This was Valentine’s Day in Coldwater:

A love note written in dry-erase marker on the bathroom mirror and a delicate half-and-half heart with baseball stitches etched into the sides, floating atop a decaf macchiato, from Grant.
A lopsided construction-paper heart decorated with Necco sweets and a lot of glitter from Joey. Message: “Happy Valentine’s Day. I’m glad you’re my Sissy. Love, Joey.”
A sunrise hike up Sangre Mesa.
A spirited softball practice in which Lil Miss taught the rest of the team how to slide under a tag. I love that kid. She’s the scrappiest little thing I’ve ever seen — no bigger than a minute, but she puts on that catcher’s mask and scares the living crap out of everybody who even thinks about crossing the plate on her watch. Funny girl.
A couple from Tularosa celebrating the holiday by coming back to the room at the Tumbleweed where they spent their wedding night 50-odd years ago.
A pack of coyotes singing somewhere out on Hank Freed’s back 40.

Hope you had a good Valentine’s Day, wherever you are.

— Sierra


January 24, 2011

Dr. Scherer called me today and told me to bring the truck to the district storage building behind the middle school. Joey was helping the janitors clean a bunch of surplus equipment and books out of the building, and they found a seven-foot-long slide rule buried under a mountain of other obsolete equipment. It’s all dirty and scratched up, and some of the numbers are worn almost completely off of it, but the head of maintenance showed Joey (who is having a devil of a time with long division) how it worked, and he was so enthralled with it that Dr. Scherer told him he could have it if I’d come and haul it home.

Grant and Joey and Lil Miss are now sitting in the middle of the floor in the lobby, using it to do Lil Miss’ algebra homework and trying to figure out the best way to mount it on the wall. Because if there’s one thing I need in my lobby, it’s obviously a seven-foot-long slide rule.

Lil Miss has promised Joey that she will help him refinish it and repaint the faded numbers and tick marks this weekend.

Between that and the coin-op Pac-Man table in the corner (my Christmas present to Grant), I might as well change the name of this place to the Nerdway Motor Inn.

— Sierra

Post-holiday update

January 7, 2011

I’ve been so busy decompressing from the holiday craziness that I forgot to post anything about the holidays themselves.

We rode a bit of an emotional roller coaster around here, and I don’t think my hormones are to blame for most of it. This wasn’t my first round of holidays without Dad, but last year, I was so busy settling his estate, tying up loose ends, and selling everything I owned in preparation for the move to New Mexico that I didn’t really have time to think about how much I missed him

This year, I had plenty of opportunity and plenty of reason for reflection and quiet contemplation.

It was wonderful to spend Christmas Eve curled up in Grant’s arms, listening to Harvey snore softly under the Christmas tree and discussing what sorts of traditions we’d like to establish when the baby is old enough to participate. It was wonderful to spend Christmas Day exchanging gifts with Sandy and feasting on the homemade duck ravioli she’d worked on for two days. And it was wonderful to watch Joey and Lil Miss shoot off fireworks in the front yard to welcome the new year the following weekend.

It wasn’t so wonderful to burst into tears in the middle of the lobby when Dad’s version of “Happy Xmas” came on the radio while I was running a credit card for a couple from Michigan who just wanted a quiet place to sleep, and it was even less wonderful to find Joey sobbing inconsolably in the kitchen on Christmas morning because there were no gingersnaps waiting for him in the cookie jar. Miss Shirley, it seems, used to make gingersnaps every year on Christmas Eve, after Joey went to bed, and they would be waiting for him in the cookie jar when he awoke. Although she’s been away from the Tumbleweed for the better end of a year, it didn’t really click for Joey that she was gone forever until he wandered into the kitchen, opened the cookie jar, and found nothing but the chocolate-chip cookies he and Lil Miss had made a few days earlier.

We are a mess.

— Sierra


December 22, 2010

No, I’m not dead. Yes, I have an excuse for my lengthy silence.

“Let me ‘splain. No — there is too much. Let me sum up.”
Inigo Montoya

Here are all the things I’ve done in the past week:

1. Made approximately seventy million cookies in forty-two different flavors. (You have no idea how many cookie exchanges are held in Coldwater, N.M., during the month of December. It truly boggles the mind.)
2. Attended two school programs, a band concert, a chorus concert, a Chamber luncheon, a chili supper, and a church Christmas cantata.
3. Helped the Chamber director sort and wrap umpty-three gifts for kids on the Angel Tree we put up at Bill Swinney’s place.
4. Watched Sandy and Joey use poster board and tinted craft glue to make a suncatcher for Grant’s office window.
5. Discovered firsthand that morning sickness is a bitch.

