. A brass bed, an olive bedspread. And yet, the pristine golden oak carved baseboards, window trim, and crown molding. We breeze through the tour as briskly as possible although our proprietor launches into various stories about some of the former guests, including how one gentleman and his wife preferred the room with twin beds because the husband had a bad back and slept restlessly.

"Interesting," says Bernardo a little too sincerely. But the proprietor is pleased.

"Isn't it? Oh, we get all sorts here. Lots of stories."

"I bet," Bernardo says, leaning casually on the stairwell rail, like he's ready to stay for hours. I know he's paying me back for having gotten us upstairs and I'm about ready to accidentally shove him down the stairs when, luckily, the proprietor starts describing breakfast choices which makes us think of that kitchen and the animals confined therein. We make our farewells as nicely and as quickly as possible and leave.

We try to restrain ourselves from running to the car and as we depart, our last vision: "The Hostess," whom we suspect is really "mother," under the porch, only a bit of leg and the slippers exposed.

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