She was a sweet old lady, really.
I was a young guy and roadtripping around New York for kicks with a pal by the name of Tim. It was Tim who pointed out the motor lodge to the right of US Route 20 in New York as we argued over whether keeping one or two windows open would suck more cigarette smoke out of the window. I can’t remember what we decided on that topic, but we certainly pulled over to take a few pictures.
Five or so white cabin, couldn’t hold more than a bed and a toilet I thought, were lined up in an arch a few dozen yards from a large farm house. Another long, ranch-style building sort of barely stood in the middle of it all. I pulled out this Polaroid camera I’d bought at a flee market a few days back and took a few snapshots.
Then she came out. From the farmhouse, a woman wearing a flowery pink nightgown and holding a shotgun in a way that lead me to believe she could wield it fiercely.
“C’I help you boys?” I’d like to say she cocked the rifle, but I can’t. Yet.
I was stunned. “Just looking at your beautiful motor lodge,” Tim announced, honestly, like a professional doing the play by play at a midget football game.
She leaned the gun against the porch railing.
“Well yeah, let me show you around.” She was as happy as U-turn after that.
She walked us through the cabins, a few of them anyway. I asked her about her grandkids, the decor of each place obviously so granny that she was either 105 years old or knew how to work a photo of a farm tractor and Jesus into one room’s motif so well that she was bound to have progeny. She obliged the conversation sincerely, never once giving into either Tim or I’s 20-something sarcasm.
“And over here we used to, back in that day you know, have breakfasts every morning. Your sausages, your orange juices when they were in season back then, and of course on the TV we’d put whatever people wanted to watch. Course that was after the radio and you never did know what might be on.”
She was as sweet as pie, and you wished you’d known her at 25. I could see her riding around in the back of an old blue Ford pickup or maybe once catching a ride in a Model A with a guy who was clearly up to no good when her parents were out of town. She invited us into the farmhouse, her home, and of course every corner, every wall, every available end table and counterspace was filled with knick knacks. After an hour of her telling us about her children, where they’ve gone, which ones have already passed, I excused myself to use the restroom.
When I came back out, Tim had secured us a night in one of the motor lodges.
“Thank you ma’am, what do we owe you?” I reached for my wallet.
“You boys just have a nice night, and no smoking, you mind?”
Two hours later, having a smoke and my third beer sitting on the porch swing outside of our particular room, the police rolled in. I wasn’t aware of anything either Tim or I had done illegal, so I leaned back in my chair.
Again, she came out of the house with a shotgun.
“Mrs. Tully,” the officer announced. Though his younger partner had his hand on his gun, the man speaking, an older gentleman who apparently had plenty of experience with our host, remained calm. “This is what I’m talking about. You can’t greet everyone with a shotgun.”
It turned out that someone else with the same idea as us, to photograph an abandoned motor lodge, had not been as silver-tongued as my dear friend Tim. The cops fooled with her for a few minutes, she put down her rifle and asked them in for dinner, to which they had to refuse. I cracked another beer, Tim laughed.
“Don’t be so quick to reach,” the older cop told his partner. “She’ll eventually shoot one of these hippies and we’ll get her then.”