“Lucky,” people say when they learn I am restoring a motel on Route 66. “I’ve always wanted to do something like that.”

Let’s get something straight: I am not lucky. I am blessed. I haven’t always realized it, because blessings have a way of disguising themselves as curses just to see if you’re paying attention, but I am blessed, nonetheless.

My father — a prominent singer-songwriter whose name I’d rather not mention just now (once people hear his name, they tend to forget mine) — didn’t want me. He divorced my mother right before I was born.

It felt like a curse when I was a kid, but looking back, I can see how much Mom and I learned and how strong we became by depending entirely on each other.

My mother died when I was 15, which forced me to call my father. He was ready to be a dad — and had been for some time — but didn’t have the nerve to contact me.

He finished raising me, put me through college, sent me balloons when I landed a photojournalism job at a local newspaper, and cried when I moved to St. Louis to take a position at a bigger paper.

I got downsized in May 2009 and moved back home to wait tables at my favorite diner while I figured out what to do next. Pink slips usually aren’t blessings, but this one came two weeks before my father got a scary diagnosis. Without it, I couldn’t have spent the last six months of his life by his side.

He left me an insurance policy and his music catalog. I took off down Route 66 to scatter his ashes in the Pacific Ocean. I figured a road trip would give me time to plot my next move. Along the way, I fell in love with New Mexico, heard Miss Shirley’s story, and realized the Tumbleweed was as logical a next step as anything I was likely to come up with.

I am not wealthy. I get small, infrequent royalty checks from Dad’s record label. They are not enough to live on. If the restoration work isn’t too expensive, and I don’t get too carried away with the grocery bills, the remaining insurance money should be enough to keep me afloat through the summer.

Hopefully that will be long enough for the Tumbleweed to start turning at least a small profit. If it’s not, I guess Joey and I will just relax and tumble along with the west wind toward our next blessing.

2 Responses to “How did this happen?”

  1. Michael said

    Glad to see the old motel getting spiffed up. Used to stay there once in a while years ago, when my per diem was lousy, but then it got to where I could afford a better bed for the night.
    Just last week I was driving through and had to stop at Bill’s for some antifreeze. I picked up one jug, then thought better of it and got a second, just in case. On account of some hard times, I don’t get per diem any more, and the old Taurus sometimes get a bit steamed.
    While I was paying for the Prestone, I noticed a couple of gold boxes on the back counter, and darned if it wasn’t some Kodachrome. Two boxes of 20 exposure. They were out of date, so Bill sold ’em to me for half price.
    “Don’t get any call for 35 millimeter any more,” Bill said. “Stuff’s all digits nowadays.”
    I told Bill that I still liked to shoot my Nikon, when I get the time.”
    Bill reached down under the cash box and pulled out a leather case. He opened it up to a beautiful F1. He wouldn’t let me hold it.
    “My son sent this home from Vietnam in 1968,” he said. “He didn’t make it back.”
    “It ain’t for sale,” he said.
    I told Bill thanks for the Prestone, and headed on west.
    I can’t wait to get back to see your sign lit up.

  2. What a great story, Mike.

    You must have caught Big Bill in the store. What a treat — that ol’ boy probably knows more about Coldwater than anybody else alive. He opened the feed store in 1950. Bill Jr. added the hardware department when he bought it from his dad in ’88. Big Bill moved to Florida right after he sold the store, but he moved back to Coldwater after his wife died a couple of years ago. He spends most of his time playing dominoes over at Casa de Jesus, but he’ll come in and help at the store every now and then.

    I didn’t realize Bill Jr. had a brother. Guess that explains the POW-MIA sticker on the register.

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