In small towns, people leave the doors unlocked more often than not. It makes it quite handy to duck in and leave things on the kitchen table, but every once in a while you catch someone unaware. Like Nicky’s mum, who is visiting from England. Legend has it that a friend walked in to drop something off for Barry, Nicky’s husband, and surprised Nicky’s mum in her um, unmentionables.

“Shut the door, you fool! I’m an 80-year-old woman!” she cried.

And that was the story Nicky’s mum told me over dinner last night, reminding me that there are times that I very much miss living in small towns. Today is just such a day.

After spending my afternoon mulching the front landscape installation (remind me to chalk Melissa up for further good deeds as she used the tractor and front loader to save me several hand-cart trips and an aching back), I reminded everyone that the staff meeting would be over lunch the next day. I mentioned that I was planning on making rice casserole for lunch, but no guarantees on dessert.

“What is for dessert?” asked Jeni at her most wide-eyed and innocent.

“I was thinking strawberry-rhubarb crisp,” I said.

“Don’t worry about casserole, just make dessert!” rang for the unanimous cry.

Sigh…so I made a quick run to the grocery store for more strawberries, and when I was checking out, I realized that Joanne Schott was in front of me. I laughed and said hello, and she asked where my parents were at these days. “Right now they’re in Colombia,” I said. “Mum is judging a show and the giving a clinic, and then she and dad are doing a bit of traveling there with some friends. They’ve been going to Colombia for years, and they really love it down there.”

“Oh,” Joanne said. “Well, if they’re gone, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t make your dad that rhubarb pie I promised him.”

“Probably not,” I laughed and said. “Although you could bring it to the clinic, but I make no guarantees that he’ll actually get any of that pie.”

“Good point. No one would put it in the freezer for him,” Joanne said.

“Umm, nooo, I can guarantee that I would not,” I said. There are times when brutal honesty is the best policy.

“Well if you’re making rhubarb crisp, do you want the rhubarb? I have it cut and ready to go,” offered Joanne.

“Sure!” I responded, perhaps too enthusiastically. I’ve been hoarding the rhubarb that Lily Reamy gave me last year, and I was going to have to use all of it to get through this crisp.

I followed Joanne back to her place, and she gave me four pounds of fresh rhubarb, already diced, that she had planned to use for my dad’s rhubarb pie along with a loaf of rhubarb bread that she’d made on a whim. “Let me know what you think,” she said.

“I can tell you right now that I want the recipe,” I said.

“Maybe not,” she retorted, “because I burned that loaf.”

Where else but small towns can you pop by the grocery store, detour to a neighbor’s house, and somehow leave with far more than you could have ever purchased?

Later that night, Nicky rang to tell me that she wouldn’t be able to make the next day’s staff meeting. “The guest ranch is short-staffed, and they asked if I can go out and help them tomorrow. Elaine offered to take my mum to Billings to get her hair done.” When I told her that I was in the kitchen, making strawberry-rhubarb crisp at that very moment, a wail went up. Then she invited up for dinner, a glass of wine, and to meet her mum, which is how I learned of her full-frontal introduction to the town’s open-door policy.

So dad, I’d tell you that I’m sorry about the pie, but I don’t think anyone will back me up, and that includes me. We did save some casserole and crisp for Nicky, but that will likely be polished off by tomorrow at the latest. It’s on you to convince Joanne that you’re still deserving of a rhubarb pie. As for Nicky’s mum, she’s gotten used to our wide-open ways. I do have to wonder, however, if she chairs the front door before she gets in the shower now.