Still alive

OK … I promise to give a full report on the wedding in the very near future, but right now, I am busy watching a big, grizzled biker from Detroit teach a 5-year-old Japanese girl how to make s’mores over the fire pit in front of the Tumbleweed. In case you are wondering, it is quite possibly the cutest thing I have ever seen.

— Sierra


How to make a biker cry

A half-dozen bikers from Las Cruces checked in tonight, having taken advantage of the utterly gorgeous weather to hike the dunes at White Sands in the morning, cruise up Highway 54 all afternoon, and then pick up 66 from Santa Rosa to Coldwater this evening. They’d called from Alamogordo to tell me they were coming. I told them I’d give them a discount on their rooms if they’d stop in Tularosa and pick up some green chile pecans for me. They showed up with two pounds of pecans and a little package of pecan brittle. I managed to get one piece of the pecan brittle before Grant and Joey descended on it like locusts.

Our guests were in the mood to socialize, so Grant and I let Joey and Lil Miss hold down the fort while we headed down the street to Casa de Jesus. As usual, Jesus fired up the karaoke machine as soon as I walked in. I am playing a very dangerous game with this karaoke nonsense, but Grant loves it, and the little snot knows I can’t resist when he turns those dark eyes my way and whispers, “Please?”

If you ever need to make a big, tough biker cry, I have the secret:

1. Sing “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
2. Follow it up with “Old Violin.”

After I’d made everybody in the bar sniffle, I roughed up my vocal cords with smokes and bourbon and then tackled “Kozmic Blues,” which about drove Grant up a wall.

I really ought to be ashamed of myself for teasing that poor boy so mercilessly.

Two weeks….

— Sierra

No vacancy

Wow. Just when I thought tourist season was winding down, a couple from Michigan pulled up in a 1968 Volkswagen Microbus with a Partridge Family paint job. No sooner had I checked them in than a family from Australia — mom, dad, and 4-year-old daughter — arrived in a rented Land Cruiser. An hour later, six French bikers roared up on Harleys and filled up my remaining rooms.

They’re all gathered around the fire pit, toasting marshmallows and making s’mores. I’d join them, but I’m so sleepy I can barely keep my eyes open, so I think I’ll just call it a night.

— Sierra

Still raining

Judging from the tumbleweeds scurrying down Route 66, we’ve got another nasty storm blowing in. I wish I had a cistern. I could save a lot of money on water bills if I could harvest some of the rain that’s been running off my roof lately.

I finally got my picture printed and framed. I put it in a shadowbox with the baseball card and my game tickets and — is this too dorky? — the marker Ryno used to sign it. I think it turned out pretty well.

I hung it behind the front desk, much to the delight of a couple from Chicago who checked in right after dinner. Their first date was June 23, 1984. He took her to Wrigley Field.

They were even more delighted when I told them I happened to own a Cubs DVD set that included that entire game. I made them some kettle corn (the closest I could get to Cracker Jack on the spur of the moment) and let them watch the game in the lobby.

I really ought to put DVD players in my rooms and let people check out movies to watch while they’re here. I bet that would go over really well.

— Sierra

Unexpected visitors

Brother Jerry came by yesterday evening to check on me after I missed the morning service. I told him I hadn’t been feeling well and left it at that.

He assured me that all would be well, and that any problems I might be facing would sort themselves out in due time, and in a way that blessed everyone concerned. Then he took a little card out of his pocket, and in a graceful script, wrote:

Jn. 8:32

When he left, I looked up the verse:

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

What is the truth? And from what am I being freed? Fear? A relationship? Something else that I haven’t thought of yet? The verse should have made me feel better, but it just led me further into the bowels of a labyrinthine confusion whose passages seemed to be closing behind me.

Clutching the card, I sank into my bubble chair and closed my eyes. I was so absorbed in my thoughts that I didn’t hear the bell announcing the arrival of a visitor. I opened my eyes to find Abuelito standing in my lobby, mumbling to himself as he arranged three jar candles on my mantlepiece.

He carried a small leather satchel, from which he removed a matchbox; a sage smudge; and an assortment of tiny objects. I opened my mouth to ask what he was doing, but all that came out was a hoarse squeak, which he ignored as he bustled purposefully about the room.

He walked over to the desk and picked up a small, framed picture of my father, which he set in front of the middle candle. Then he lit the sage and walked around the room, waving the pungent smoke into the corners and swirling it around the front of my chair until it made me cough.

