Marcia’s Best Ever Blue Hubbard Squash Pie
(This story appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser December 2015)
Henry Abbot is not in the habit of picking up hitchhikers, though until eight years ago he very much enjoyed giving rides to strangers and dropping them at the best hitchhiking spots in Fort Orford.
Oh, he still stops for Miles Larsen when he comes upon Miles walking home burdened with groceries, and he still gives the Collison boys rides when he sees them trudging home in the twilight after football or basketball or baseball practice, but they aren’t hitchhikers, they’re his friends and neighbors.
Youthful at fifty-nine, strangers guess Henry is in his late forties. A big sturdy man with sandy brown hair and pale blue eyes, Henry is a former lumberjack, now the manager of Dorfman’s Hardware, the only hardware store in Fort Orford, a town of three thousand hearty souls on the north coast of California. Henry was born and raised here, and except for five years away when he was in his twenties—two years of military service and three years peddling his songs in Nashville—Henry has never gone away except for the very occasional vacation.
A bachelor until he was forty-two, neither he nor anyone who knew him expected he would ever marry. Friendly, intelligent, and handsome, Henry liked women and women liked him, yet he seemed incapable of more than fleeting intimacy. And then he met Katy, the new veterinarian in town, fifteen years his junior, and they married three months after her arrival. They had two beautiful daughters, Cecily and Diana, and when the girls were seven and five—eight years ago—Katy fell off a ladder, struck her head, and died instantly.
Now Henry’s primary goal in life is to live until his daughters are able to fend for themselves, which is why he doesn’t pick up hitchhikers anymore—to lessen his chances of encountering a crazy killer.
But on this cold November morning—driving to town in his old white pickup—when he comes to where the country road he lives on meets the coast highway into Fort Orford, he sees a woman standing by the road with a backpack, violin case, and a small brown dog, and this woman is so much like Katy, Henry cannot help but stop for her.
Everything about her reminds Henry of his wife—her dark brown hair in a three-strand braid, her white Guatemalan blouse embroidered with red and blue and green thread, her loose-fitting blue jeans, her pointy chin, her light brown eyes, and her radiant smile. That she also has a violin and her dog is the twin of Leo, Katy’s constant companion, makes the similarity uncanny.
She opens the passenger door, looks in at Henry gaping at her, and asks, “Are you okay? You look stunned.”
“Haven’t had my coffee yet,” he says, his voice catching in his throat. “Still a little dreamy.”
“How far you going?” she asks, scanning him with a practiced eye and judging him safe, her accent Midwestern, as was Katy’s.
“Just into town. Fort Orford. Four miles.”
“Mind a dog?” she asks politely. “We can ride in back if you do.”
“Love dogs,” he says, smiling as she makes the same clicking sound with her tongue against the roof of her mouth that Katy made—the little pooch jumping up onto the seat and gazing intently at Henry.
The woman lifts her big pack into the bed of the truck with remarkable ease, gets into the cab with her violin case, puts on her seatbelt and says, “Thanks for stopping. I’m Jolene. The mutt is Crawford.”
Henry caresses Crawford’s head, and the little dog hops onto Henry’s lap.
“Now that is truly amazing,” says Jolene, frowning at Crawford. “He’s never done that before.” She turns her gaze on Henry. “What are you? Some sort of dog whisperer?”
“We have a couple dogs,” says Henry, scratching behind Crawford’s ears. “Probably smells them on me.”
“No,” says Jolene, shaking her head. “He doesn’t even do that with people he knows. Only ever does it with me.”
“Maybe I remind him of someone,” says Henry, pulling onto the highway—Crawford leaving him to sit on Jolene’s lap. “I’m Henry. Where you headed?”
“Portland,” she says, embracing her violin case. “Unless something better manifests along the way.”
“Are you a classical musician or a fiddler? My wife…she’s no longer alive…she played the violin, too.”
“This is not a violin,” says Jolene, smiling sweetly at Henry. “Mandolin. I play folk songs and my own tunes, too. Some jazzy Brazilian things.”
“I used to play guitar,” says Henry, remembering his days in Nashville, how so very close he came to selling a song. “A million years ago.”
“So beautiful here,” says Jolene, sighing with pleasure as the dark blue waters of Prescott Bay come into view. “You know a good place to have breakfast in Fort Orford?”
“I know the best place,” says Henry, looking at Jolene and realizing she is quite a bit older than he first took her to be, her eyes pale blue not light brown, her skin dark olive, not white and freckled as was Katy’s, her hair not brown but black with strands of gray, not braided but in a pony tail, her blouse pale yellow and not embroidered, her jeans brown not blue. “Stuyvesant’s. Excellent omelets, strong coffee, brilliant waitresses.”
“Then that’s where I’m going,” says Jolene, tickling Crawford’s chin. “And aren’t you a lucky dog it’s not raining, so you won’t be getting wet while you wait.”
“I just realized,” says Henry, laughing, “you’re not American. You’re…”
“Irish,” says Jolene, nodding. “What a remarkable ear for accents you have.”
“If you’d like, you can leave Crawford with me,” says Henry, feeling perfectly at ease saying so. “I’m two doors down from Stuyvesant’s. The hardware store. I’m the manager. Dogs allowed.”
Jolene considers this offer and says, “Only I was hoping you’d have breakfast with me. My treat. I made a bundle busking in San Francisco.”
“Then we’ll bring Crawford with us,” says Henry, slowing way down as they enter the town, his eyes full of tears. “They won’t mind him if he sits on your lap.”
“Or yours,” says Jolene, gazing at Henry. “He loved you the minute he saw you.”