The day Carly Mae Foley came home to stay, the whole of Kiminee took on a golden hue, from the cumulous clouds overhead to the giant oak tree shading Missy’s front yard, to the train set chugging in the window of Chester Dillard’s hardware store, and the gravel crunching beneath Mick Deely’s feet as he hobbled to his brand new Dodge Dart. Even Bendy River twinkled gold as it burbled by. A crowd had gathered at Missy’s in anticipation of Carly Mae’s arrival, and almost everyone brought a favorite dish to share.
On two picnic tables covered with red-and-white checked cloths, the feast lured all comers, including ancient Tam-Tam Parlo who, most folks believed, lived on air and water in a ramshackle home alongside the forest edging the Bendy and spitting distance from the best swimming hole. She dug a gnarled fingertip into a bowl of onion dip and gave a smile that revealed more gaps than teeth before she licked the goop off. This caused heated debate about whether she could really live without food. As far as anyone saw, she passed up the rest of the fare, which seemed a considerable feat to some. Others said her singular ability to forego food was nothing compared with the twenty-some years she survived as Harlan Parlo’s wife. Long gone, he was still known as the meanest man east of the Mississippi.
There was homemade dilly bread fresh out of the oven; white, rye and pumpernickel, too; thin-sliced turkey, ham and bologna; American and Swiss cheese slices; three kinds of potato salad; Jell-O with mixed fruit and creamy lime Jell-O parfaits; grilled chicken legs marinated in Earl Wiggs’ secret sauce; traditional lemonade and lemonade with lavender; and cakes and drinks to suit just about everyone’s taste, including competing batches of moonshine brought by members of the Tarr and McDuggin clans, who were situated at different tables to avoid a confrontation. While their feud had cooled since the days Carly Mae had played for their elderly kinfolk at Touch of Kindness, many of them were still wary of getting too close.
Along with food, musically inclined residents brought instruments. Some were homemade contraptions; others were more conventional fiddles, banjos, harmonicas and such. While a few diehards continued to nosh on the feast at the tables, others began plucking and strumming. Those without instruments danced on the lawn and in the street. They were the first to herald the approach of the Skrillpod’s Willys station wagon. As soon as Jasper killed the engine at the curb, he sprang from the vehicle and sprinted to Missy and gave her a hug. Carly Mae and two school chums followed and soon formed a huddle of preteen effervescence with the twins, Blanche and Ray.
This alone would have been enough, but then a series of barks and yelps arose just before Buster appeared running full speed across the lawn toward Carly Mae. No one had seen the tri-color, husky-sheltie mix for the past month. They all feared he’d met with foul play on a trek from Kiminee to Chicago to chase after Carly Mae. It seemed if he wasn’t with her, he was looking for her. Now there he was, his long hair shimmering as he navigated the crowd like a contestant in an agility trial. Carly Mae spun around just in time to open her arms as Buster leaped up. Their embrace full of plenty of licks, kisses, wiggles and tears caused so much joy to flow through the gathering that the most skeptical of the Tarrs and McDuggins winked at each other across the tables.
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