_THAT’S THE HIGHWAY_

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* 5 … THE LETTER *

The service for their Mom was well-attended, as they expected. The state museum’s auditorium served as the backdrop, and people agreed that it worked well and was appropriate for the life being celebrated. Even after the service was done, people lingered for a few hours … conversing and reminiscing.

A few days after the service, the oldest son decided to keep the business … for now. He took it off the market, and told the state Route 66 association that he would accept their assistance in running the business for a while. His sister adjusted her schedule to help out 3 days per week, more than her older brother thought she would. The youngest sibling, however, returned to Nashville and his job at WSM. He still wasn’t convinced that keeping the business was in the best interest of the family, but he supported his older siblings in the decision.

A couple weeks after the service, the oldest sibling started the long process of sorting through his Mom’s things in the house. One day, he grabbed a box, placed it in the Caprice, and drove to the business. He knew volunteers from the state Route 66 association would be there that day, so he figured he’d have some time to go through the contents of the box. When he arrived at the business, the volunteers were there … already greeting some visitors.

He left the box in the Caprice and went to chat with the visitors. After they left, he retrieved the box from the Caprice, went into his office, and closed the door. As he started pulling things from the box, he came across an envelope. Curious, he turned the envelope over and found the words “PLEASE READ” written in his Mom’s hand writing. He opened the envelope, pulled out a letter and started reading.

“To my oldest son,” the letter began. “If you’re reading this, I’m guessing I’m dead, though if I am, I don’t know how long I’ve been gone. Maybe a few days, maybe a few weeks, months or even years. But, somehow, I don’t think too much time has transpired because I know you’ll want to start going through all of the stuff I’ve saved over the years, including this box. Which, of course, is why I’ve addressed this letter to you.”

At this point, he paused and looked up from the letter. He glanced around his office … the very one that his father had occupied for so many years. The very office where so many decisions were made. The very office where so many Route 66 travelers and enthusiasts had stopped in for a “quick” chat. He returned to the letter.

“I know that my death will force you to decide whether or not to keep the business. I think you already know my feelings on this, but I wanted to let you know that whatever you decide will be OK. Perhaps you’ve already sold it, but if you haven’t, I do hope you will keep it. Yes, the business was your father’s dream, and yes, I wasn’t too thrilled about it. But, I knew it was a love of his … and I wanted him to be happy. Turns out, though, it was my dream, too. And, I have a hunch that it is your dream, too, whether or not you admit it, much like myself.”

He chuckled. He knew his Mom was correct. He continued reading:

“Do you remember when they poured the concrete and we brought you with us? You kept wanting to touch that concrete. But, while I secretly wanted you to put your mark in it, I knew your father wanted the sidewalk to be pristine to welcome people. So, I kept telling you to keep away from it.”

Ah, yes, how well he remembered that…. The letter continued:

“Route 66 is not about the places or things alongside its pavement. The people make Route 66 what it is. Remember that, and the loss of landmarks along Route 66 will not be as painful as you might think.”

His mother had written more, but he couldn’t read more right now. He re-folded the letter, placed it in the envelope, and placed the envelope on the desk. He glanced around the office again and picked up the phone. ‘A couple of quick calls,’ he thought, ‘and I’ll be able to do it.’

* 6 … AN IDEA *

“Sure … I can be at the business a bit more for 2 weeks,” his sister replied to her brother’s query. “But, where will you be?”

He wanted to tell her what he was planning, but he didn’t want to jinx it. Instead, he avoided her question:
“Good. The volunteers from the state Route 66 Association are willing to help, so you won’t be there all by yourself, and I know they will be able to watch the place if you need to be somewhere else any given day.”

“OK….” His sister’s voice trailed off. She wanted to ask her question again, but she knew from the tone of his voice, her brother was not going to tell her where he was going…at least not right now. Though, she had a hunch what he wanted to do.

“Cool,” he said. “I will be in touch when I know more. Everything OK for you all?”

“Yes,” she answered, glancing at her watch. “But, I have to go pick up the kids right now. I will talk to you later, OK?”

