"Family ties are treasured things,
And far though we may roam,
The tender bonds with those we love
Still pull our hearts toward home."
-Virginia B. Moore
Joe and I could have passed for brother and sister. Most people thought we were. You see, my father was the oldest of seven boys, and Joe was the youngest. So when I came along just five days after he turned 5, it wasn't easy to tell where one generation ended and the other began.
Joe died a few days ago, leaving his own five sons, a pile of grandchildren, one remaining brother and me, his little sister at heart if not by blood.
Before he got sick, Joe was a security guard at Harrah's Casino in Lake Tahoe, Nev. When I asked him to describe his job, he laughed. "Oh, I guess the most exciting thing I've ever done is administer CPR to a man having a heart attack. Otherwise, about all I do is tell people where the restrooms are."
Maybe it was his imposing presence, or the presence of so many other blue uniforms that kept the incident rate low.
We lived too far apart to visit very often, but I did make three trips to Nevada, and had planned to go again around Memorial Day. Now I'll have a new reason to celebrate the holiday. I couldn't go to the funeral, either, but Joe's passing was a vivid reminder of one of the last times we were together.
It was a family reunion of sorts, 18 of us pouring in from across the country one February for my mother's funeral.
Joe and I grew up in Milo, Maine: population 2,500, and the largest town around. We had one grocery store, two drugstores, a hotel, and one church each for the Baptists and the Methodists. Catholics had to drive to the next town, but people came to us to shop. They've added a few more stores now but, as we discovered when making reservations for our two-night stay, the hotel closed down years ago.
"You've got the Blethen House in Dover-Foxcroft, and Betty's B & B at the Junction," the funeral director said, "but there's no place to stay in Milo anymore."
We chose the Blethen House, after learning the B & B had only two rooms - three if the owners slept on the couch - and we needed six. Besides, as we remembered, the Blethen House used to be where the rich folks went for Sunday dinner. I ate there once myself, after receiving some kind of high-school award. I was looking forward to staying in Central Maine's only 5-star hotel.
Make that minus five stars.
It was 10 minutes after 10 p.m. when we arrived at the all-dark hotel - 10 minutes after the office closed for the night. Fortunately, someone turning a key in the lock saw our caravan and shouted to the other half of the hotel staff: "Here they are!"
I'm not sure whose relief was greater - ours that we didn't have to sleep in cars at near-zero temperatures, or theirs that they might have missed their best windfall of the winter.
"Each room will be $41 a night," the lady explained, "but that includes heat, two queen-sized beds, bath with hot, running water, cable TV..."
"And phone?" I asked.
"Uh, no, but you can drive around back to the pay phone."
"Outside? In this cold?" My adopted Southern ways were showing.
The sympathetic clerk reached under the counter and retrieved an old, dust-covered dial phone. "There's a jack in Room 26," she smiled, noticing my No. 26 key.
There was also an axe outside Room 26, next to a pile of wood I feared might be the self-serve source of our heat and "hot, running water." Clanging pipes along the baseboards dispelled that theory, and made almost enough noise to drown out another sound: scurrying, little feet we decided deserved to come in out of the cold, too.
ut somehow for Joe, my "younger" brothers, their families and I, this departure from our accustomed comfort level didn't matter, even after we discovered all our keys fit every door, the hotel didn't serve breakfast during the week, and the only restaurant in town closed at 7 p.m.
We were there to bury our mother, grandmother and sister-in-law; we were together; and growing up in an atmosphere like that, we agreed, was all the "convenience" we needed after all.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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