Close up Hands Tea x

Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

Fallon Hotel – Chapter Four

stair-fallonRounding the corner of Washington Street as it turned into Main Street, Jeri pointed to the right at a small wooden shack down the hill.  “See that Andy, it’s not open yet but when it is they rent pans so you can go down there and pan for gold, just like the forty-niners did back in the day!”  She tried her best to put some twang in her voice, hoping that it might be somewhat entertaining and would catch Andy’s attention.  She had always thought it best to talk to Andy as much as possible, even though the conversations were always one-sided.  Eventually, she hoped he would speak to her and trusted that some of what she said was being absorbed.  If he ignored her, she’d use as much melodious rise and fall to her voice as she could.  All of the years spent in drama programs wouldn’t go to waste, not if she could pull thirteen or fourteen different dialects out of her bag of tricks to try and get her son’s attention.  Jeri always thought her mother was a tough critic, but autism, with its stone-cold indifference, had proved even worse than her.

They walked on a little more until they stood under a tree with widespread, low lying branches.  Jeri put her hands on Andy’s shoulder and turned his entire body to the left and pointed across the street to the buildings on the corner.  Again she spoke to Andy, using what she imagined was a pretty good miner’s drawl, “Over there’s the Stage Coach office where we can buy our tickets for a horse-drawn ride ‘round town!  But I’m warnin’ ya right now, Sonny…we’ll have to keep an eye out for robbers and bandits wantin’ to take our gold dust.”  Jeri stopped and shook her head, realizing that the play-acting of the men carrying out the stage coach robbery for tourists might be more than a little too much for Andy, but did think he might like playing in the water trough during the gold panning lesson from the in-character bearded prospector he most likely wouldn’t be paying any attention to.

“Yep, young feller.  We’re goin’ to turn you into a regular forty-niner before we’re through with this town.”  Jeri patted Andy on the back.

“Fifty-oner.  Daily Alta said so.”  Andy managed to pull free, wiggling away from Jeri and began to run to the corner of Fulton Street.  Once there, he began jumping up and down.  “Hunnewell’s, I wanna go to Hunnewell’s.  They have the Dr. Busby Game!”  Andy began to spin in a circle, but not the way he did while standing under the ceiling fan in his old bedroom.  This was a joyful, non-robotic spin of genuine happiness.  “Busby, Dairymaid, Ninnycometwitch!”  He stopped spinning suddenly and started skipping as fast as he could toward State Street, calling as he went…“Busby, Dairymaid, Ninnycometwitch!…”

Jeri stood in the middle of the street, slack-jawed and more than a little perplexed at her son’s behavior.  From the time Andy was born, she knew every word he had ever uttered and had memorized his every physical trait, especially as many of them started to disappear.  Yet there he was in the center of this new old ghosttown skipping for the first time, a physicality he’d never even been willing to try.  More than that, he was skipping and saying things Jeri had never heard before.  Not from Andy.  Not from anywhere.  “Ninny, what… twitch?  Honey? Wells?”  She took off sprinting after Andy and grabbed him before he reached the Blacksmith Shop.  “Hold on there, partner!  Don’t run away from me.  Safety first, remember!  You have to wait for mommy.”

“No.  Cholera took the mommy in Panama.  She couldn’t come.”  Andy hung his head and stared at the dusty ground beneath his feet.  He crouched down and with a tiny stick in his hand began drawing what almost looked like a flower.

“Cholera?” Jeri pulled Andy up from the ground.  “Stop this!  Do you hear me?  Just stop it!  Your mommy’s right here, Andy.  Look at me!”  She yanked at his chin, harder than she’d really meant to and Andy began to whimper.  “Look at me!  Look at Mommy’s eyes, Andy!”  She moved her hands to either side of his face and held his cheeks, something she had started to do when the doctors told her he’d likely never make eye contact.  Not on my watch, fellas.  In seconds, both of them were crying.  Jeri let go of Andy’s face and pulled him into a tight hug.  “I’m so sorry, buddy.  Mom didn’t mean to scare you.  You’re just freaking me out, pal.  New town, new stuff, new parts of you … Maybe I’m not ready for all this.”  The two of them started rocking and in a little while, both began to calm down.

Over Andy’s shoulder, Jeri glanced toward the Livery Stable and noticed a man digging through a trash can.  The man didn’t acknowledge their presence and Jeri was extremely grateful.  She looked around and saw that they were the only three people in town, so they were all spared the humiliation of being on display.  Jeri straightened up and cracked her neck.  Andy had calmed down and was now rocking silently next to her.  She leaned down and kissed Andy on the top of his head, which he ignored.  One more thing Jeri was grateful for at the moment.  The more she showered Andy with affection the less he seemed to mind and while it wasn’t the reciprocal cuddling she longed for with her sweet boy, at least he wasn’t throwing a tantrum any longer at her slightest touch.

