The Hotel That Built Me
When I go home, I do not drive my rental car to my parents’ house or my grandparents’ house. Those places no longer, and in some cases never did, exist.
For three decades this Missouri girl has been going home from Arizona and Minnesota and Washington and Iowa and California, and I drive straight from the airport to 104 South Vantage Drive. To the one place I’ve learned I can count on. To my home on the hill. To the one place that’s always had a room for me. I go home to the Drury Lodge.
You see, the Lodge and me, we have a history.
The two-story hotel opened in 1969, the year I turned four. I discovered it as a teenager. I’ve never known my father; my two half-brothers lived with their dad; and when I turned 16 my single mother remarried and moved us to her new husband’s farm. How do you define home? Feeling in-the-way of the newlyweds, I stayed gone as much as possible. I slept at the homes of friends, and I spent time at the Lodge, a neutral zone that lacked the tension I felt at the farm. Summers felt free there, and as teenagers wanting the darkest possible tans, good friends Tammy and Tracy and I laid out (illegally?) at the hotel pool, rubbing our bikinied bodies with baby oil and iodine. In a flash of memory, we are girls again, tossing Tammy’s baby sister Lindsay off the side of the pool and into our waiting arms. One-Two-Three Jump!
“Our baby,” we all called her. Baby Lindsay, now in her 30s, with a baby of her own.
At 19 I got a job in the Lodge’s restaurant. Cedar Street. For three years I manned the hostess stand for breakfast and dinner as well as Easter, Mother’s Day, and Thanksgiving. Holidays spent with my work family. The cooks taught me how grill steaks and serve proper portions and make eggs to order; David Poe and Rhonda Owens made me laugh at 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. and all the long hours in between; and I can still feel how cold and hard the winter wind blew down that hostess hallway to announce a customer. The calm dark eyes of Pete Poe, the ever-lurking manager, the night he gave me a stern, dad-like talk for kissing my college boyfriend at my station.
Funny, the places we find fathers.
Our high school class held reunions here. There was the six year because we forgot to have a five year. There was the year Rick’s wife Mary had cancer and chemo and we danced all night while belting out 80s tunes and trying on Mary’s wig. Our 20th when I played quarters at Cedar Street with Shockley and spilled so much beer on my dress the dry cleaners could not save it. The year we hired the wrong sound system and they did not know our songs. The year Class President Chris showed up with a deep tan and bleached blonde. Malibu Chris.
I left Missouri for good at 27, and when I flew home to visit I quickly learned it was best to stay at the Lodge. My grandmother lived in a one-bedroom. My half-brothers did not have a space. Friends had scattered. My mother’s farm never felt like home, and, as I look back now, I see how childishly her husband and I fought over the only bathroom and clawed at each other to get my mother’s attention.
Though my mother was openly hurt when I started staying at the Lodge — a good 20-minute drive away — she was also relieved. And so was I. For the next years we enjoyed our limited mother/daughter time so much more when I could be alone with her during the day (while her husband worked in the field) and if I left before supper. Your mother’s home, it turns out, is not always your home. And that can be okay.
Out here in my real life, I’ve moved more than 30 times. But the Lodge? The Lodge stands still. Martha and Joan like familiar den mothers at the front desk. “Welcome back!” they say when I check in. “Welcome home!” Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, this place remains, all these years, exactly the same and worn in the way a home should be the same and worn. I request an inside room, close to the lobby, so I can pad down for an early cup of coffee in my pajamas or grab a candy bar and a bottle of water from behind the desk before bed.
A few years ago, when my friend Evy emailed me the video of Miranda Lambert’s song The House That Built Me, I could not stop replaying it, imagining my 30 homes and wondering what house that could be for someone like me.
I know they say you can’t go home again
Well, I just had to come back one last time
And Ma’am, I know you don’t know me from Adam
But these handprints on the front porch are mine.
I remembered the night I had a huge fight with my brothers and came home (see what I mean?) to my room at the Lodge to calm down and run a hot bath. My daughter called and, thankful for the happy distraction, I forgot the bath water and looked up some minutes later to see water flowing as over a dam into my bedroom.
I dialed zero and Joan sent some young boys to help, my fight with my brothers briefly forgotten.
I was 36 when my mother died. The first person I told was Martha. March 2002. I had been at the Lodge for more than a week settling my mother into hospice, spending long days with her at Chateau Girardeau Nursing Home and sleepless nights alone in my off-the-lobby-room. I’d checked out early that day, planning to fly home to Minnesota, but my mother took her last breath at noon, and it wasn’t an hour later when I dragged my bags back to the Lodge and to the front desk and told Martha I needed my room back. “Oh honey,” she said. “You’ll be okay. We’ll take good care of you.”
If I could just come in I swear I’ll leave
Won’t take nothin’ but a memory
From the the house that
Come January, the Drury Lodge will be torn down, replaced by a fancy 8-story hotel with adjoining restaurant and conference center.
So this December, before the walls come down, I’ll go home to the Lodge one more time. I’ll have breakfast at Cedar Street and spend the evening there with old friends and I’ll ask for an inside room with a view of the pool right off the lobby so I can pad down and get coffee in my pajamas. I’ll hug Martha and Joan and miss my mother. And when I check out for the last time, I’ll be spectacularly and devastatingly greedy; I’ll take every last one of my memories. From the hotel that, built me.
Teri Carter’s essays can be found in Columbia, Post Road, The Manifest-Station and other journals and anthologies. She has a B.A. from the University of Minnesota, where she was awarded the Marcella de Bourg Fellowship in creative writing, and she holds an MFA from San Jose State. Teri lives in Northern California where she is working on her first book.
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