Visitors

Today was pretty uneventful. I did a couple of loads of laundry (for the record, Miss Shirley’s old Speed Queen gets clothes cleaner than any modern machine I’ve ever used) and gave the walls in Unit Four a coat of paint.

We had visitors yesterday: A young couple in a U-Haul truck stopped here on their way to Joplin, Mo. They said they used to live in Picher, Oklahoma, which may be the most snakebitten town in the United States. If I understood them correctly, it began as a lead-mining community, turned into a Superfund site, started falling into a sinkhole, got hit by a tornado, and finally ceased to exist when the last few residents moved out last summer.

My guests had been working in California the past couple of years but decided to move back to Joplin, which is about 25 miles from Picher, to be closer to relatives. They said the cost of living in California was ridiculous, and they’re expecting their first child, so they’re going home.

They came in late last night, while I was sitting out front, listening to the coyotes and finishing my usual cappuccino. They were pretty exhausted from driving all day and pretty happy to find the Tumbleweed open. I fixed them breakfast this morning before they headed east.

I hope they find what they’re looking for in Joplin. My hometown still exists, but it’s changed so much since I was a kid, and so many of the people in my life have vanished so rapidly, I think I understand that rootless, what-do-I-do-now feeling that must have ambushed them when Picher disappeared.

One of my goals for the Tumbleweed is for it to serve as a comfortable, familiar touchstone for the people whose lives send them traveling up and down this old highway. This motel has been in constant operation for more than 60 years, and I want it to stay open and alive to provide at least some modicum of continuity for those customers whose travels bring them through Coldwater year after year. Even if they’ve never slept here, I want them to be able to look out the window and say, “Oh, look — there’s that old motel we always pass when we come through here.”

Change is inevitable, but we need some kind of constant to ground us. I know all too well how disorienting the world can be without it.

— Sierra

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