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Second Time Around

Chapter 8 - Big Fish of the Platte

By Arli J

Edited by Radio Rancher
Based on Characters from Pinochle, by E Walk

We finished our coffee and set out on a brief foot tour of Fremont. I probably drove Gregg crazy with my questions; I really wanted to know everything about this town. Fortunately for me, he is something of a history buff, with an almost photographic memory. Fremont is the county seat of Dodge County, and is located 35 miles northwest of Omaha and 50 miles northeast of Lincoln, the State capitol. The population, according to the 2000 census, was a little more than 25,000 people. It covers an area of about seven and a half square miles. I couldn't help comparing this in my mind to Ithaca, which occupies a little over ten square miles in the Cayuga basin and had a population of something over 29,000 people in 2000. Cornell and Ithaca College swell the population of the town to over 100,000 during the school year.

Fremont is located on the Platte River and is locally known as "the Big Fish of the Platte." While it is primarily an agricultural town, evidenced by the number of grain silos and elevators, which dominate the skyline, it has some manufacturing, and the Hormel meat packing plant, makers of Spam, is located here.

Since Gregg's house was not too far from the river, we started our tour in that direction. As we got closer to the river, I was surprised to see what looked like a large park surrounding a small lake. Gregg explained that there are twenty of these man-made lakes, known locally as the State Lakes, which offer fishing, swimming and boating for people in the area. He said that there are also two big, Boy Scout camps along the river near Fremont, Camp Cedars and Camp Eagle. Scouts from all over the country come here in the summer. The air was a little cooler in the shade near the lake, and as we approached the river there was a very welcome breeze. Gregg told me that the average temperature in August ranges between 65 and 85 degrees.

We turned our steps toward the downtown section of the city. As we walked through the streets, I was impressed by the beautiful old buildings. Gregg told me that many of them are listed nationally as historic buildings. I also noticed a large number of antique shops along the streets. He said that Fremont had become a Mecca for tourists from all over the country who were looking for antiques.

As we walked down Broad Street, Gregg pointed out a building across the street. "That's the Love-Larson Opera House. It was built in 1888. When the local interest in opera declined, the building was converted into apartments, with a grocery store on the ground floor. In the 1970's a non-profit civic group set to work to restore the Opera House to its original state, and operas were again available to the citizens of Fremont.

We wandered through the streets, and Gregg pointed out various points of interest; he was obviously very proud of his adopted hometown. I could tell, though, that he was tiring and walking with more difficulty. Finally, he stopped in front of a rather nondescript building. "This place doesn't look like much from the outside, but it's one of the finest restaurants in Fremont."

We went in, and he was right; it was a very nice restaurant, quiet and dignified in appearance. The maitre d' hotel came up to us and asked if we would care for dinner. He showed us to a table in a back corner, where we could have a quiet conversation, undisturbed by other diners. The place was almost half full, and people were obviously enjoying their dinners.

When the waiter brought our menus, Gregg looked at me. "What would you like?"

"I haven't a clue. I told you, you're the tour guide. You followed my suggestions in Ithaca; I'll follow yours here."

He smiled. "Well, they have a number of different choices here. One of the things that make this place so unusual is that they have a French chef, an Italian chef, and—get this!—a Chinese chef. So, you've got a wide range to choose from."

"Chinese? They have Chinese food here? Is it good?"

"I like it, but I'm not a connoisseur of Chinese cuisine, so I don't know how good it is by other people's standards."

"What would you recommend?"

"Well, their wonton soup is very good, to start with. And I really like their shrimp lo mein."

"You've just sold me! Two of my favorite Chinese dishes!"

The waiter came over to take our order. Gregg smiled at him. "We're going Chinese tonight. We'd like wonton soup, followed by shrimp lo mein. And do you have Tsing Tao beer?"

The waiter looked surprised. "Why, yes, we do! But not many people have ever heard of it!"

"Oh, and we'd like a pu-pu platter, to start with." The waiter looked very impressed, as he jotted down the order. He disappeared into the kitchen with our order.

"Well, I'm really impressed! You certainly know your way around a Chinese menu!"

"I think you'll be pleased with the dinner. I hope you like beer; I should have asked."

"I'm not much of a beer drinker, but an occasional one tastes good. I've never tried beer with Chinese food, though."

"I think you'll like this one; it's a Chinese beer, very mild, almost delicate in flavor."

"Well, I've had a motto for years, 'Try anything that's not lethal once!' I've had some very nice surprises, and a few that I never tried again!"

He chuckled. "I can understand that. I guess I never made it a formal motto, but I've always lived that way myself."

The waiter returned and set a platter between us. It was the pu-pu platter, Chinese appetizers. There were several items on the platter, small egg rolls, little wooden skewers with small pieces of teriyaki chicken and a couple of other things I didn't recognize. There were two of each item. Gregg reached over and picked up a skewer of chicken. "These are usually very good." He took a piece of chicken in his teeth and pulled it off the skewer. A contented expression came over his face as he chewed. "If you expect to get any of this stuff, you'd better dig in! My good manners go right out the window when there's Chinese food on the table!"

