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* 17 … SHOPKEEPER (06/10/2011)

At first, the retired shopkeeper’s statement didn’t quite register with the eldest sibling. A puzzled look swept across his face, and the old man took the opportunity to say more.

“Apparently, yer brother woke up to find you and the Caprice Classic gone with no note whatsoever. So, despite the early hour, he started calling people. Lucky for him, most of us old folks still git up fairly early. Anyway, I was just sitting down to the bacon and eggs my wife made fer breakfast, when yer brother called me. I told ’em you was probably down here and not to worry. But, I figered I’d come down fer myself and check it out. And, sure enough, here ya are!”

The eldest chuckled a bit, then replied. “Yeah, I probably should’ve left a note, but in that moment I just wanted to get down here, and didn’t think of it.” He shrugged. “I don’t know…I just wanted to watch the train roll through like I used to do all the time.”

“Yeah, that’s what I figered,” the retired shopkeeper said, slapping the eldest sibling on the back and laughing heartily. “I remember you did that often as a kid. Didn’t worry your folks none, though, as I recall. If it did, they didn’t show it none. And, if it did, it probably worried yer mama more than yer Daddy.”

The eldest smiled and glanced around a bit more.

“I still miss that place, too,” the old man said wistfully, noticing the eldest’s glance towards where the old train depot used to stand. “Sure would’ve been nice for this town to still have it. But, that’s the way things go, son. Nothing stays the same, and sometimes, all we’re left with are memories. Course, some of us don’t have much of a memory anymore….”

The retired shopkeeper’s voice trailed off, but he laughed. His memory, while spotty at times, was still sharp as a tack when it came to the old days.

“I suppose you should get back on home to enjoy that breakfast your wife made for you,” the eldest sibling said, breaking the brief silence. “Tell her I say hi, and I’m sorry I caused such a stir this morning.”

“Ah,” the old man replied, “it’s no fuss. You know we’re all family here. That breakfast will be just as good when I get back home in a few minutes as it would’ve been had I eaten it then and there.” He paused a bit, then added, “You know…yer parents will never be forgotten around here. And I think ya know I speak for many people ’round here when I tell you that we’re awfully glad you didn’t sell yer folk’s business and decided to stay.”

The eldest nodded.

“Welp, I best be gittin’ back home. I’ll see ya ’round, maybe even stop by yer business sometime later today. Take care, and tell that brother of yers not to worry so much. Life’s too short!” With that, the old man turned and climbed back into the cab of his old pickup, started it, steered it around the eldest’s Caprice Classic, and hit the gas pedal.

The eldest took another glance around, got into the Caprice Classic, and drove home.

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* 16 … TRAIN AND MEMORIES (05/19/2011, the day I finished reading Jim Hinckley’s “Ghost Towns of Route 66” book)

The oldest sibling could hear the distinct whistle of the approaching train as he steered his Caprice Classic onto the gravel lot that once was the parking lot of the town train station. He felt the sense of excitement he experienced as a kid watching trains travel past. He parked the car, shut it off, and got out, grabbing his camera from the passenger’s side front seat. Closing the door, he looked down the tracks and saw the distinct freight train engine in the distance.

Though one would be hard-pressed to believe it these days, his adopted home town was once a hubbub of train activity. The station, now long gone (taken out by a severe storm less than a year after he and his parents and siblings came to town), welcomed passenger trains as well as freight trains. Now, only freight trains rumble through town; the passenger trains had been moved to new tracks before his family arrived. Still, the railroad maintains the duo tracks that run on either end of town, allowing freight trains to pass at this junction, if need be.

‘Just like clockwork,’ the oldest sibling thought, watching the train get closer. The whistle blew, and his sense of excitement increased. He had been snapping photos from the time he exited the car. He looked around, noticing that he was the only one there, though that was not surprising. He looked down the road and noticed traffic (what little traffic the town had around six in the morning) stopped waiting at the crossing gates. The train steadily moved towards him and he continued taking pictures of the train and the traffic, and even of the gravel lot.

