“And then there was the time the gunpowder blew up,” Marjorie said matter-of-factly while listing the number of times she almost got killed. It was a long list that also included a felled tree that nearly crushed her and a fall from a ladder that almost broke her neck.
Marjorie is the owner/proprietor of the Elmhurst House, a bed and breakfast in Keota. Good luck trying to find the place if you don’t know it’s there. Marjorie doesn’t advertise, and even many of the people of the small, remote town of Keota don’t know it’s around. Her clientele is mostly pheasant or deer hunters who come from as far away as Louisiana, but she also serves lunch for local groups and does long term rentals on occasion. It’s not what I’d call hoity-toity, but then neither are the rates.
We found it a few years back on a bicycle ride from Washington to Keota. The trail between the two towns, the Kewash, is also not a real well-known route but it’s there: 14 miles of converted rail bed that used to connect the towns by train but now does so for walkers and bike riders.
It’s a pretty trail that has a little bit of everything, including an old iron bridge over Crooked Creek, woodlands, and prairie remnants. On our recent trip over Memorial Day weekend the Columbine and Wild Periwinkle were in bloom. (Later in the year locals hike the trail to pick wild blackberries.)
Mid-way on the 14 miles of gravel sits the town of West Chester. The village sprang from the prairie starting about 1872 when the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad put up a station near the one lone farmer in the area. It grew steadily for many years and then declined for even more. Today, remnants of the bustling little town, population 163, remain without the bustle. We lucked out, however. On the day we rolled through, we stumbled on a garden tractor pull. We stopped and watch this bit of Americana for as long as our ears could take it, and got weighed on the scale as we left town.
It was an excellent time, especially when you consider just a few months earlier Sabra was laying in an intensive care unit after suffering a brain hemorrhage. But she’s returned nearly 100 percent physically and mentally.
She denies it, but I think I can tell her memory took a hit during her illness. It’s hard to tell for sure because neither of our memories are that sharp, but I think I can tell sometimes that she’s forgot something she’d typically remember. Then again, it was Sabra that pointed out the Columbines and Periwinkles, so who knows?
Another thing I think I’ve noticed is that she has an increased sense of life. Recently, for example, she was removing a string of battery powered party lights from her bicycle. I’d put them on some five years ago and they still worked, but Sabra decided they had to come off. When she was having trouble removing them I suggested that she just cut them, but she’d have nothing to do with it. “You can’t just kill them,” she protested.
Arriving in Keota we had a beer at the Roost Tavern, an institution in the town. After dinner with Marjorie, we had a quiet evening walking about town, buying an ice cream and playing cards until well after our bedtime. As hinted to in the opening of this missive, Marjorie’s an interesting gal who is perhaps just a little eccentric: not at all normal like this orange-hatted adventurer or the woman who cringes at the thought of murdering light bulbs.
Over the years Sabra and I have rolled our bikes through places far and wide. We’ve circled the Boden Sea in Germany, climbed the hills of Rome, cruised to the Capitol Mall, and pedaled under the St. Louis Arch. But this last ride was just as splendid as any we’ve done before simply because we were alive and could do it. Someday I hope to return and learn more about the gunpowder explosion.