Occasionally, some of the women who are about my age from our family back in Boston embark on a “cousins’ holiday.” This year, their sense of adventure brought them outside New England all the way to our bed & breakfast here in Wallowa County.

The four travelers were my sister and three cousins, who all happen to share the name Mary, in one form or another. So to keep everything straight, they add middle names. My sister Mary Kate was accompanied by cousins Mary Beth, Mary Anne, and Eileen Marie – who now calls herself Mary Eileen sometimes, just for fun!

They all arrived in Portland on a Saturday amidst a considerable brouhaha regarding Mary Anne’s missing checked luggage — which the airline eventually agreed to compensate her handsomely for on a daily basis until it arrived (four days into their trip.) But Mary Anne made the best of it by buying some new clothes on airline dollars in Portland and later here in Joseph.

On Sunday, the ladies drove east through the Columbia Gorge, and they marveled at the scenery, especially in the canyon along the Wallowa River, before they pulled into La Laguna for a tasty dinner that evening in Enterprise. Contentedly fed, they arrived at their home away from home at our house in Joseph, which is also known as Belle Pepper’s Bed & Breakfast. Mary Kate and Mary Beth already knew my wife Pepper from various trips back east or out here, but Mary Anne and Eileen were meeting her for the first time, and everyone hit it off immediately.

We plotted a little itinerary that evening, but we amended it the next morning when clouds settled in. So the ladies’ adventures started with a walking survey of Joseph before the eye-opening foundry tour at Valley Bronze. I joined the cousins for an excursion to Imnaha right after that, and they were struck by the change from mountains and pastures to rugged canyon landscape in a mere thirty mile drive.

Our hearty lunch at the Imnaha Tavern prompted curiosity from my inquisitive cousin Mary Anne regarding all the dollar bills on the ceiling and how they got there. She received detailed directions from Cody, one of the new owners – who seemed intrigued by Mary Anne’s accent but skeptical of her ability to follow instructions – describing exactly how to wrap and throw her combination of a dollar bill, quarter, and thumbtack in order to make the little missile fly and stick. Darned if that eager student didn’t gobble up Cody’s every word and stick the ceiling on her very first launch – which delighted Mary Anne, and stunned the rest of us!

As we began our drive back to Joseph, we were surprised yet again to find a tree blown down halfway across the road near the Imnaha school where no tree had been an hour before, so we doubled back to the tavern to suggest that someone call 911. A guy who was having lunch with Cody said quietly, “I have a chain saw,” and we left the solution to them.

We altered our course and decided to drive a few miles up the Imnaha River road as far as Skip and Pam Royes’ cabin so we could get a taste of that canyon, then we turned around and headed back through Imnaha. I bet my cousins a nickel that the fellow from the tavern would already be at work helping to take care of the downed tree. As we passed by, sure enough, there he was, helpfully clearing the road for his rural community.

We all shared great meals each morning, thanks to Pepper’s wonderful cooking, and the main dishes included cheese quiche, baked blintz, breakfast burritos, and blueberry pancakes, along with all sorts of nutritious side dishes, fruits, juices, and coffee or tea. On Monday evening, we devoured lasagna, again courtesy of Pepper, and the ladies also savored the adventures of the day.

Tuesday brought more favorable weather for a ride up the tram to Mount Howard, and despite our admonitions to the contrary, my impish relatives still chose to feed the ground squirrels at the top, because the little critters were just so cute! That afternoon featured more exploration of the shops in Joseph, and later a delicious shepherd’s pie baked by my sister Mary Kate.

Wednesday morning, the cousins visited the county museum before joining me at St. Katherine’s hall for the weekly Rotary Club meeting and lunch, which included an informative program by Angela Bombaci about the Tamkaliks celebration in Wallowa. That afternoon, the four Marys dropped by the Stein Distillery, where Dan was gracious enough to give them a little tour. Then they strolled across the street to visit the Josephy Center and Rich Wandschneider, our new Rotary Club president this year – which served as another reminder of what a small, interconnected world Wallowa County can be. The ladies’ last full day in Joseph concluded with a lovely dinner for all six of us at Vali’s, capped off by samplers of their mouth-watering desserts.

The four cousins from Boston were amazed that there was such a variety of things to see and do here in a rural county. They had a fantastic time on their adventure, and they accepted one of the well-intended but backhanded compliments of a local shopkeeper – that “they seemed so nice and friendly, for people from back east” — with grace, and a wry Irish sense of humor.

I hope this account of their visit can help remind the rest of us of just a few of the treats that we have around here, if only we open our eyes and our hearts to enjoy them!

John McColgan and his wife Pepper own Belle Pepper’s Bed & Breakfast in Joseph.

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