Looking around the travel lot, he knew exactly where the train station had stood for so many years, though he only saw it for less than a year. After the storm ravaged what had been left of it, the local Route 66 association, in his opinion anyway, gave up a bit too easily. Prior to the storm, the local Route 66 association had been taking steps to begin preservation measures. Given his Dad and Mom’s new (at the time) business, the town wanted to restore more structures, with the train depot taking top priority … until the storm. After the storm, the state pressured the town to simply destroy it, complete with a sizeable “donation”, if the town agreed to demolish the train station. The town council claimed it had no choice but to agree to it, and less than a month after the storm, despite opposition from the local Route 66 association, the train station was gone for good. But, even today, remnants of where the train station stood, including some concrete steps, were still visible.

The eldest turned back to the train, which was now nearly at him. He looked upward towards the engine’s windows to see if he could see anyone. Sure enough, two guys were there, waving out at him. He waved back and snapped a picture. Now, the train was roaring past him, and he was enjoying every second of it.

He stood there, for what seemed like just a few seconds (though it had been over a half hour), watching the end of the train fade in the distance, listening for the whistle. Shortly after the train was out of site, he turned back towards his Caprice Classic to head back to the house, when an old pickup rambled into the lot and screeched to a gravely halt. He knew the old man driving it, a local shopkeeper, who had retired just months ago. The old man climbed out of the cab, shuffled out towards him, saying, “There you are! Yer brother has been calling everyone and AND their mother to find out what the dickens happened to you.”

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* 15 … AWAKENING (05/15/2011)

Just a few hours later, the eldest’s brain was brimming with activity once again. He awoke, before his alarm sounded, with such an electrical jolt that even he wondered exactly what had prompted his awakening. While he lay there, a bit stunned from the sudden wake up, he started to think about all he needed to do that day. But, his mind kept going back to the train whistle he had heard overnight. He glanced at the clock. 5:43 am.

He leapt out of bed, threw on some clothes, grabbed his camera, and headed out the door. He was in such a hurry that he didn’t leave a note for his brother. And, even though the tracks were within walking distance, he jumped in his Caprice Classic and took off towards the railroad tracks. He wanted to be there when the first train of the morning rumbled through his home town, welcoming in the new morning on Route 66.

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* 14 … LATE NIGHT AND A WHISTLE (05/09/2011)

Late one evening, the eldest sibling was lying in bed awake. Just 4 days prior, he and his younger brother had verbalized the possibility of the road trip along Route 66. In those four short and long days, the brothers had welcomed many people to the business, while talking about their trip. The younger brother was more relaxed, partially because he was waiting to hear from WSM. The eldest, however, was restless with many thoughts racing through his mind, including what he needed to do to prepare for the trip, what he needed to do to secure the house and assist his sister in keeping the business open while he was away, all the places he’d finally see, and how much he wished his parents had had this opportunity.

This particular evening, the eldest just could not shut off his mind. He finally decided to get up and write down some of his thoughts. In the split second that he sat up in bed, his mind went quiet and he distinctly heard the faint whistle of a passing train. Time briefly stood still. Suddenly, he was a young kid again, rushing down to the tracks to catch a glimpse of the train and wonder where it was heading and where it had been.

He had always been fascinated by trains … and travelers in general … wondering about what led up to their travels and where life was about to take them. He was shaken back to the present when the whistle blew again, this time a bit louder as the train neared the small town’s intersections. He glanced at his clock. 1:20 am.

For a second, he thought about putting on some clothes and dashing to the tracks to watch the train roll by. But, while the tracks weren’t too far from the house, he figured the train would be half through the area by the time he got dressed and got down there. Besides, he didn’t really need to see the train this time. He had, of course, seen many trains travel on the railroad tracks that went hand-in-hand with Route 66 pavement between Chicago and LA … each and every train with its own mystery that added to the legend of the famed roadway.

Yet, this time he saw the train as a symbol of how he might change over the course of his upcoming Route 66 road trip with his brother. Oh, he already had been anticipating a change in himself over the course of the trip, mainly because of the people he’d finally meet and the places he’d finally see. But, that train whistle called out to him, not in the “lonely whistle” way that so many have talked and written about, but in a “just wait until you see what I see” way. And, the oldest brother knew that whatever he did see would change him forever.