“Sounds good,” he said. They both hung up.

While she frantically prepared to go pick up the kids, her brother sat back in the desk chair in the business’s office and sighed. He glanced at the envelope on the desk, but wasn’t in the mood right now to read the rest of his Mom’s letter. instead, he glanced around the office again, stood up and walked out to the main room of the business where the volunteers were talking with some visitors. He listened intently as the visitors recounted what they had seen so far along Route 66. He was amazed at their enthusiasm and knowledge, and told them so. They, of course, knew of his parents, and offered their condolences on the recent death of his Mom. He thanked them and quickly reminded them that “life goes on” … as does Route 66.

Once the visitors left, he told the volunteers he had to go out for a bit, but would be back later. He gathered a few things from the office, including his Mom’s letter, and drove off in the Caprice.

As he headed home to start making further plans, he wondered if he was crazy to even consider doing this. He also wondered if he should take the Caprice … or rent a newer car … or borrow an older car? He wondered what all he should do to prepare? Should he contact people? Should he see if anyone wanted to join him?

He was still in a daze of unanswered questions and concerns when the Caprice turned into the driveway. He knew he had plenty of time to make decisions, but he also knew the sooner he made those decisions, the better he’d feel about the idea. Yet, he was actually excited about the endeavor. After all, it is what his parents had talked about doing for years … and never completely accomplished. It is something he had always dreamt about, but never really thought of as a genuine possibility … until now.

He sat in the Caprice for what seemed an eternity as his mind kept racing about all sorts of different possibilities and scenarios. Almost instinctively, he grabbed the envelope with his Mom’s letter, took the letter out, unfolded it, started skimming it, and just about froze when he came to these words, near the end of the letter:

“Your father and I kept money saved for a number of years,” his Mom had written. “While we obviously expect you kids to divvy it up equally, I have a specific thought on how you should spend at least part of your inheritance, and I think you already know what that is.”

He didn’t need to keep reading; he knew what that thought was … and had already set plans into motion. Now, he had to follow through.

* 7 … A RETURN *

The ringing of the land line/house phone startled him awake. As he glanced around the living room from his vantage point on the couch, he wondered who on earth would be calling the house phone. Since his Mom’s death and memorial service, the house phone had not rung. People knew that the best way to reach him was his cell phone, which he picked up off the coffee table and noticed three missed calls … all from his sister.

“Hello, sis,” he said into the house phone, which had only rang three times.

“How’d you know it was me?” she asked, a bit surprised.

“I see I missed a few calls from you on my cell phone, and nobody really calls the house phone anymore,” he explained. “Sorry I missed your calls. I guess I dozed off while watching “Wheel Of Fortune”…. Anyway, since you called the house phone, what’s the matter?”

“Oh….um, well, if you have been sleeping you don’t have the radio on, do you?”

“No….why?”

“He’s not on the air.”

He didn’t need to play 20 questions with his sister to know what she meant. She obviously was listening to WSM, and their younger brother must not be broadcasting his show.

“Well … maybe he took the night off.”

“They haven’t said so.”

“Did you try calling him?”

“Yes, but like you, I got no answer.”

“So … maybe he took the night off to sleep.” He knew right away that was the wrong thing to say. His sister didn’t say a word, so he continued: “Look, I’m sure he is OK. Someone at the station would’ve called one of us if…………..”

He was rudely interrupted by the ringing of the door bell. During the brief moment of shocking silence, he had time to think to himself, ‘First the house phone and now the house door bell. Wonder what’s next.’ He didn’t have to wait long to find out.

His sister, still on the other end of the phone, broke the deafening emptiness: “Well, who is at your door?”

“I don’t know,” he said as he quickly glanced out the window towards the garage. Sometimes, when he has left the garage door open, people will stop by asking if the Caprice is for sale, but the glance out the window told him that probably wasn’t the case, since he had remembered to close the garage door.

“So, go answer the door!” his sister commanded. “Maybe it’s someone traveling Route 66 who wanted to see you, but stopped at the house since you’re not at the business.”