Yeah, you read that last part right.

Thus far, we have not told Joey. He will, of course, be utterly thrilled, but I am not sure exactly what he does and does not know about how pregnancy works or where babies come from, and we are not telling him anything until Grant works up the nerve to explain it to him.

If anybody wants to start a betting pool on when this will happen, I’ll put five bucks on “baby’s 35th birthday.”

— Sierra

Joey’s terror

December 14, 2010

Joey had a bad dream last night.

I don’t know what time he got up or how long he’d been there, but Grant found him shivering and sobbing next to the culvert behind the Tumbleweed at 5 o’clock this morning. While I made some cheese grits and hot chocolate to warm him up, Grant put a blanket around his shoulders and tried to talk him down from his terror.

“Mama … Mama …” was all he could manage for a long time. He sat on the couch, clutching his blanket and crying, while Harvey leaned against him, whimpering softly.

I handed him a mug of cocoa with marshmallow creme and sprinkles.

“Joey.” I put my arm around him. “You’re safe. What happened out there?”

“Mama went away,” he said. “Both my mamas went away, and then my sissys went away, and then Grant went away, and after that, nobody was left. Just me. Just Joey, and nobody else. I didn’t know what to do, so I went outside where I think, and I tried to think of what to do, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t take care of Joey and the Tumbleweed all by myself. So I just sat and cried.”

Bit by bit, I managed to piece together his dream: the awful memory of losing first his mother and then Miss Shirley, and the imagined terror of losing everybody else he loved and finding himself abandoned and alone in a world that felt suddenly strange and hostile and very, very lonely.

It occurred to me later that this will be Joey’s first Christmas without Miss Shirley. I don’t know whether that had something to do with his dream, but I hope Sandy’s visit will provide enough of a distraction to keep him from thinking of it next week….

— Sierra

Back online

December 10, 2010

What is it with truckers and telephone poles? Last Saturday morning, a big rig hauling a wind turbine blade failed to swing wide enough while making a turn and took out the telephone pole on the corner — the same one Mouse hit last March. (Speaking of Mouse, he sent us a Christmas card this week. He said he’s planning to be back out this direction in a couple of weeks, and he’s looking forward to stopping and staying at the Tumbleweed on his way through.)

It only took a couple of days to fix the phone lines last spring. I don’t know what the holdup was this time around, but we haven’t had phone or Internet service all week. If it were tourist season, I’d probably be pretty hacked off about the delay, but I’m sure I haven’t lost too many December customers over it. I’ve just used the time to finish up the calendar for the Chamber, spend time with Joey, and digitally archive about 600 historic photos.

Joey and I started volunteering at the grade school this week. Joey is a library monitor, which basically means he hangs out with the librarian, helps sort books, and reads to little kids during story time. The kids love him because he’s a grownup who understands what it is to be a kid. I love watching him work with them, because he mimics everything I do when I read to him — including stopping every few minutes to ask the kids if they recognize a particular word. If they get it wrong, he says, “No, but that’s a good try. Look at it again,” just the way I do with him, and if they get it right, he puts down the book and gets everybody to clap and cheer.

The kids eat it up, and I think he’s really getting a lot out of being in the library so much. He’s learning how to use the resources to find information — if a kid comes in to ask for help finding books about a particular subject, Joey watches over the librarian’s shoulder and then tries to help the next kid himself — and he’s very curious about the kids’ class projects. He asks them a lot of questions about whatever they happen to be learning, which is great for him and probably even better for the kids, who are reinforcing their own lessons by teaching them.

Meanwhile, I have been grading a lot of papers, making a lot of photocopies, and filling out a lot of paperwork so I can get certification to cover classes when teachers are absent. The principal was pretty amped when I told him I’d be willing to serve as a volunteer sub. He said a lot of substitute teachers — even the ones who are paid to be there — have trouble following a lesson plan, so the kids don’t learn much when their regular teachers are gone. I guess Dr. Scherer and Grant have told him about my work with Joey, so he’s pretty confident that I’d make a good sub.