He slowly got out of bed and glanced out his bedroom window. As he looked up into the night sky filled with stars, the train whistle blew again. Memories of his childhood, including his siblings and parents, flooded his mind, replacing the roaring thoughts related to the upcoming Route 66 adventure. He couldn’t believe that he had actually thought about selling the family business, and his mind turned to that potential buyer that never showed up, saying they didn’t want the place after all. At the time, he had been a bit frustrated at that news, but now, he knew that selling the businesses was not the right thing to do. BOTH his parents would want the business to remain in the family.

The train whistle blew one more time, signaling a successful pass through town. The eldest sibling sighed, closed the curtain, turned away from the window, and climbed back into bed. He no longer needed to write anything because his mind was once again calm…for now.

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* 13 … ROAD TRIP RUSH (04/29/2011)

Days later, the two brothers hadn’t made any definitive plans for the road trip. The youngest was still waiting for WSM to let him know if they’d set it up so he could do broadcasts along the way. But, both brothers had plenty of thoughts rushing through their minds.

The younger brother had already envisioned broadcasts from various places, including the museum in Pontiac IL, Becky’s Barn just south of Springfield IL, Rich’s Rabbit Ranch just north of St Louis MO, Cuba MO, Devil’s Elbow MO, the Munger Moss Hotel in Lebanon MO, Gary Turner’s place in Paris Springs MO, Joplin MO, 4 Women On the Route in Galena KS, Laurel’s Afton Station in Oklahoma, Tulsa OK, the Rock Cafe in Stroud OK, Oklahoma City OK, the museums in Clinton OK and Elk City OK, the Sand Hills Curiosity Shop in Erick OK, the museum in McLean TX, The Big Texan in Amarillo TX, The MIdPoint Cafe in Adrian TX, the Sunset Motel in Moriarty NM, Albuquerque NM, the Wigwam in Holbrook AZ, “Standing on the corner” in Winslow AZ, Flagstaff AZ, Williams AZ, the Snow Cap and Angel’s place in Seligman AZ, the general store in Hackberry AZ, Kingman AZ with Jim Hinckley as a special guest, Oatman AZ, Needles CA, the museums in Barstow CA and Victorville CA, and the Wigwam in Rialto CA.

Meanwhile, the oldest brother had a skeletal itinerary written, having contacted several people already, with help offered along the way. But, he knew that he needed to be flexible, particularly now with his young brother joining him for this journey of a lifetime. The eldest had originally planned 2 weeks for the trip, but he was quickly figuring out that the more time they could take, the better. He had also envisioned driving his 1976 Caprice Classic, but he began to wonder if it would be wiser to rent a newer car, perhaps something fun….

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* 11 … TO MAKE CONNECTIONS * (04/13/2011)

As their sister entered the business, the eldest sibling greeted her at the front door. She looked at her older brother quizzically, while peering around him to smile at her younger brother, who smiled back, but then went into the office.

“So, what’s going on?” she asked of the elder sibling, who then brought her up to speed about why their younger brother was back home.

She didn’t know quite what to think, so she blurted out, “Why don’t you go with him?”

A brief moment of silence passed between them. Then, seemingly without missing a beat, the oldest said, “You knew what I was planning to do, didn’t you?”

“Yes, of course, I did,” was her swift reply, though she knew it had only been a hunch, but obviously a very good one. “You think I couldn’t tell what was going through your mind?”

“Well, no, I didn’t think you did.” He was startled that she knew, but the more he thought about it, the less surprised he was.

“I’d be willing to bet that you’ve already made some contacts to people along Route 66 about it, too. Which is why you wanted to make sure I’d be able to watch over the business while you were away. You never explained, but I had a hunch.”