“Maybe….” He was skeptical of that, but went along with his sister’s idea since he couldn’t explain it otherwise. Though, he thought it might be someone from the state Route 66 Association, offering to help him start planning his adventure already, but he wasn’t going to verbalize that for his sister since his plans were secret … thus far.

He walked towards the front door, flipping on the porch light … just in case.

“Um, I’m going to have to call you back…,” he told his sister once he got to the door to peer out the window. “It’s no mystery where he is anymore.”

“He’s THERE?”

“Yep. One of us will call you back…. Talk to you later, sis. Bye.”

He quickly hung up the phone and opened the front door.

“Hi!” his younger brother announced.

“Hi…..everything OK? Are you still working at WSM? What are you doing … HERE?”

While he peppered his younger sibling with questions, he ushered him inside and closed the door. He was thrilled to see his brother “back home”, but was a bit concerned….

* 8 … RESEARCH AND A TEST *

A couple days later, he still wasn’t sure exactly why his younger brother had returned home. His brother had told him that he still works for WSM, that everything is OK, and that he “just had to be home”, though he never explained WHY. And, perhaps, that is what bothered him the most … that his younger brother couldn’t explain this sudden “need” to be home. It was eerily similar to how he couldn’t explain his need to be in the “big city” of Nashville when he left the small town life behind years ago.

But, this time, he couldn’t wait for his younger brother to figure it out. He had to do what he needed to do. So, he contacted several people to start gathering information … people his parents knew in Illinois (Becky at Becky’s Barn; Rich at Henry’s Ra66it Ranch), Missouri (Gary in Paris Springs), Kansas (Carolyn at the visitor’s center; Melba at 4 Women On The Route), Oklahoma (Laurel at Afton Station), Texas (Fran at the MidPoint Cafe), Arizona (Jim Hinckley in Kingman), and California (Debra at the Barstow museum; Paul at the Victorville museum) … among others.

The morning of the fifth day, while he was checking Email to see if anyone else had replied to him, his brother interrupted him: “Mind if I borrow the Caprice today?”

“But, you HATE that Caprice,” came the stunned response.

“I know.”

“Then … why….?”

“Because I want to explore some stretches of Route 66 today, and that car seems to be the best car for the drive.”

He couldn’t argue that point; his younger brother was correct, of course. But, he still had some reservations. Instead of voicing those, with something else entirely in mind he asked: “How long are you going to be here?”

A quizzical look engulfed his brother’s face. “I don’t really know.”

“How about a ballpark figure?”

“Probably about a month. I was told to take as much time as I needed away from WSM; my job will always be there. Besides, it gives them a chance to have some different people at the mic for a while.”

“OK….” He scratched his forehead a bit, trying to figure out what to say next. This latest revelation made him wonder if his brother was thinking about doing the same thing he was, but he didn’t want to reveal his plans. So, instead, he countered: “Tell you what. Why don’t you come with me to the business today and greet visitors? Then, we can talk about exploring Route 66 another day.”

This clearly was not what his brother wanted, but his young sibling quickly realized the use of the Caprice was not going to be granted. For a split second, he saw his Dad standing in front of him instead of his older brother. “OK, sounds good.” He left to finish getting ready to go, albeit to a different destination than he had hoped.

Left alone again at the computer to finish checking Email, the oldest sibling instinctively picked up the phone and dialed his sister’s number.

“You are planning to be at the business today, right?”

“Yep, of course.”

“Good. I think it is about time we have a chat with the ‘come back home kid’.” He described to their sister what had just taken place. She agreed.

He hung up the phone, shut down the computer, grabbed his keys, and called out to his younger brother that he was ready to go. As his brother met him at the door, he tossed the Caprice’s keys at him saying, “Here, drive to the business today.”

“But….”

“I’m not giving you total permission, here. It will ALWAYS be MY Caprice. Today, it’s just a drive to the business.”

It was just a drive to the business, literally; but, for the eldest sibling, not figuratively….

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