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When word reached California author and researcher Phil Daigle via social media that Allagash restaurant Two Rivers was closed down due to state executive orders during the pandemic, he figured the time was right to repay an old debt.
In 2018, Daigle was traveling through northern Maine as part of a two-week road trip with a buddy researching his own Acadian roots and the French-Canadian culture. Along the way they decided to take a side trip to the largely Scots-Irish community of Allagash where the duo experienced unexpected small-town hospitality.
“I’d made a friend on Facebook from Allagash and we had never met in real life,” Daigle, who was born in Fort Kent, said by phone recently from his home in Laguna Beach, California. “We decided to get up to Allagash and meet her.”
That social media friend was Darlene Kelly Dumond who was born and raised in Allagash. After leaving to attend college and work outside of the region in the mid-1980s she returned 15 years ago to help run the family’s restaurant Two Rivers. Dumond also works a seasonal job staffing one of the entry checkpoint gates for the North Woods all summer.
And that’s where Daigle and his friend caught up with her.
“We get up there and she’s working at the gate and we had this really nice chat with her,” Daigle said. “One thing led to another and she ended up inviting us to stay at the bunk house next to the restaurant for the next two nights as her guest.”
It didn’t stop there. Dumond also told Daigle and his friend to help themselves to whatever they needed or wanted inside the restaurant if they got hungry after it closed for the day at 3 p.m. Again, at no charge.
“At the time, I really felt that she had hosted us a gift and did not want us to offer any money,” Daigle said. “But I was always a bit bothered and not sure I had done the right thing not offering any money to her.”
In early March the pandemic hit. Soon after, most of Maine’s eateries, including Two Rivers were closed down. When he heard about that, Daigle said he knew what he wanted to do.
So one day last week when Dumond opened her mailbox at the end of the dirt lane leading from her house along the St. John River, she found a letter from Daigle. Inside was a note and check for $300 as a donation to the restaurant.
At first Dumond had to rack her brains to even remember the fact she’d hosted Daigle. Not that her time with him was not memorable. But because it’s an offer she has extended to multiple travelers over the years.
“It happens all the time,” Dumond said. “People arrive in Allagash from all over and some know full well where they are and are prepared for the adventure in front of them and others, well, not so much.”
For those “others,” Two Rivers is like an oasis in the desert. For more than 40 years, residents and visitors alike have been welcomed with food, directions, advice and kindness during operating hours. Even when it’s closed for the day, the eatery’s doors are never locked to anyone looking for a place to get out of the elements or help themselves to a meal.
“People can come in, use the phone, grab some food, use the bathroom or whatever they need,” Dumond said. “We know we are on the edge of the wilderness here and people sometimes need help to get where they are going.”
Before arriving in Allagash two years ago, Daigle had driven up from Boston and into Maritime Canada researching Acadian culture for his soon-to-be-released novel, The Acadian. The time in Allagash was spent exploring the dirt roads leading into the famed North Woods, watching logging operations, sitting next to the Allagash and St. John rivers and getting a glimpse of life at the end of the paved road.
“Darlene was so hospitable and gave us whatever she thought we might want,” said Daigle, who is now retired. “She even invited us to stay one night in her own home right on the river and we built a fire outside and it was really one of the most pleasant evenings of our trip.”
Once the pandemic that has shut down almost all leisure travel globally is over, Daigle would like to return to Allagash to sit by the river and enjoy a cup of coffee at Two Rivers with his friend Darlene Kelly Dumond once again.
For her part, Dumond can’t wait to welcome her regulars and newcomers alike back to the restaurant.
“As soon as I feel it is safe for my community and for my family we will open our doors,” Dumond said. “Don’t worry, Two Rivers will rock and roll again.”