“I suppose I’m not surprised that you knew,” the eldest said. “And, yes, I have made some contacts. I’ve called people in Illinois, particularly Becky at Becky’s Barn and Rich at Henry’s Rabbit Ranch. I’ve also called Gary in Paris Springs, Missouri, and Carolyn and Melba in Kansas, and Laurel of Afton Station, Fran at the MidPoint Cafe, Jim Hinckley in Kingman, Arizona, as well as Debra at the Barstow Museum and Paul at the Victorville Museum.”

He paused and his sister just looked at him, expecting him to say more. So, he added: “I just want to get to know Route 66 more … the way Dad and Mom knew and loved it. And, I get the distinct impression that our younger brother is also longing for that connection. What about you?”

She didn’t know what to say. Instead, she thought back to a conversation before her first year of college.

* 12 … PLANS VERBALIZED * (04/17/2011, day after the “Spring Fling” Meet’n’Greet, Dwight IL)

“Don’t let anyone tell you that small town America doesn’t teach you anything,” her mother had warned as she packed for her first year of college. “Some people just do not understand the benefits and lessons a life in a small town can teach.”

“But, Mom,” she had quietly protested, “college and city life teaches you things, too.”

Her Mom had tried to interrupt, but she continued: “…And I want to experience THOSE lessons. I want to be where people are.”

“People ARE here, you know,” her Mom finally got a word in edgewise. “Your father and I meet people every day here, right along one of the most-famous roads in all of the United States, Route 66. Where else are you going to talk with such a diverse group of people and learn some history at the same time?”

“College,” came her one-word dead-panned reply. Her Mom just shook her head and kept helping her pack.

Remembering that conversation now, the middle sibling knew that they both were right. She was equally convinced that they both came to know that in time, whether either one of them actually verbalized that or not.

She wished her parents were still around to share in what might become an epic family road trip. She knew that going with her brothers would be a good idea, particularly to see relatives in Dwight IL. Still, she knew she had responsibilities on the home front and that a road trip probably wasn’t in the works. Besides, she thought, her brothers didn’t need their sister tagging along. While she liked entertaining the thought of a road trip, the thought of missing visitors at the family business was tough to take, too.

She was still trying to figure out what exactly to say in response to her older brother’s query when the youngest sibling came out of the office.

“So, what do you think, sis?” he asked.

“Uh…,” she stammered, glancing at her elder brother, turning back to her younger sibling and quickly realizing he was asking about why he was back home. “Well, I think it is a great idea. It’d be wonderful if WSM would allow you to broadcast from various places along Route 66.”

“That’s what I’m hoping for,” he replied. “I’m not too keen on starting IN Chicago, but I have a few places I really want to see in Chicagoland along Route 66. And, I want to spend a few days with our relatives in Dwight IL. I found out that they live right near where Route 66 connects to Illinois Route 47. How cool is that? And, I also found out that they have friends in Franklin Grove IL, where the Lincoln Highway national headquarters are. I think I convinced them to look into buying a business along Route 66 there in northern Illinois.”

He paused, then added, “You know, if this trip gets off the ground, you both should really come with me. It’d be great.”

Their sister glanced at the eldest sibling, who glanced back at her.

“Well,” the eldest spoke, turning his glance from his sister to his brother, “That’s kinda what I meant when I told you earlier this morning that we’d talk more later. I’ve been thinking about taking a Route 66 road trip, and I figured we’d go together. Don’t know about sis, though.”

She felt put on the spot a bit, as her two brothers turned to look directly at her. “I’d love to, but I really want to stay here with the business and greet people. Besides, I have my family responsibilities, too.”

As soon as she had uttered her last word, a few visitors walked into the business, a start to another awesomely busy day of people from all over the world visiting.

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Sparks That Tie

It was a normal evening, whatever normal meant for spring 2001. In those days, I wasn’t a member of many message boards, if any at all. Instead, I spent my “extra” time chatting with family and friends on AIM.

Thursday evening, March 29, 2001, wasn’t different, except for the absence of a friend from the Monte Carlo Mailing List. His familiar ID was not on AIM that night. I was curious as to why, but I was preparing for my annual trek to the Nashville/Jackson/Big Sandy TN corridor, so I didn’t give it much thought.