Every time I think my life can’t get any weirder, some new project presents itself. If you had told me 13 months ago that I would be married to a high-school principal, taking care of a developmentally disabled man nearly twice my age, running a motel, and substitute teaching in a tiny town in the middle of New Mexico, I’d have been convinced you were taking way too many hallucinogenic drugs … but here I am, and I love it.

— Sierra

Awesome idea

December 2, 2010

Joyce came by for coffee this morning. I hadn’t had a chance to talk to her since my wedding, but Grant has been telling Dr. Scherer all about Joey’s progress, so Joyce came by to see for herself.

As we sipped cappuccino and discussed the risk of ennui in Coldwater during the winter, she offered a terrific idea to keep Joey and me from getting bored while we wait for tourist season to return: Volunteer to help out at the grade school.

She said Coldwater Elementary is always in need of volunteers to help with stuff like making copies, reading to little kids, and helping teachers prepare materials for bulletin boards. There are a few parent volunteers, but most of the kids’ parents are working two or three jobs just to keep food on the table, so their ranks are fairly limited. Joey and I don’t have anything else to do with our mornings during the winter, and Joey is great with little kids, so I think we’ll head that direction Monday morning and offer our services as volunteers.

I am really amped about this idea. I think it will be really good for Joey, and it will keep me busy.

— Sierra

Cold Thanksgiving

November 25, 2010

Yikes. Winter has apparently arrived in Coldwater: It’s currently 16 degrees outside. Grant and I set the thermostats in all the empty rooms to 60 degrees this afternoon just to make sure the pipes wouldn’t freeze.

Cold weather notwithstanding, we’ve had a nice Thanksgiving. Grant and Sandy don’t like turkey any better than I do, so I made a big batch of chicken and dumplings instead, which was nice and warm and satisfying on a frigid afternoon.

We braved the cold to walk down to Casa de Jesus this evening. As usual, Jesus got out the karaoke machine. Just for Sandy, I worked up the nerve to try one of Dad’s old songs. When I finished, she cried a little bit and told me Dad would be proud of me … which, in turn, made me cry a little bit, but it was a good cry. Jesus was a little puzzled. We just told him the song reminded us of someone we used to know.

We capped the evening with big bowls of menudo — courtesy of Jesus’ wife — and then another short walk through the cold to get back to the Tumbleweed, where we found Joey checking in a pair of travelers all by himself. Add that to the list of blessings I can count this evening: Joey has come SO far in the past year. The first time I met him, he was completely dependent on Miss Shirley. He couldn’t read, his speech was barely coherent, and the most complicated financial transaction he could handle was the purchase of a couple of cans of tuna and an orange sherbet push-up from the convenience store. A year later, he’s waiting on guests and checking them into their rooms in my absence. I’d love to take credit for that, but Dr. Scherer, Grant, and the grade-school librarian have had at least as much to do with it as I have.

Hope you’re warm and happy and counting plenty of blessings this evening.

— Sierra

Giving thanks

November 24, 2010

I have a million blessings to count tomorrow, but the one I’m savoring the most at the moment is the simplest: a flock of brown construction paper hand turkeys decorated with tempera paint and embellished with gold glitter and red, orange, and yellow marabou feathers. Sandy and Lil Miss helped Joey and a pair of 4-year-old twins from Minnesota make them as decorations for the lobby this evening.

I cannot begin to explain why construction paper turkeys made by tracing around children’s hands delight me so much. They just do.

— Sierra

November 11

November 11, 2010

November 11 is important around here for two reasons.

First, it’s Veterans Day, which means Coldwater starts the morning with a sunrise presentation of the colors at Wallis Park — organized by our local VFW — and a prayer by Brother Jerry. All the schools hold assemblies to honor faculty, staff, and parents who have served in the military, and the kids spend the day learning the history of Armistice Day and writing thank-you letters to soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. I took Joey to the assembly at the grade school. The third-graders had made flags out of tissue paper and Elmer’s glue. Joey insisted on making one for Grant when we got home from the assembly.

Second, it’s the birthday of Route 66. Our guests this evening — a couple from Belgium and a photographer from Japan — were pretty excited about the fact that today was the 84th anniversary of the day Route 66 was commissioned as a federal highway.

I’m pretty excited about the fact that it’s cold and rainy, which gave me a perfect excuse to make a big batch of posole for dinner this evening. If there’s anything more wonderful than homemade posole with plenty of roasted green chiles, I’m sure I don’t know what it is.

Hope you had a warm-posole-on-a-cold-evening sort of day, wherever you are.

— Sierra


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