Happy 2012! Chris and I just returned from a traditional Austrian Christmas vacation, where we visited Vienna, Prague, and Salzburg. We had a wonderful time seeing the sites and traveling by train through the Czech countryside—but no matter how bucolic the view outside the window, our minds were never far from Polebridge and that day we snuck into the abandoned cabin.
When Chris budged open the back door that afternoon, I stepped in first. In the kitchen, silverware still sat in the sink. Cups were perched along a shelf. And a can of Quaker Oats lay on the floor. But the curtains were frayed and moth-eaten, and only remnants remained of yellowing wallpaper plastered to bare boards. Once-white blankets tucked into a ceiling corner looked like used teabags, having seen many a winter and rainstorm, and the floor was covered in a layer of trash, dust, and dead bugs.
When we stepped into the next room, we saw a bare bed spring with a teddy bear lying next to it. Under one of the two windows was a table piled with books, letters, cards, an old cowboy boot, and stacks of photographs cemented together by time and the elements. Rolls of barbed wire sat in the middle of the floor, and strewn around them were more paperback bodice-rippers and westerns, faded and nibbled by critters.
The north wall looked like it once housed flashing for a woodstove that wasn’t there—a source of warmth that would have been dearly needed. The cabin had not one stitch of insulation, unless you count the socks and bits of blanket chinked in between logs here and there. Sunlight beamed through the walls, and I shivered to think how the north wind would feel in there come January.
Inside a small closet hung a mechanic’s shirt with the arms cut out and a Confederate flag embroidered on the back. Next to it was a long, plum-colored cotton nightgown, stained and dusty. The east wall was festooned with trucker hats, the west with dried flowers and a garland of paper rings.
“Look at this,” Chris said, handing me a large white card with the words “To My Husband” in gold embossed lettering.
“Whoa,” I said, carefully opening the stained, crunchy paper. “What is this?” I read the preprinted words inside: “When I think about love, what it is, and what it means, I always think about you. Happy Anniversary.” In handwriting below, it said, “I hope that today was okay for you. We can have a special day later. I love you. All My Love, Debbie.” The card was to “Bo.”
“So I guess Bo and Deb lived here, huh?” I said.
“Looks like it. Here’s a letter addressed to ‘Bo and Debbie.’”
We read the neat script, written by “Mom,” a retired schoolteacher who sometimes filled in as a sub at the local elementary school in Washington State. She wrote about the weather and local gossip, what the kids were learning, etc. A letter from Bo’s “best friend” told about how he had fallen off a roof recently. He said he wanted to come out for a visit soon, as he was a changed man since he had met his son. Then there was a three-page missive on yellow legal paper lying on the kitchen floor. Signed, “Love, Dad,” it addressed Bo and Deb and told about calving cattle and house remodeling. All the letters were dated, but none were postmarked later than 1989.
I picked up a calendar from the floor. 1989. “Something must have happened that year,” I said.
“Maybe Bo died.”
“Maybe. Here’s a doctor’s bill and a workman’s comp statement,” I said, picking through the mail on a fly-cemetery shelf by the front door. “Maybe they couldn’t celebrate their anniversary because he was sick or in the hospital.”
“Maybe he died right there,” Chris said, staring at the rusty bed.
“Well, we’ll never know, I guess. Let’s get out of here. I think I’m having an allergic reaction to all these dead bugs and dust,” I said with a cough.
We left the cabin and continued on our trek to Polebridge, discussing all the possibilities of Bo and Deb and what their life must have been like in such a remote, tiny homestead. But we never imagined the scenario I discovered—back in our Whitefish condo later that night—when a Google search turned up a YouTube video of a 1990 Unsolved Mysteries episode … starring you-know-who.