Guests in Paradise
BY TIM SANDLIN
ILLUSTRATIONS BY BIRGITTA SIF
SOME CALL IT a blessing, some a curse, and the oldest of the old-timers say, “It is what it is,” which means nothing to me. But the truth of living in the Lycra Archipelago—Jackson Hole, Sun Valley, Steamboat Springs, Aspen, Taos, a few smaller islands of cool—is that you get more company than folks who live in Amarillo. Paradise is nicer to visit than the Home of the Golden Sandies.
After careful study of these visitors, I have broken them into two groups—people you know and people you don’t know.
People you know are more welcome when it comes to sleeping on my couch, but even then, some summers they come in waves.
Last June, Cora Ann’s nephew, Lloyd, and three of his buddies crowded into the guest room for a week and a half. They had worked like millennial mice for fifty weeks and were ready to cut loose. The boys installed a keg on Cora Ann’s Pilates table. They vaped in the bathroom. They posted our address on Instagram with the caption come on down.
Then they flew off to jobs in various states with legal marijuana. Kids these days make career choices based on personal values.
The very airplane Lloyd left on brought in Lucy Munn, Cora Ann’s college roommate from thirty years past. Unlike Lloyd and his derelicts, who kept us awake all night but were basically self-entertaining, Lucy expected quality companionship. Lucy and her husband, Rich, slept all morning, hiked in the afternoon while Cora Ann and I worked, then at five Lucy and Rich were ready for us to eat, drink, and dance ourselves into a high-altitude frenzy.
Rich bragged, “I never saw a bar yet I couldn’t close.”
Cora Ann and I held our own until Lucy and Rick left, and my cousin, Josh, flew in. Josh owns Day Care Air, a commuter service for children of bicoastal joint custody divorce settlements. Licensed preschool teachers for flight attendants. Pilots dressed as Disney Princess characters. Josh is fabulously well-to-do.
Cora Ann and I took Josh to Yellowstone and everyone knows how relaxing that is in summer. Josh rented a houseboat and met a bevy of Lake Hotel cabin maids. We ended up in more a babysitting capacity than fellow rabble-rousers.
Next up was Wynn Powers, who worked with us at Signal Mountain Lodge thirty-two years ago, which, in his eyes, makes us next of kin. Wynn brought a bottle of diet pills so he wouldn’t have to rest on his vacation.
“I can sleep at home,” Wynn said. “You want to run up Snow King for the sunrise, then we can mountain bike Curtis Canyon and hunt rabbits with our bare hands. I’ll show you how the Arapaho barbecue bunny. It takes a tequila marinade.”
After that came eclipse week. Imagine a polyester and Cabelas Woodstock.
These were guests we more or less knew. The other kind are cat-hair-in-the-back-of-your-throat irritating.
Thursday before Labor Day, a couple who could have jumped out of a 1956 Oldsmobile advertisement showed up on our porch. The woman sported a genuine beehive ’do the color of Pepto Bismol. The man wore tartan pants—red and black checks—and a paisley pink shirt with a dickie that color of blue your toe turns when you stub it hard enough the nail breaks off.
The man flipped his cigarette butt into my lilacs. “Is this the residence of Cora Ann Pym?”
I was all set to say, “I’ve never heard that name in my life,” when Cora Ann came out of the kitchen, drying her hands.
The woman said, “We are George Singleton and Mrs. George Singleton. We go to church with your parents back in Velma Alma.”
George said, “We just love Franny and Walt.”
Cora Ann said, “My parents’ names are Delores and Peter.”
“Right. We just love them to pieces. Your mama makes the best pecan casserole in Chickasaw County.” The guy pronounced pecan like he was from Florida and not Oklahoma where Velma Alma is.
He went on. “They were at our house for hand-cranked pawpaw ice cream and watermelon Sunday and Petey said he would snatch us bald-headed if we came all this way and didn’t drop in on his baby daughter.”
I said, “Tell Petey he doesn’t have to snatch you. You dropped by,” and started to shut the door. George was too fast for me. He stuck a pack of Larks in the crack so the door wouldn’t close.
George said, “We called the motel and the woman there said they was full and so’s ever’body else. We don’t want to bother you none but your daddy said if we ran into a difficult spot you might put us up for a night.”
Mrs. George said, “Or two.”
Cora Ann looked at me and said, “The guest room is taken but they could have Charlie’s bed and we could put him in a tent.”
“We don’t want to make a fuss,” Pink Beehive Woman said.
George said, “Honeybun, go out to the car and get the kids, and make sure both dogs do their business before you bring them in. You know how nervous Flim Flam gets around strangers.”
I said, “Flim Flam?”