When he’d finished smudging the lobby, he laid an ashtray on the mantle in front of Dad’s picture, set a cigarette in front of it, and lit it. Then he took another object out of his bag and held it in the match’s flame until it began to melt.

Bacon and cigarette smoke. Grandma’s house.

Abuelito reached over to the radio behind the desk and turned it on. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when my father’s voice floated out, just as it had on that awful afternoon in the waiting room when I was 15.

I’m dreaming, I thought. This cannot be happening.

As quickly and quietly as he had arrived, Abuelito disappeared. I’d met him only once in my life — and yet, somehow, he had reached into my past and left an assortment of symbols obviously meant to comfort me in my present. I examined the items on the mantle. There were milagros: a heart, a pair of eyes, a kneeling woman. A Zuni fetish bear for strength. The ashtray. Dad’s picture. An atomizer bottle containing a few drops of my mother’s perfume. A small, spindly tumbleweed. And in between, popping and flickering and casting strange shadows on the walls, the three jar candles: St. Julian the Hospitaller, St. Joseph, and St. Vincent Ferrer. I had to Google them later to figure out that they were the patron of innkeepers, the patron of doubt and of fathers, and the patron of reconciliation.

In their uncertain light, I looked at the cigarette. It was my grandmother’s brand. I suddenly remembered a painting Grandma kept on her living-room wall. It was one of those paint-by-numbers pictures kids used to make, and it showed the angel Gabriel addressing the Virgin Mary, with the words “FEAR NOT” written below the picture in elaborate calligraphy.

I propped Brother Jerry’s Bible verse against the St. Joseph candle and walked out into the clear night air to finish Grandma’s cigarette and listen to the coyotes. I’m still not sure what it all means, but between Brother Jerry and Abuelito, I’m a little more willing to believe it will turn out OK in the end.

— Sierra


Grant’s mom, Sandy, is quite possibly the coolest woman alive. She got up this morning and insisted on helping with the laundry as soon as she saw me loading the Speed Queen. The fact that I knew how to use a wringer washer scored me almost as many brownie points as the green chile crepes I made for breakfast.

She wanted to see where Grant worked, so he took her to the high school while I worked with Joey on his lessons. We are reading Henry Huggins, which we both absolutely love. Beverly Cleary has always been one of my favorites. When we finish, we are going to read Otis Spofford, which I think Joey will also enjoy.

After Joey’s lesson, we all piled into the XC70 and headed out to Sangre Mesa to hike on the trail. It was a little hot, but the wind was blowing, and we brought plenty of Gatorade, so it wasn’t too bad. Sandy was utterly charmed by all the little lizards darting in between the rocks on the mesa, and she stopped to have a silent conversation with a gopher snake that was sunning itself on the trail. (Grant shot me an apologetic look, as if this were the flakiest thing he’d ever seen, but I loved it. I envy people who can commune with wildlife like that.)

When we finished our hike, we cooled down with giant cups of shaved ice from Scout’s Yellow Snow and then came back to the Tumbleweed for a late lunch. We spent the balance of the afternoon hanging out in the lobby (Sandy loved the bubble chair, of course), listening to Sandy tell funny stories about things Grant did when he was little.

Grant fired up the grill this evening, and we had a wonderful time eating dinner with a pair of Route 66 tourists from Marseilles and a biker from San Francisco who told us stories about his harrowing ride to Los Angeles on the Pacific Coast Highway.

I don’t know why I was so nervous about meeting Sandy. She totally gets the Tumbleweed.

— Sierra

Fab Four, mon.

I was picking up groceries in Tucumcari this evening when Grant called and asked me to add three six-packs of Red Stripe and a half-dozen racks of ribs to the cart.

“We’ve got guests willing to sing for their supper,” he explained.

I came home to find a guy with dreadlocks in my front yard, setting up steel drums. He grinned at me as Grant came out to help me unload the groceries. “I figured Red Stripe would go well with reggae,” Grant said. “The Four Little Birds checked in right before I called you. They’re going to entertain our other guests this evening while I barbecue.”

“I see,” I said. “Who are our other guests?”

“A couple from Australia with a 4-year-old named Penny; a young soldier’s wife with a 2-year-old; and a couple of Swedish travel writers,” Grant said.

I assumed the Four Little Birds were a Bob Marley tribute band, but as it turned out, they were actually a Beatles tribute band that played Marley-style covers of old Beatles tunes.

You have not lived until you have watched a toddler and a 4-year-old dance to a reggae version of “Got to Get You Into My Life.”

— Sierra