Walking back across the street toward the Jenny Lind Restaurant, Jeri took a quick peek back at the man going through the trash, surprised to find him dressed in full wild, wild West gear from his head to his pointy cowboy boot toes.  Wearing a black leather vest, faded blue denim shirt and jeans and a dusty felt hat on his hairy head, he looked as though he was simply taking a break from his daily search for gold, searching instead for aluminum cans now.  Stopping his search, he looked over at Jeri and Andy and waved, “Howdy folks!”  Jeri found herself smiling and waving back and couldn’t help but wonder if the local Chamber of Commerce supplied their homeless vagrants with wardrobe and dialogue to stay in keeping with the thematic elements of the working ghost town.

As they passed the Jenny Lind, Jeri could smell their breakfast cooking inside and remembered what Miss Evelyth had said about the City Hotel’s Continental Breakfast.  She wasn’t really looking forward to packaged pastries and milk cartons, wishing instead that they could sit down to a hot breakfast of bacon and eggs, but she was hungry and right now anything would be better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, as her father used to say.  Plus, the idea of the cold breakfast served at the City Hotel meant their restaurant would be a neutral scent zone for Andy’s incredibly sensitive nose.  That was probably a good thing and a better way to start their week.

Approaching the City Hotel, Jeri felt her cheeks flush and her pulse race as memories filled her heart.  She had stayed in this hotel with her parents and she recalled sitting in the upstairs parlor imagining what it would have been like to attend school in the big brick building up the hill.  Her mother had purchased a bonnet for her as a souvenir and at the time, Jeri protested loudly and firmly stating that she was too old for such a goofy, childish item.  The act of pre-teen defiance had hurt her mother’s feelings and Jeri wished she could go back in time and tell her mother how she’d secretly worn the light blue bonnet in the parlor rocking chair while her parents slept.  Sitting in the rocking chair with a book her mother had purchased from the museum on Main Street, Jeri fantasized about the subjects being taught at the school on the hill in the late 1800’s.  Besides the required R’s that her father spoke of in the way of readin’, ritin’ & ‘rithmatic, the Columbia Elementary School also featured subjects that Jeri found intriguing like pencil drawing, astronomy and even harp lessons.  It was all so fascinating to Jeri, the idea of having messy ink pots at your desk and likely carrying your lunch in a used tin tobacco box or rusty pail.  Somehow, life as it was over a hundred years ago was exciting to a pre-teen girl with sterile, sleek school supplies like gel pens kept in a shiny plastic pouch and sushi and vacuum packed cookies carried in a quilted neoprene insulated lunch bag.

Opening the door to the City Hotel, Jeri took a deep breath and whispered a silent prayer for her mother’s forgiveness.  For so many things.

The reception desk for the City Hotel was quite a bit different from the small corner reception desk at the Fallon.  The City Hotel’s desk was bustling with activity as two women worked the long oak desk counter.  Local newspapers, magazines and pamphlets filled every available surface space and the mood in general was brighter and busier than the hotel where Jeri and Andy were staying.  A young woman who appeared to be about 22 years old approached them.  “Good morning!  Can I help you?”  Her name tag read: Phoebe.

“Oh, we’re just here from the Fallon.  We’ve come for breakfast.”  Jeri smiled uncomfortably.  She felt slightly guilty that breakfast was included in the price of their room, especially because of the reduced rate they were paying.  It made her feel as though she were getting away with something, even if that something was just granola and juice.

Young Phoebe smiled back, not recognizing Jeri’s discomfort.  “Well, you go right on in to the dining room.   It’s quiet, being off-season and all.  But we do have a few guests upstairs who will probably come down and join you shortly.  Feel free to sit anywhere you like.”

Jeri and Andy walked through into the dining room of the City Hotel.  The room hadn’t changed one bit since Jeri had been here, not since the time with Brian when they were newlyweds, nor when she was a young girl staying with her parents.  It was a fairly large room, but even with multiple clusters of oak chairs and dining tables for ample seating placed around the room, somehow the long burgundy drapery on the windows, warm brass light fixtures and multiple pieces of artwork made the room seem smaller and cozy.

The carpeting with its rich blue background and pattern of weaving roses throughout was almost dizzying and Jeri wondered if it would bother Andy, but he seemed not to notice.  He was quietly beginning to twitch and wiggle his fingers in his usual stimming mode, so Jeri knew the sooner she got some food on a plate and the closer to having it eaten by her hungry young man, the better it would be for everyone.  She sat Andy down at a table under the stairwell, hoping that the semi-enclosed feeling would keep him comfortable and still for a minute.  “Sit here, buddy.  Mommy will be right back.”  Jeri pulled a red gel pen out of her pocket and a tiny red notepad.  Red was Andy’s favorite color and she knew that even if he didn’t draw in the same manner of neurologically typical kids, the exploration process of the items would keep him occupied long enough for her to grab Andy’s breakfast.

