“Bud and Rachel have to be in your book,” my Harding County friend said as we sat down to coffee several years ago.
“But they sold their company to the West River Telephone Co-op the year before we moved to town,” I said.
“That’s a minor detail,” she said. “Besides, you’re writing fiction, right?”
“Okay,” I agreed, “tell me how their phone system worked.”
She didn’t need to describe Bud and Rachel because they and their mule lived in Camp Crook when we did. We saw them from time to time, the most notable being the night before we moved to Iowa in 1985 to be closer to hospitals where our son could be treated for his rare medical condition.
Hiram answered the door and invited Rachel inside.
“Me and Bud wanted to tell you goodbye and to give you this.” She handed us a back issue of the county paper, Nation’s Center News. “There’s an article about me and Bud in there. So you don’t forget us.”
“Thank you,” I said, noticing that she had written “Please look on page 3” above the masthead in spidery letters.
Next she gave Hiram an envelope. “It’s a little traveling money. For emergencies.” She smiled at our son, who’d had lots of medical emergencies since his birth three years ago.
Rachel and Bud were no strangers to childhood medical emergencies. Rachel was born with a cleft lip and palette in 1910 and was spoon fed Carnation canned milk during her early months. Eventually the people in the small Montana community where her family lived raised money so her mother could take her by train to Mayo Clinic for surgery. Bud lost his vision in a 1928 dynamite explosion when he was eleven.
Rachel’s surgery was successful but not elegant. Her speech was difficult to decipher, especially on the phone, but she never stopped talking or connecting calls. Bud’s decades-old scars were visible, but he climbed telephone poles and installed phones confidently.
I can’t imagine the West River Mysteries without Gus and Betty Yarborough, for whom Rachel and Bud were the prototypes. Betty is a vital communication (and gossip) hub in a time before cell phones. Gus and Betty exemplify the essential roles people with disabilities can play when given the opportunity to use their abilities.
As for the $35 Rachel and Bud gave us, it was the exact amount needed to pay for a new prescription medication our son needed on the trip to Iowa.
As for the newspaper article, it lives in a file in my office along with my most prized South Dakota memorabilia from our years there.
As for Rachel and Bud, you are remembered.