The next morning, I loaded up my car and headed for Nashville. That Friday night, I received a call from another MCML member and friend. We chatted for a while, then he abruptly ended the call. A few minutes later, my phone rang again. It was another MCML member, who told me that Donnie had died in an automobile accident the morning before, Thursday, March 29, 2001. I knew why my other friend had abruptly ended the call … he couldn’t tell me what had happened.

It’s interesting, and sometimes weird, how a song will get attached to an event. The next morning, as I was headed to another destination, I heard, for the first time “in full”, the latest release by Vertical Horizon … Best I Ever Had (Grey Sky Morning). The opening line grabbed my attention immediately, given the circumstances of Donnie’s crash. “So you sailed away, into a grey sky morning.”

On the way home from his overnight shift, Donnie guided his 1987 Monte Carlo SS onto the expressway in Little Rock AR in a heavy rainstorm. As he accelerated, the car hit a patch of water, hydroplaned, and skidded across the grassy median into oncoming traffic. Donnie’s car was hit in the driver’s side door by an oncoming Jeep. Donnie was killed instantly.

To this day, I can’t explain why Donnie’s death got to me as much as it did. After all, my original best friend died of an asthma attack, two days after Christmas 1987. And, I had experienced more personal losses since then … and since 2001. But, at the time, I was beginning to realize just how real friendships were with people that you had never met, but talked to all the time online or on the phone.

For that reason, Donnie’s death was one of the sparks that led to my annual road trips to meet people … while I still have time. After all, people is what it is all about. And, the road is what takes us to people … people with whom we may believe we only have one or two things in common but find out, upon meeting, that we have a lot more in common and feel like we’ve known each other forever. So, that means that the road … whether it is an interstate or an old 2 lane highway … is a highly coveted ribbon that interconnects people from all parts of life.

But, that’s the way it has been for a long time now. America’s “love affair” with the automobile … and movement … has connected people and places, even when no technology existed. With today’s technology, people are more connected than ever before. But, it is STILL the road that truly brings people together … and ties people to places and events irrevocably. And, that’s a good thing.

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* 10 … STALL TACTIC * (03/12/2011)

The middle sibling steered her car into the business parking area right next to her older brother’s Caprice.

“Figures he would bring that one,” she muttered to herself as she turned her car off. She wasn’t exactly a big fan of older cars.

As she stepped out of her car, she began to wonder how the conversation with her younger brother would go. She knew she and her older brother needed to find out what was going on, but didn’t think they should push him too much. She was worried that the youngest would take offense and run back to Nashville without much explanation.

She shook herself out of her wild imagination and closed her car door. She hit the key FOB to lock it, though as she did so, she felt a little silly. This was, after all, small town America. Route 66 small town America at that. She knew she didn’t have to lock her car, but it had just become habit when she, her husband and children had lived in the “big city” … a habit she never had been able to shake. She hesitated for a second, but kept walking towards the building.

Before she went inside, she stopped and glanced around. It was a gorgeous morning … plenty of sunshine, nary a cloud in the sky, and comfortable temperatures. She had a feeling the business might see a number of people today. Weather like this always seemed to bring the visitors in droves. She loved how Route 66 still does that.

“We moved here to be closer to people,” her mother had told her once. At the time, she couldn’t understand that concept since the “big city” has far more people. But, over the years, she came to realize exactly what her mother meant. Now, she wouldn’t trade it for anything.

She glanced around again, slowly this time … as if taking mental pictures to form a panorama of sorts. She’d done this before, of course, but this time, it was, subconsciously anyway, a stall tactic. She sighed deeply, took a third quick look around, eyed her car, then walked in the business’ front door.

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* 9 … THE DRIVE AND A REVELATION * (02/21/2011)

The drive seemed to take forever, but the elder brother wasn’t sure if that was because he wasn’t driving or because the two brothers sat in silence the entire time in the car. But, that silence gave the elder one a chance to remember a different time in their lives.

“But, Dad, I want to drive the Caravan, not the Caprice!”, the youngest sibling had exasperated to his father.

