* 1 … POTENTIAL SALE *
He glanced down and kicked at the cracked pavement. In that moment, he flashed back to a scene some 40 years earlier.
“Get away from that wet concrete!” his mom had commanded, then turned back to the discussion between his dad and the contractor.
Now, that concrete was no longer new, far from it, and his Dad had been dead some 5 years. Meanwhile, his Mom lay in a nursing home, close to death, and he was contemplating selling the building … and the concrete … to new owners, who may or may not keep up the Route 66 traditions.
He didn’t want to sell the place, but he didn’t think he could keep up with it either.
It was a dream of his Dad’s … and, as it turned out, his Mom’s, too, though she never admitted it. His Dad had a fascination with Route 66 … and just HAD to own SOME business along Route 66, “for nostalgic purposes”, he had explained at the time. So, with only some savings and a gritty determination, his parents bought a run down place along Route 66 … and contracted some renovations … including new concrete along the walkways … that same concrete that now held their son’s stare.
He sighed heavily, and took his stare away from the concrete to glance at his cell phone. A prospective buyer was already 30 minutes late. Figures, he muttered to himself. He kicked at the cracked concrete again, and turned around in the warm sun, looking for a car that may or may not show up. He looked back at the building and couldn’t believe 40 years had gone by … so quickly.
He glanced again at his cell phone, and hit the redial button. The prospective buyer answered, and explained: “Sorry, we’re not coming. I don’t think we really want that place after all.”
Good, he thought. At least I don’t have to deal with this today.
He jammed the cell phone back into his pocket, glanced at the building once more, and turned and started to walk toward his car. He kicked again at the pavement, wondering if his parents ever wondered if they made the right decision moving here. He knew they did.
* 2 … ARRIVING *
When they (him, his parents and 2 siblings) first moved to town after the renovations to the building were completed, the local folks were not quite sure what to make of the new family in town. After all, the local newspaper was quick to inform everyone of the newcomers … especially since they were “city folk” moving to “small town USA”, hoping to make a go along a small stretch of famed Route 66. The townsfolk figured the new family was in for a culture shock of sorts, but they weren’t. His Dad had taken the time to educate his kids about Route 66 and the importance attached to even the smallest of towns. So, none of them were shocked at the relaxed life they had entered. Truth be told, they were all eager for the change from the “big city” life.
But, they weren’t prepared for the “cold shoulder” they received from the locals. The first month his parents’ business was open, they only had one visitor. It took his Dad quite some work, and the entire family some sacrifices, to convince the locals that they were not the enemy … that they were, indeed, truly enthusiastic about and held an infectious passion in Route 66. Just a few short months later, a visitor to the town would never have guessed that this family of 5 had ever lived in a big city.
* 3 … GOODBYE *
As he pulled his big, old 1976 Caprice sedan into the driveway of the home he’s shared with his Mom for 5 years … the same house his parents purchased when they moved to the small town, he realized his cell was still stuck in his pocket. He pulled it out and noticed a missed call. But, as he was about to hit the button to see who had called, his cell phone blinked again. The display showed the incoming call as “sis”.
“Yeah?” he answered.
“She is gone,” his younger sister whispered. “I tried to call you…..”
Silence. He couldn’t speak. Instead, he glanced at the dashboard of what had been his Dad’s pride and joy for so many years to see how much gas was left, and quickly said, “I’ll be there soon. Have you called…”
“Yes. I talked to him while a song was playing. He said he was going to call Kyle to see if he could do the rest of his show so he could take the next flight out of Nashville.”
“OK. I will see you soon. Here we go again….”
He ended the call and backed the Caprice out of the driveway; the half-tank of gas would be plenty to get him back and forth one more time today. He had planned to park the Caprice and grab his other car, but he didn’t want to take time to switch cars out now. Besides, the Caprice was at the center of the family for years, before his Dad bought a 1990 Dodge Caravan, which was then replaced by a 2000 Ford Crown Victoria. Of those three, the Caprice was the only one still in the family.
As he headed down the road, he turned the radio on to AM 650 to see if he could listen to his brother’s show. His brother, the youngest of the three, had been the first to “have enough” of the small town life … and headed for a big city. He loved older country music and landed himself a job at Nashville’s WSM radio, the premier radio station that, at times, can be heard for miles.
