“Thank you for coming in.” Alison Gilbert, the young reporter from National Parks of America Magazine greeted me all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
She wore a mid-calf length red dress with small black polka dots and black sandals. Her brown hair was cut to her chin.
“We are so glad you agreed to the interview. Follow me.”
She hurried down the hall at the Daniel Boone National Park office and talked over her shoulder, guiding me to the room where she was going to perform the interview. She sat her bag on the long conference table.
“Now, we can relax.” She turned slightly to look at me as she continued to walk down the hall. “I have coffee here, along with some donuts. Please, help yourself.”
I walked over to the coffee bar, catching my shadow in the glass window that overlooked a beautiful area of the National Park, and noticed my hair had grown about two more sizes on the ride over to the office. That was the problem with curly hair and humidity. The two didn’t play nice with each other.
“Thank you,” I said and pulled a handful of hair to one side over my shoulder. “Would you like a cup too?” I asked and poured a cup of coffee.
“That’d be great.” Her head was buried in her bag. She dug around for a few more minutes, finally pulling out a camera.
“You do remember the terms to which I agreed?” I wanted to confirm before we got started.
“Yep.” Her head slowly nodded up and down. She fiddled with her phone and sat it down on the table. “No particulars about your husband or the ponzi scheme, but you’re okay with talking about how you acquired Happy Trails Campground, bringing it and more tourists to Normal during a slow economic time.”
“Ex-husband,” I muttered and walked over to the table, setting down a cup of coffee in front of her and then walking over to look at the donuts.
“Right.” She pulled in a deep breath. “I’m going to tape it on my phone, if that’s okay,” she said. “I like to go back and listen to the interview while I’m writing the piece. I want to make sure I don’t leave anything out.”
“Sure.” I grabbed one of the glazed donuts and took a modest bite. If I were alone in my camper, I’d just stuffed my face with all of it and licked my fingers after.
“Interview with Mae West, owner of Happy Trails Campground located deep in Daniel Boone National Park in Normal, Kentucky.” She smiled. “Normal,” she laughed, the tone of her voice had changed into a very professional-sounding one. “There’s really nothing that’s been Normal in Happy Trails for many years.”
I didn’t know what she wanted me to say, so I just took a sip of coffee.
“How did you acquire Happy Trails?” she asked.
“It’s no secret that I was married to Paul West.” If whoever reads this article in the National Parks Magazine hadn’t heard of my ex-husband, then they’d been literally living off the land in one of these parks with their head stuck under a rock. “Years ago, during his college years, he got possession of the campground.”
I left out the part that he’d actually made a bet with the original owner, Ron Randal, who now owned the Normal Diner. Ron had made a bet with the young go-getter Paul. Paul was never one to turn down a bet, even when he thought he might lose. In this case, he won. And here I was today. “Years later, he gave me the campground.”
“Gave it to you?” She asked.
“After Paul went to jail, all of my possessions were seized, except for Happy Trails Campground and the camper where I live because they were in my name only.” There wasn’t any sense in reliving the entire story of how my lawyer had broken the bad news to me in his Manhattan office, trading my luxury car keys for a flamingo key chain with a camper key dangling off it.
I had no idea Paul had owned a campground. It was a shock to me how years before, he’d deeded the property over to me. Just one of many things I didn’t know. In fact, I didn’t even know my husband like I thought I did.
“After I found out that I owned Happy Trails, I made a visit and haven’t left. I fell in complete love with camping life and the campground itself.” I left out all the in between stuff like the shock of my new life and living arrangements. Something I was embarrassed about now, but it truly had been a scary time for me.
“You’re being modest.” Allison scooted up in the chair and rested her forearms on the edge of the conference table. “I want to get to the nitty gritty. I’ve talked to a few Happy Trails residents who have made the campground their year-round home. They tell me that Happy Trails was almost inhabitable. After I did a little digging into your married life, I have to assume it was hard for you to go from a mansion in the Hamptons to a tiny camper.”