The corner of the restaurant was set up with an L-shaped buffet of muffins, fruit, granola, yogurt and cereals.  Grabbing a plate, Jeri quickly filled it with the foods she thought Andy might eat.  At home, he went through periods of only eating foods that were a certain color.  Sometimes he’d only want to eat white foods, which were easy to find, but not very healthy.  It was no stretch to fix potatoes, pasta, bread or rice but finding ways to make it nutritious kept her up at night.  When she’d come up with a recipe for cauliflower, garlic and white cheddar cheesy mashed potatoes Jeri did her own spinning, whirling dervish dance of happiness in her kitchen.  Meals were always challenging thanks to the whole idea of having to come up with winning combinations of the right texture, color, smell and taste to properly suit Andy’s diet and particular palate, but looking around at the City Hotel’s array she thought she might do okay today.

One of the things that did assist Jeri during mealtime was having serving items that were red.  Red was always a winner and Andy would eat anything that showed up on a red plate or in a red bowl.   Jeri was always on the lookout for red straws, red utensils, red placemats or whatever else she could have at hand that was red.  Red was a color that excited Andy, but beyond the normal way that red was stimulating to other people.  In her research, Jeri had found a few articles that mentioned synesthesia, a neurologically based condition that caused “synesthetes” to respond to things they see, such as colors or numbers which they perceive differently.  Even though he couldn’t explain it, it was likely that when Andy saw anything red it vibrated and came to life.  It was difficult for Andy to walk through a store or mall when his mom took him and not just because of all the sensory input, even though the sounds and smells were overwhelming, it had to do with all of the spots of red that jumped out at him as he walked past storefronts or down the grocery store aisle.  One description of synesthesia said that it was kind of like being in a video game where things would pop out when you least expected it.  Jeri didn’t understand and she wondered if Andy was irritated or even noticed that she didn’t respond to things the way he did.  Every now and then it seemed as though some red items startled Andy, and on occasion he acted like it was annoying him, but mostly he was drawn and riveted to, positively hypnotized by anything red.  One older neurology patient was able to describe his synesthesia really well, saying that anytime he viewed an object that was red he would try looking away or closing his eyes but that it didn’t help.  The young man said that even when his eyes were shut he could still see the red shaking and moving toward him, though Jeri didn’t see the same fear he described in her son.  She wondered if Andy would ever be able to describe his own experience with the color red as time went on.  She hoped so.

This morning she had given Andy a red pen and notebook, which didn’t bother him in the least and Jeri figured it was because he was sitting down and the red pen was captive in his hand and couldn’t leave.  Jeri thought that maybe red was safe when Andy had control over it.

Jeri sat down, putting a bowl of cereal in front of Andy and a plate filled with cantaloupe and honeydew melon.  Andy never took his eyes off the pen and notepad as he pushed melon into his mouth.  “Poor honey, I know you must be starving.  It’s nice and quiet in here so you just take your time.  We are absolutely in no rush this morning.”

The dining room was quiet with the exception of softly playing classical music coming from a couple of small speakers in the room.  There was a young lady dressed in a long cotton dress with a floral apron who was gently shuffling dishes and rearranging food on the buffet table.  Jeri wondered who the girl was trying to impress by looking busy, since she and Andy were the only two customers in the place.

Turning around, Jeri took a big breath and a sip of her coffee.  The coffee at the City Hotel was really good, not too bitter with a sort of nutty flavor.  One thing she had learned to appreciate back in the city was a decent cup of coffee and she was happy to know that the comfort of a good cup of java could be found every morning in this beautiful location.  It was funny how something so simple could be so comforting and welcoming.  Jeri exhaled out loud with a big, long sigh.

“Well, goodness me if that wasn’t the sound of someone’s extreme relief or exasperation, I’m not sure.”  The tiniest woman Jeri had ever seen appeared at the side of the table.  Not just petite, the woman was slender and had the hands of a child and the face of a mature porcelain doll.  She was almost wise and fairylike in appearance and Jeri found herself staring, something her mother had told her long ago was rude to do.

Jeri smiled and apologized, both for audibly sighing and obviously gawping.  “Oh, excuse me.  I didn’t realize how loud I was.  Please forgive me.”

