By Tim Henney
My 1957 bride, Jacquelynn, and I once lived in Logan, Utah, a college town. The university president’s name was Kermit, like the famous frog. The president, however, was tall, thin, and not very green. He was more industrialist than tree hugger. At a summer evening reception (college presidents thrive on receptions) his wife discreetly confided, “I love this town in summer. All the students are gone.” Similarly, we like Sandpoint better after Labor Day. All the tourists are gone.
We are grateful for the business and diversity tourists bring. For the vibrancy they add to our economy. Without a flourishing downtown, ski mountain and beach we’d be just another place to drive past. (How a flourishing Walmart changes a community is a different story). Fact is, hiking the City Beach path feels more comfy after Labor Day.
Had the beach and park been jammed with vacationers on a recent post-season morning stroll, we would not have heard the insistent “psssst!” as we passed Sandpoint’s beachfront statue of liberty. She was staring at us. “Psssst.” We approached. Someone had painted her green toenails purple. Probably Mandy in the Old Powerhouse. She paints toes for a living. Suddenly, to our astonishment, the lady of liberty held up a copy of the Reader. It was open to a recent story about ladies who make Sandpoint tick. Paraphrasing the movie “Field Of Dreams,” she whispered, “Write about more ladies of the day and they will read.”
We asked if she might mean ancient Egypt’s Queen Nefertiti. Antiquities experts have recently disclosed that Nefertiti, who went missing 3,300 years ago, might be buried in a chamber of King Tut’s tomb. “No, you losers,” she hissed. “Get with the program!” Then she whispered names of local ladies of the day, all of whom we knew. Ladies who adore their jobs, their customers, their lives. At least they seem to. We might be liberals, but we’re not unpatriotic. We obey the statue of liberty. We split.
First stop is Image Maker, downtown. Randi sees us coming and cranks up the machinery. She punches the buttons needed to process our prints. She knows that, left on my own, I’ll hit the wrong ones. Everything will hum in reverse. We thank her, pay up, and head over to see Anna, Dr. Zach Halversen’s nurse, at Family Health Center. After nearly six decades together, Jacquelynn claims to be having trouble hearing what I say. If true, it’s a pity. Think what she’s missing. Anna sticks a weird, doctor-type flushing device into my bride’s ears. Sure enough, crumbs of something dribble out. Minced carrots? Nice. We had planned on a Mexican lunch but my appetite has vanished. We saunter through the adjoining Healing Garden.
This tranquil oasis of trees, flowers, fountains, rocks and pathways nourishes the soul. As we bask in the fragrant hush of a rose garden in bloom, a dense wall of adjacent foliage starts shaking and mumbling. It is scary, like the plant in “Little Shop Of Horrors” who kept demanding, “Feed me, Seymour.” Fearing for our lives, we turn to run. Then the bushes, like the sea, part. Instead of Moses it is our friend Martha, a volunteer with clippers and trowel in hand and dirt on her nose. The Healing Garden is bursting with happy surprises.
Appetite rebooted, we drive out to Fiesta Bonita on Kootenai Cutoff Road. With a twinkle in her eye and a cheery “Buenos Dias, Senora y Senor,” Sahara seats us. Without our asking she brings my favorite beer. And ketchup for Jacquelynn. (Ketchup on everything is a habit my bride shared with the late Tricky Dick Nixon. I didn’t even share that with him). Jacquelynn say “gracias” to Sahara, who says “de nada.” Not wanting to be excluded, I add “el burro no es grande.” Having studied high school Spanish in 1947, I remember only “el burro no es grande.” On several visits to Spain “el burro no es grande” has impressed hotel clerks, waiters, retailers and customs officials. Also skilled in German, at a Heidelburg hotel in 1972 I astounded the young breakfast waiter with “Gooten Morgen.” Surprised that an Ugly American knew German, he started conversing rapidly. I panicked and held up my hands. Then, for reasons I can’t imagine, I said “el burro no es grande!” I don’t remember what he brought, but it wasn’t breakfast.
During lunch Jacquelynn remembers she needs something to discourage nocturnal deer from munching on the catalpa tree. We drive to Ponderay Garden Center. Our pal Summer works there. She is a naturalist and a botanist. Like all Sandpoint ladies of the day, Summer is a happy camper. We buy deer repellant from Summer. We also buy a clematis bush. That night my bride generously sprinkles repellant around the catalpa tree. The deer feast on the clematis bush.
It is 2:30 and our dogs, Copper and Tippy, have bath and toenail clipping appointments. Not to demean our clean, clear lake, but the dogs swim in it, have thick coats, and stink. When I hose them off at home they twist, moan, groan, shiver and shake. Same with toenails. They go ballistic. Not so at Pooch Parlor. Owner DuAnn hoists 65-pound Copper into the air and into the shower tub. She tells me to bend down and stare directly into Copper’s eyes. Seriously? I bend and stare. She snips his grizzly bear nails. She douses him with a soapy shower, a vigorous scrub, then a rinse. Finally, a noisy hot air blower. Not a peep. Copper stands like the City Beach statue. With furrowed brow, he stares into my eyes as I stare into his. Dog hypnosis? I might have made big bucks had I known I had the talent.
With damp, squeaky-clean dogs in the back seat, we stop by Sandpoint Super Drug. My bride picks up a prescription from smiling Debbie at the pharmacy. I annoy Donna, who is restocking the shelves and trying to ignore me. Debbie and Donna are two of many who make shopping at this family owned, family run, small town business a treat. My bride and I grew up with stores like this in Southern California. In Southern California, you say? You’re kidding! No we aren’t. SoCal, as we say these days, was a special place back in the day. Way back. Before freeways, smog, Disneyland, big box stores, Dodger Stadium, shopping malls, supermarkets, lethal road rage. Before America moved there. More like Sandpoint is now. Gas stations, garages, stores and shops where people knew you and you knew them. Community. Continuity. Congeniality. Gone with the wind.
Before heading home we return books to the library. Like the Panida and the lake, our library is a gem. Upstairs, the Sunday New York Times. Downstairs, a cast so knowledgeable, so positive, so charming, someone should produce a musical about them. David, Gordon, Craig and other men are heavy hitters at the library. But this column is about ladies. We visit briefly with Ann, Michelle, Amanda, Teresa and Susan. Briefly because they are busy helping people. Really busy. They must be exhausted when they finally go home. Too bad for Susan. She chairs the Panida board and has a meeting tonight. Some years ago Susan was one of three “Panida Moms” who rallied the citizenry, raised money, and saved the theater from destruction. Imagine Sandpoint without the Panida! Like applesauce without apples. Like Batman without Robin. Like Sandpoint without our remarkable ladies of the day.