“I admit I was taken aback when I pulled into Happy Trails the first time. The Kentucky Bluegrass had been burnt up, the lake had a mucky film over it, and the buildings were in bad shape.” There was no way denying that Happy Trails had come a long way since I moved to Normal a few months ago. “I’m happy to say that it’s fully back up on its feet and we are booked for the next three seasons.”
“That’s fascinating. I mean, you waltz into Normal this hoity-toity New York City housewife with all the luxuries the world could offer. You walked into a crazy situation where almost all the residents of Happy Trails had been victims of your husband.”
“Ex. I didn’t waltz.” My eyes narrowed as I wondered where this interview was going.
She grazed over my comment and continued to look down at her notes.
“I mean, he didn’t pay the manager for years, though he did let her live there for free. It was rundown and nothing worked, including the laundry machines. Your husband swindled a lot of Normal residents out of their retirement accounts. How did it feel to be the most hated woman in the town?” She smiled like her words were daggers.
“Well, you’ve done quite a lot of research.” I could’ve reminded her that I didn’t really want to talk about what Paul had done to the people of Normal, but I decided to deal with it head on. Seriously, how many people were reading National Parks of America Magazine? “I’m fully aware of what Paul did to the people and the town of Normal. Especially when a big chunk of their economy comes from the campground. So when I saw what a disarray Happy Trails was in, I decided it was time to make things right with the entire community.”
“That’s when you came up with the brilliant social media campaign?” She was finally getting to the true reason for the interview.
“I have to give credit to my friend Abby Fawn. She’s the librarian at the Normal County Library. As you pointed out, the laundry machines at Happy Trails weren’t working and, having driven from New York, I needed to do laundry.” The memory of my meeting the ladies of the Laundry Club was very fond. I loved telling the story. “I took my laundry to The Laundry Club.”
“The Laundry Club is a full-service laundromat located in downtown Normal. Correct?” she asked.
“Yes. Though it’s so much more than that. There’s fresh coffee, jigsaw puzzles, a book club. It’s like a community.” I couldn’t stop my smile from growing. “That’s where I met a group of women I consider my friends. It’s like meeting your friends at a coffee shop, only it’s a laundromat.”
“Tell me about the women.” She seemed to be really interested.
“First, there’s Dottie Swaggert, Queenie French, Abby Fawn, and Betts Hager.” Even though I was telling the story to her phone, she was still taking notes. “They welcomed me with open arms and really took me under their wing. Abby is the one who took my idea about having some sort of fundraiser to help bring the campground back to what it used to be in its glory days and ran with it. She did all the social media hash tagging and it just took off.”
“That’s what brings us here today. There was so much buzz about the grand reopening of Happy Trails that you ended up booking all the lots for the entire next year. No one even seemed to care that your husband’s body floated to the top of the lake. Wasn’t he murdered?”
She had to add in the last part, didn’t she? I lowered my eyes and stared at her for a second. She fidgeted a smidgen as if she realized she was teetering on a fine line.
“Ex,” I sighed and grabbed another donut. This time, I stuffed it in my mouth just as I heard the camera click. “You aren’t going to print that one, are you?”
“You’re originally from Kentucky.” She’d obviously been digging around more than just my married life. My palms started to sweat and itch. “Why don’t you tell me about that?”
“There’s really nothing to tell. It was a lifetime ago.” I pinched a smile. “I’m happy to say that I’m back in Kentucky and enjoying living at Happy Trails Campground. We are ready for more families to join us for a terrific vacation.” I spouted off the office phone number and the website URL, which was also Abby’s doings.
“We have a monthly party where we get together for food and friendship. It’s free to the public. This month’s is about this late Indian summer we are having so it has a desert theme. Dottie Swaggert is the social coordinator for Happy Trials. If you look on social media, you’ll find all the information you need using hashtag Summer Sizzler. Come one, come all.”
“Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today. I know I probably pushed a little too much, but I think everyone is going to love how you completely turned the campground around and brought a feel-good story to Normal, Kentucky.” Alison stood up and gathered her belongings. “I ran by the campground earlier and took some photos. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all.” I took another donut. “Please let us know when we are in it so we can frame the article and hang it on the wall in the office.”
Little did I realize just how many people did subscribe to National Parks of America Magazine, but I was soon going to find out.