Having been duly warned, I took an egg roll and bit into it. He was right; it was as good as any I've ever had, and better than most. I hadn't realized how hungry I was; the lunch on the plane had been light, and we had walked around town for over two hours. From the way Gregg was attacking the pu-pu platter, he was really hungry, too. Conversation was forgotten, as we cleaned up the platter. Then we settled back in our chairs. Gregg grinned. "That ought to hold us until dinner arrives—if they hurry!"

As if he had heard, the waiter arrived with our soup. He set the bowls down and removed the empty platter from the center of the table. He had not reached the kitchen door before we were busily attacking the soup. Gregg looked up. "Guess we were hungrier than we thought!" He grinned and went back to his soup. I couldn't help smiling. He was so like a little boy, just enjoying the moment and savoring his food. Of course, I wasn't letting mine get cold, either.

When the soup was gone, we just sat and smiled at each other. There didn't seem to be anything to say, and there was nothing that needed to be said. We were in a sort of harmony. I had no idea from his expression what he might be thinking, but I was feeling completely contented, just sitting here and sharing dinner with him. A little whisper in the back of my mind said, "If it could only be like this always!" I pushed it away; I can't afford to indulge in daydreams. They can lead to some painful letdowns.

The waiter arrived with our lo mein. Gregg looked at me. "Can you use chopsticks?"


He turned to the waiter. "Would you bring us chopsticks, please?" The waiter nodded and went to a side service table for the chopsticks. He brought them back and laid a pair by each of our plates.

"Will there be anything else, sir"

"Could we have our beer now?'

"Certainly, sir. Right away!" He hurried back into the kitchen.

Gregg grinned at me. "I don't think Chinese food tastes right, if you eat it with a fork!"

"I agree!"

The waiter reappeared with two bottles of beer and two tall glasses. He poured the beer for us and took the bottles away. Gregg picked up his glass. "I'd like to propose an Irish toast my grandfather always used to say. It's part of a longer one, but this is all I remember, and I've always liked it: "May you be in heaven ten minutes before the devil knows you're dead!" We touched glasses and took a sip of the beer. I was surprised. Gregg was right; it did have a delicate taste, almost like a wine, rather than a beer.

"I think I could learn to like this rather quickly. And that's probably not a good idea!"

He chuckled. "That's why I don't eat here often. This beer is a little too tempting!"

Having taken the edge off our hunger, we enjoyed the lo mein at a more leisurely pace. We chatted, and Gregg filled me in on more of the interesting history of Fremont, as well as telling me some great stories about some of the local characters.

When the waiter brought the check, I reached for it out of habit. Gregg slapped his hand down over the check and gave me a very severe look. "I told you that dinner was on me! You paid for everything in Ithaca, but now it's my turn!"

"I'm sorry; you're right. You did say that. And because you've been such a great host and tourist guide, I'll let you take control here. OK?"

He grinned. "That's better! Now we understand who's top dog in Nebraska!" He picked up the check and glanced at it. Then he pulled out his wallet and put a ten dollar bill on the tray for the waiter. "Are you ready?"

I nodded, and we got up from the table. As we walked toward the cash register, Gregg was fishing his credit card out of his wallet. He handed it to the cashier along with the check. When the transaction was completed, he signed the slip for the cashier, and we left the restaurant.

Gregg turned to me on the sidewalk. "I know what you said about friends helping friends and there being no debts between them, but I feel better now."

"If this makes you feel better, then I'm happy. It was a wonderful dinner! I certainly would never have expected it from the looks of the restaurant. And Chinese food! You have made my day! My week, actually. I really love Chinese food, and I never get enough of it."

"We'll have to remedy that! I'm no Chinese chef, but I can make a few simple stir-fry dishes. Do you have a wok?"

"No. Mine disappeared in one of my many moves, and I've never gotten around to look for another one."

"Don't bother! I'll bring mine."

We walked down the street in silence. I was amazed: an encyclopedic knowledge of local history, an Irish toast, a wok, can cook stir-fried dishes—is there no end to this man's surprising talents? I smiled to myself.

"What's so funny?

"Oh, nothing really. Just thinking about the last few days."

"It hasbeen an experience, hasn't it?"

"Yes, and the journey's only beginning. Who knows where it could end!"

He looked as if he were about to ask me something, then changed his mind. We continued in silence until we reached his house. I hadn't had a chance to really look at it when we arrived. It was a very attractive two-story, probably built in the 1930's and very well maintained. The lawn was neatly cared for, and there were small beds of red and white geraniums on either side of the doorway.

"You have a beautiful home here."

"Yes. Jerry and I bought it when our business began to take off. Actually, hebought it, so the mortgage was paid off by his insurance after the accident." I could see him struggling to hold back tears, but he went on. "I suppose a three bedroom house was a bit much for two guys, but we had quite a bit of overnight company, so it turned out to be very useful." He opened the door, and we went inside. "Would you like the nickel tour?"

"Sure, if you want to bother."

"It's no bother. There may be a little dust on things, but it was in pretty good shape when Grant and I left."