The station came in … but just barely. The first voice he heard, though, was his Mom’s: “…has been tremendous. And, because of that, my eldest son has agreed to help me keep the business open for a year so we can continue the tradition and greet people if they want to stop.”
It was the recording his Mom had done for his brother’s show after his Dad died. The support they had received at the time was overwhelming, and at the urging of the local Route 66 Association, he had agreed to quit his job and help his Mom full time at the business to greet Route 66 travelers as they explored the famed roadway. He had agreed to only one year, but with all of the fellow Route 66 people stopping in to see his Mom after his Dad’s death and the daily trek of Route 66 explorers, one year quickly turned into three. Then, his Mom became ill and he had to rely on others to open the business … which is why he had decided to put the business up for sale.
His brother then spoke: “That was my Mom, about 5 years ago, speaking after Dad’s death. A few moments ago, I received a call from my sister to tell me that Mom has died. Kyle is on his way to the Opryland Hotel studios to handle the rest of my show. Once he arrives, I will turn the reins over to him, and I will head to grab the next flight out of Nashville to my home town. Now, don’t you worry, I WILL be back.”
After a long pause, his brother spoke again: “And now, for Mom, Patty Loveless, ‘How Can I Help You Say Goodbye?'”
* 4 … PREPARATION *
Five years earlier, the response to his Dad’s death had been overwhelming. By this time, the entire family had well established themselves as Route 66 enthusiasts and, to some extent, legends. As the news of the death spread, thousands called, sent cards, and came to visit, which is partly why he had agreed to help his Mom for one year. The service for his Dad was originally scheduled for a church in their small town, but with so many wanting to attend, they opted to move it to a larger church in the closest “big” city, a move that all three kids thought was a bit ironic.
Now, with his Mom dead, he knew the response would be just as overwhelming … mostly because everyone knew that Route 66 was as much a part of her as it had been for her husband, and perhaps even more so, though she would never admit it. This in mind, his head spun trying to think of all the details that would have to be figured out, though he knew this was not the time to think about them. He was, however, glad the prospective buyer had backed out. At least he wasn’t in the middle of sale negotiations … and a small part of him was beginning to think that he just may need to keep the place open and in the family for a little while longer.
The next few days weren’t as difficult as he had anticipated. His brother flew in from Nashville yet that same night, actually very early the next morning, and he went to pick him up. When his brother got into the Caprice, he exclaimed, “Now I understand why you wanted to keep this car.”
His sister did most of the arrangements, while the youngest brother watched his nieces and nephew. As the middle child, she was torn. She loved the “small town” life, but also knew she had more of the world to see. So, she went to college and graduated with honors. She then married her college sweetheart, and moved with him to the “big city”, though she wasn’t all that excited about it. A few years later, she gave birth to their first child, a girl, and convinced her husband that they should move to a small town. They didn’t return to her home town, but a few towns away, close enough so that she could be near family … including her Route 66 family … and close enough for her husband to not have to drive to far to his job in the city.
The eldest brother found himself spending most of his time at the business. Once word spread about his Mom’s death, people started calling and dropping by … just as they had done when his Dad died. A few members of the local Route 66 Association stopped by to offer the auditorium in the state’s museum for the place for the service … and to ask about his intentions for the business. He didn’t know. He told them about the most-recent prospective buyer dropping out, and the two told him that the state Route 66 Association would be interested in purchasing it … or helping him run it. He told them he’d let them know in time.
Truth be told, though, he was starting to realize that this business had become his life’s work. He hadn’t intended that to happen. It was, after all, his Dad’s dream. But, meeting the Route 66 people, along with the travelers, was simply fascinating to him … and he wasn’t quite sure he was ready to let go … or that he ever would be. So, the evening before his Mom’s service, he spoke to his younger siblings about keeping the business open … and in the family’s ownership.
His sister was very much eager to see them retain ownership, and told him that she would be willing to help out a few days a week. The youngest brother, perhaps feeling a little bit guilty, wasn’t as eager for the family to retain ownership. He knew he wouldn’t be there to help out, and he wasn’t so sure the “small town” life was really right for any of them anymore.