Arriving In The Palouse

How a person gets to a particular place to live and why they stay are allusive sorts of things.


The Palouse

          When Liz and Ellis first came to this little town of Palouse over twenty years ago, they did it almost by accident. They were just passing through, headed for a larger town a few miles away, where they thought they would look for work. Ellis had been watching the gas gauge drop rapidly since leaving the last small town and knew that they needed gas before traveling even the last fifteen miles into Pullman. A brief look up and down the main street told Ellis that the only gas station was closed for the night along with everything else except two saloons. An old friend and his wife lived here, and Ellis thought he would give them a call to see if they had a gallon or two of gas. He didn't see a pay phone anywhere so he went in one of the bars and asked to use the phone. The fellow smiled and pointed to a black round dialer sitting on a small shelf behind the bar. There was no phone book, and Ellis asked the bartender if he had one. He thought he had one somewhere and began poking around under the bar. A guy on a stool the other side of the bar asked whom he was looking for, and Ellis told him, still watching the bartender. "He ain't home," he said "just saw him goin into Velma's cross the street."
          "Really!" Ellis said, looking up at the large dusty fellow, who was pointing back toward the door he had entered through.
The bartender looked up from his search and said he had seen Ellis' friend as well.
          "That's cool," Ellis said, "I guess I don't need a phone then." He thanked them and left. He grabbed Liz and they went across the street in search of Jim.
          The door to Velma's was open, and a soft warm light flowed out onto the street, carrying along with it the sounds of malted barley and smoke. As they walked in, what seemed like sounds from the street, became an olfactory reality. The place immersed them in smoke and beer, and the juke box seemed to bounce gently in the corner as it kept time with a pool game. Through the din they could see a row of windows along the left wall that looked into a small room where a card game was taking place. Further along the left side were several very old booths full of people, followed by the juke box. On the right was a low candy case and behind it was a large old humidifier case full of cigarettes and tobacco. The bar also ran down the right side of the building, and further back were two pool tables. Several people turned and looked at them as they entered. It was kind of a benign stand off, Ellis and Liz stood there staring into this new place, while the place itself, which had been there much longer than them, scrutinized their intent. Everything went out of focus momentarily for Ellis and when it returned, he was looking right at his friend Jim seated backwards on a chair in front of one of the booths about half way to the back. They both must have seen him at the same time. They both said, "There he ...." as they bumped together in an automatic move toward a familiar face. Without another word they were drawn deeper into the room by the one familiar link in this strange place. Jim glanced at them, only partially focused, and looked away again as they approached. He looked back again quickly, but this time his eyes were sharp and well aimed. First there was recognition, then disbelief, and then a reassurance, and a slow smile. They had caught him by surprise. He sat motionless for a moment, and then jumped up with hugs for them both. There were several minutes of, where have you two been, what has brought you here, how long are you going to be around, and of coarse how good it is to see you. Ellis and Liz had plenty to say as well, along the same lines. Jim said he had plenty of gas, but he wouldn't here of them leaving until tomorrow. They had no place to be or go in any hurry so it was agreed that they would relax for the evening. They met Jim's friends, beer was ordered, and they settled in to become a part of the overall ambiance of Velma's Place. Just how permanent, they still don't know.


Copyright 2007. Ed Gnaedinger.