He took me through the downstairs. I had seen the living room and the kitchen, but there was an office that they had used for their business and a full bathroom, as well, between the office and the kitchen, opening into both rooms.

Upstairs there was a central hall with two doors on the front side of the house and three on the back side. Gregg opened the first door on the front side. It was a large room, a combination bed/sitting room, with a door to the bathroom. The second door was the bathroom, a large and pleasant room, all tiled, floor to ceiling. On the other side of the hall were two smaller bedrooms with a bathroom between them, opening into each of the bedrooms. At the end of the hall was another door, opening on a closet which ran the full width of the house. It had shelves on one end and a double row of hanging rods running to the other end. I was curious as to why this large closet was completely empty, but I didn't want to ask and take the chance of stirring up some more painful memories.

As we walked back down the hall, Gregg said, "The first door at the top of the stairs is Grant's room. The second bedroom is the guest room, where you'll be staying. At least here, I can offer you a real bed without having to give up my own." He chuckled. "I guess I'm not made of stern Yankee material, like you!"

As we passed the door to the master bedroom, I glanced in at the big mahogany bed, with its king-sized mattress. I couldn't help wondering….

We went back downstairs and out to the kitchen. Gregg put on the coffee pot to brew. "I love Chinese food, but they never serve coffee!" I just grinned and nodded.

We sat down at the kitchen table and waited for the coffee to brew. Gregg told me a few more stories about some of the more interesting (or bizarre, depending on your point of view!) characters of Fremont. I noticed that none of his friends were mentioned. Were they such ordinary people, or was he protecting them from the outside world's opinion? From what I knew of Beau, it might be the latter. If Gregg's other friends were anything like Beau, he might very well have some really good stories to tell!

When the coffee was ready, we took our cups and went into the living room, where Gregg turned on the TV. We sat down on the couch and put our cups down on the coffee table. Gregg picked up the remote and began searching through the channels to find something interesting. He stumbled onto a movie, "Auntie Mame," a re-run of the old Rosalind Russell classic. The movie was just starting, and since it was a favorite of both of us, we settled down to watch it. Gregg got up a couple of times during commercial breaks to refill our coffee cups. We sat there, glued to the action, right to the final scene where Auntie Mame leads Patrick's son up the stairs: "Oh, Michael, I'm going to open doors for you, doors you never dreamed existed." The movie ended and we looked at each other, blinking. We both had tears in our eyes. Gregg smiled. "It's just as great as ever, isn't it?"

"It sure is!"

We pulled ourselves up from the couch and took our cups back to the kitchen. It was a little after ten o'clock. Gregg yawned. "I don't know about you, but I think I've had it for today. If you want to stay up and watch the news, be my guest, but I think I'm going to bed."

"No, I think I'm ready to hit the sack, too. We've had a couple of busy days, and if Beau's involved, we've probably got a couple more ahead of us."

Gregg nodded. "That's the Beau we all know and love!" He shut off the lights in the kitchen and came into the living room. "I think I'd better leave a light on for Grant. Who knows when he'll be home!"

I followed him up the stairs. When we got to the hallway, he turned. "I forgot to tell you; there's a robe hanging on the back of the door in the guest room, if you need to get up in the night."

"Thanks. I don't know if I'll need it, but I'm glad to know it's there. Good night!"

"Good night!" He went into his room and closed the door. I went on down to the guest room and closed the door behind me. I was tired out, physically, but my mind was going a thousand miles a minute. I replayed the tour of Fremont, the Chinese dinner, the conversation during the movie. I was searching for something, but I wasn't sure what it was I wanted to find. Some hint of Gregg's feelings? Some indication of what he really thought of me? There just didn't seem to be a clue.

I stripped down to my shorts and got into bed. I reached over and turned off the bedside lamp. I lay on my back, staring up into the darkness. My mind turned to the comments Grant had made on the plane. What did he mean by them? What did he know?

I had no idea how long I had been lying there when I heard the front door open and close softly. A few minutes later I heard Grant's footsteps coming up the stairs and going into his room. I heard his door shut. It was quiet for a few minutes.

Then I heard Gregg's door open. There was a knock on Grant's door. It opened and closed. I listened but couldn't hear any voices. I thought about going into the connecting bathroom to see if I could hear any of the conversation. Harley, what is wrongwith you? Even thinking about doing something like that! Fellah, you are really losing it! Get a grip here, boy!

Grant's door opened and closed, then a few seconds later, Gregg's door opened and closed. I lay there a few minutes longer. I had to know! I got up and turned on the bedside lamp. I took the robe from the hook on the back of the door and put it on. As quietly as possible I tiptoed down the hall to Grant's door and knocked softly. I wasn't sure he would even hear me. Then the door opened. Grant was standing there in his briefs. Without meaning to, I glanced down. Good Lord! That kid is hung like a plow horse! I looked up quickly, hoping he hadn't noticed. He invited me in and shut the door.

Editor's Notes:

This was, as always a beautiful chapter. There were some very touching moments here and a few unanswered questions. But that makes sense. These two people have just begun to learn about each other. It will take time and patience on both their parts to figure out how they feel toward each other.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher

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