In Which Al and Lottie Do Not Go to Washington

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A left-handed lady of short memory who lives just outside of New Mexico writes to ask when that story appeared about the cherry blossoms. I think it was in 1944.

But I'm not sure.

If in this great matter my own memory helps, it wasn't about cherry blossoms at all. I don't remember writing about cherry blossoms. Lilacs, yes, and how Henry Beston wound his necktie on Mother Bell's telephone so it wouldn't interrupt his breakfast. And about some few other things and so on. But I surmise with a wry smile that the lady is thinking about the time Al and Lottie didn't go to Washington. Which I think was in 1944. They didn't go again in 1945, and somehow I have a feeling Al and Lottie never went to see the cherry blossoms at all. But it was in 1945 that they didn't go in particular. The way I remember it, it went like this:

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Al and Lottie, with their only child, Reuben, lived on Piety Ridge, just across the unpaved street from Sadie Milliken. Accordingly, these good people, and everybody else on Piety Ridge, shared the same party telephone line. It was the 146 line. Sadie was 146-ring-5, and the Dyers, who were Al, Lottie, and little Reuben, were 146-ring-3.

In addition, there were 13 other subscribers on the 146 line. On those old party lines, you always lifted the receiver to listen before you cranked Central, to find out if somebody else was using the line. You could also "listen in" and hear other people talking. Sadie Milliken liked to listen in.

So on this particular morning, which may have been in early spring, 1945, Lottie Dyer was talking on the telephone to her sister, Iola, who lived across town. Lottie said, among other things, "I have my washing done, and Al and I will be on our way."

Sister Iola was perfectly aware of the import of this conversation. Namely, that Lottie had done her laundry early because she and her husband, Al, were about to ride into Portland, about 25 miles, to collect the monthly rents on some tenement properties Al owned there.

But Sadie Milliken, who was listening in, got a quite different message, perhaps because of the imperfect quality of telephone lines at that time. Sadie thought that Lottie had said, "Al and I are off to Washington."

It thus ensued that the community was alerted in almost no time at all to the news, spread by Sadie Milliken, that Al and Lottie Dyer had left that morning for Washington, D.C.

There was conjecture about the village as to why they were on this trip, and it is true that Mrs. Donald Knotts, when Sadie told her, did ask, "Why in the world did they go now? It's too late for the cherry blossoms!"

I don't seem to remember that cherry blossoms came into this story other than that. Perhaps, for one reason, the story is sufficient without them. For shortly after Al and Lottie drove off, Wildcat Smith, local plumber and chief of the fire department, went past the Dyer home. He noticed the double doors on Al's garage were open. It crossed his mind that Al would be gone at least several days, and the doors should be shut, not only against thievery but also against the weather. Wildcat accordingly swung in, closed the doors, and set the lock.

Now as Al had started to get into his automobile in the garage that morning, he had paused to say to Lottie, "It's so nice, I won't need my jacket," and he took his suit-coat off and laid it across the step going into the house, for the garage was attached. And when Wildcat Smith saw Al's jacket there on the step, he said to himself, "That's no place to leave a suit-coat," and he opened the door into the house and laid Al's jacket carefully on a kitchen chair. Then he set the lock and closed the door.

Al and Lottie, when they made this monthly trip to Portland to collect rents, never took lunch. Instead, they'd stop in at the Moustakis Sweetshop on Congress Street and have a banana split apiece. Moustakis did make the best banana splits known, and one made a good substitute for lunch. So Al had taken enough pocket money from his jacket to pay Moustakis, and had left his wallet in the pocket.

The key to the garage, and also the key to the house, were with the wallet, and now Al found that somebody (Wildcat Smith) had closed his garage doors and had locked them. Al did not know it was Wildcat Smith, so at the moment he didn't know whom to thank.

EVERYBODY in town knew that Al and Lottie were in Washington, D.C. So when Worthen Dorrington, hardware dealer and grinder of keys, the nearest the town had to a locksmith, found Al Dyer on his doorstep at suppertime, he said, "You didn't stay long!"

Al said he was locked out, and Mr. Dorrington came and, with a piece of clock spring, bypassed the garage-door lock and opened the garage. He wasn't going to charge Al anything, but Al gave him a $5 bill anyway.

And then Al found that his jacket had disappeared and he couldn't figure that one out. But he went and got Mr. Dorrington again, and now he opened the door into the house and Al found his jacket. For the record, he did not hand Mr. Dorrington another $5 bill. He did say something about punching somebody's nose back under his hat, but this was purely a figure of speech, as Al was not pugilistically inclined.

In any event, he never did.

So Al and Lottie had their little trip to Washington, D.C., and Lottie said, yes, but it's always nice to get home again.

Mighta been 1947.

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