“No,” his Dad had firmly said. “If you want ME to teach you how to drive, you will first learn how to handle the Caprice.”

The eldest sibling had just shook his head as he watched his younger brother try in vain to NOT drive the Caprice. From the time the 2 boys had each received their permit and subsequent drivers license, the 1976 Caprice was the only car the oldest wanted to drive and the relatively-still-new 1990 Caravan was the vehicle of choice for the younger boy. But, their Dad held the firm belief that drivers should learn how to handle all sorts of cars … “because you never know when you’ll have to drive someone to the hospital in a car not your own.”

So, the youngest boy grudgingly took the keys from his father and clomped out to the Caprice. Their father shook his head, turned to his eldest son and said, “I guess I know who wants the Caprice when your mother and I are gone.” Then, their father walked out the door.

The oldest watched out the window as the youngest started up the Caprice and started backing it out of the driveway. He knew his brother hated the Caprice, but he wasn’t exactly sure why. The Caprice had a lot more character than the Caravan ever would, and in most collisions, the Caprice would just about annihilate any newer vehicle on the road.

Almost 2 hours later, the youngest and their father returned home, and upon entering the house, the youngest declared, “I hate that Caprice … and never want to drive it again.”

The memory of that statement shook the elder brother back to the present, and he turned to look at his younger brother, and said. “So, why DO you hate this Caprice so much?”

The younger brother, startled at the broken silence, quickly glanced at his brother, then back to the road and said, “Because it was something that you and Dad loved so much and shared. I couldn’t stand it. Dad never loved the Caravan. To Dad, that Caravan was just a purchase to quiet Mom’s pestering of wanting a newer car to drive. I think, deep down, Dad hated that Caravan about as much as I know you did. I remember how thrilled Dad was when he got rid of the Caravan and bought the Crown Vic for Mom.”

The youngest paused, and the eldest, knowing his younger brother to be correct thus far, jumped in: “So, why, then, the sudden interest in driving the Caprice?”

“Because…” the younger brother paused to choose his words carefully. “Because I’m finally realizing how sweet this Caprice really is. I mean, my radio show is all about older country music … and this car blends right in with those old tunes. And…well…it is a piece of Americana that seemed to disappear right along with the joy of road trips when the interstates were built. Cars today … well … I’m realizing that they just don’t have the class and character that older ones do. Are they more reliable? No question. But, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of an older car…and nothing quite like the feeling of driving along Route 66 versus those interstates.”

Again, the younger brother paused, trying to find more words, but the older brother interrupted: “So, why ARE you here?”

The older brother was amazed at how much he had learned in just the last few minutes … and he was hoping his younger brother still had some words of explanation left in him before they arrived at the business.

The younger brother sighed a bit, and finally said, “Because I miss Mom and Dad. I’m still a city boy through and through, but believe it or not, I miss the small town life where it is a slower pace, where you can leave your doors unlocked and not worry about someone stealing anything, where people know who everyone is, where older cars like this Caprice are welcomed and NOT frowned upon. I’m finally realizing that some of the older country music that I love so much … is about that type of life … that time that so many people relive as they travel Route 66. And…well…I’m hoping to gather enough information to convince my boss at WSM to allow me to ‘take the show on the road’ and do some live broadcasts all along Route 66.”

The younger brother only stopped talking because he had steered the car into the parking lot of their family business, but the older brother had finally heard the explanation he and his sister had wanted to know. Now, he knew that the possibility of having a travel companion was definitively greater than it had been just a few hours prior, and he had a hunch what the vehicle of choice should and would be.

“Good”, the eldest said. “Thank you for telling me what is going through that head of yours. I know our sister will be glad to hear it, too, when she arrives in a few minutes. We’ll talk more later. In the meantime, let’s go open up and get ready for visitors.”

With that, the youngest shut off the Caprice and handed the keys to his older sibling, who considered for a moment giving them back to his younger brother, but he didn’t. Instead, he pocketed them, and the pair exited the Caprice, each man with a better understanding and a newer perspective than they had earlier in the morning.

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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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