Hubbard was one of the oldest no-account towns on the coast of Oregon. Men there fished commercially or helped others deep-sea fish for sport; they worked in the woods cutting timber, or they worked in the mill over in Sawyer, making paper amidst a great noise and stink. They lived hard, bore scars, coveted danger and died either young and violently or unnecessarily old. The women worked, or not. The children belonged to them.
Hubbard was one of those places where you could still have your choice of oceanfront trailers--old rusting aqua and silver tunafish cans with moisture problems. Highway 101, the West's westernmost route from Canada to Mexico, was the town's only through street, a straight and single shot lined with gift shops and candy shops and kite shops and a Dairy Queen, shell art and postcards and forty-six flavors of saltwater taffy, homemade right here. There was everywhere a spirit of cheer, clutter and nakedly opportunistic goodwill: what Hubbard had it would happily sell you, and if you didn't see it, just ask. Everyone loved a tourist, and the fatter the cat, the better. To a point. The locals maintained their own entrances to the Dairy Queen, Anchor Grill and Wayside Tavern: unmarked doors around back by the service entrances, where there was no parking problem.
In this town, beautiful even if no-account, lived two women, old friends, Petie Coolbaugh and Rose Bundy. Rose was a big, soft woman of calm purpose and measurable serenity. Petie was small and hard and tight and flammable, like the wick of a candle. They were both thirty-one, and ever since grade school had been celebrating good times, hunkering down in lean ones, hiding truths from each other's families, sitting up with each other's babies. In the last six weeks they had also become business partners. They made soup for a living now.
Two months ago a cafe and coffeehouse had come to Hubbard by way of a brother and sister, fraternal twins from Southern California who'd had the idea of coming north to slow down. They had bought the old barbershop at one end of town and moved in tables and church pews and giant green ferns. They bought crockery dishes, an espresso machine, quilted tablecloths and posters for the walls. They sanded the old fir floors and built a mahogany counter of great beauty and grace. They installed a tiny kitchen, named the place Souperior's, and then, instead of hiring a cook, they held auditions.
Bring your best soup (they invited all of Hubbard, on index cards in city hall, the post office and the Quik Stop) to Souperior's next Saturday afternoon. Winners get on our menu. Grand winner gets a job offer.
Although Hubbard loved its tourists, resident newcomers were a source of suspicion. For a week or so the little index cards--tacked up fresh and bright among the curling notices about firewood and crab pot repairs and handmade dog figurines--excited a lot of comment, most of it skeptical. On the other hand, an invitation to compete against your neighbors didn't come along often except for the county fair, and in the end, sixty-four soups were entered in the contest and were judged during an open house and soup-feed by the cafe's owners, Nadine and Gordon Latimer. Petie and Rose won with a jointly submitted bottomfish stew born of desperation the year Eddie Coolbaugh broke his foot and couldn't work for three months. A fisherman Rose had been dating then had fed them all from the junkfish left behind on a sportfishing charter boat. Two more of Rose's soups also made it onto the menu. When she was offered the job of soup cook, she asked if she and Petie could share it. The deal was that they would supply the cafe with two fresh soups each day, Tuesday through Sunday, and they could work from home. Breads came from the Riseria in Sawyer; Nadine handled the salads herself. Every day the soups would be different until the menu was exhausted and they could start again. New soups would always be under consideration.
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