The woman tipped her head back and smiled, so wide that Jeri could see her back molars with their shiny silver fillings.  “P’shaw!  Don’t apologize for self-expression!  You obviously have something that needs to get out, so let it out!”  She stuck out a wrinkled pink hand and introduced herself.  “My name is Ruth.  Ruth Tecumseh Sherman.”  Jeri gingerly went to shake Ruth’s hand, ultimately surprised by the strength in her small, but mighty grip.

“Nice to meet you, Ruth.  I’m Jeri…uhm, and this is my son, Andy.”  While Ruth was immediately forthcoming with her surname, Jeri was reluctant to do so, still not knowing whether she was keeping her married name or reverting back to her maiden name and what to do about Andy’s last name.  Despite being a simple and fleeting introduction it was all too complicated for her.

“It’s nice to meet you Jeri ‘n’ Andy.  I hear from the caretaker over at Fallon that you two are new in town, so I thought I’d take it upon myself to hunt you down and make your acquaintance.

If she’d already spoken to the caretaker about them, Jeri realized that Ruth probably already knew their last name, too.  So, so much for worrying about that kettle of fish.

“Mind if I sit down for a minute?”  Without pausing to acknowledge Jeri’s slight nod, Ruth pulled out a chair and sat down.  “These colder days wreak havoc on my joints and I find myself needing to sit down a little more than I might like or is polite.  Not crazy about people thinking I’m feeble either, but it has to be done.”  She gave Jeri a pat on the shoulder, which Jeri found oddly friendly and inferring, all at once.

Not sure exactly what Ruth wanted with her and Andy, Jeri tried to suss out her intentions.  “Can I ask how we came up in conversation with the caretaker?”

“Saw your car parked behind the hotel and asked about it.  I always like to know what kind of guests are checking in, you know get the chance to hear ahead of time who might be dropping by the museum and all.”  Without taking a breath, Ruth silently signaled to the hostess that she wanted a cup of coffee.  “You know if they come in with a passel of kids they like to hear about a different side of history than, say a couple of teachers from Berkley.  I like to be prepared.”

The hostess set a cup of coffee, in what looked like a personal mug, down in front of Ruth.  “Did you want me to bring over a donut or pastry, Ruth?”  It was obvious to Jeri that as a local Ruth had a morning routine as a regular.

“Thanks, Sweetie.  But, I already had my high fiber muffins this morning.  Don’t want to confuse my innards any further.”  Ruth took a swig of her coffee and raised her eyebrows to punctuate her joke.  “Besides, the coffee here is thick enough to keep me sustained ‘til lunch.”

Jeri smiled, remembering how her grandmother used to complain about how coffee wasn’t the same anymore.  French Roast and espresso were like Turkish Coffee to her, after years of drinking Chock Full o’ Nuts or Maxwell House and the idea of going to a specialty coffee shop to pay nearly five bucks for a shot of coffee and hot milk was foolish to her.

“Jeri, I’d love to have you two drop by the museum later.  I think your little fella would really love to see some of our displays.”  She leaned in toward Andy and Jeri feared it would trigger a tantrum, even though the older woman smelled pleasantly enough of lavender and roses.  “Young boys seem to especially love the fire trucks and hearing a bit of the history of the real life Wild, Wild West!”

“That’s very sweet of you, Ruth but Andy has autism and I’m not sure he would enjoy it the way other typical kids would.”  As the words came out, Jeri realized she was apologizing for Andy and also discounting her son’s ability to absorb information, but after all of the tantrums at zoos and aquariums and amusement parks, she couldn’t help herself.  She often found it was easier to circumvent than put everyone through what had become the expected dance of Arrival, Meltdown and Hasty Departure.

Resting her chin on her hand, Ruth stared at Andy and frowned.  “Hmph.  Why, he seems like a perfectly typical kid to me…”

Suddenly uncomfortable at her intimate disclosure, Jeri pushed her chair back to leave.  “Please excuse me, but we really have to be going.  Thank you for stopping by and introducing yourself, Ruth.  It was very nice to meet you.”  She realized her body language and tone probably belied the words coming out of her mouth, but she didn’t know what else to do, besides be polite and make a quick retreat.

“Well, I need to head out anyway.  It’s almost time to open up.”  Slugging down the last of her coffee, Ruth stood up.  “Listen, Jeri…since my husband died, I don’t much care to eat alone and would love to have you and your boy come over and join me tonight for dinner.  It’s not as fancy as the menu here at the City Hotel, but my chicken ala crockpot is legendary.  At least it is locally.”  She scrawled her phone number and address on a napkin and handed it to Jeri.  “The new girl coming to work at Fallon will be there, too.  Honestly, it will give you a chance to know one another.  I thought it would be nice, livin’ in the same quarters and all, you know — sort of an enforced family that you didn’t ask for.  I think it will help when you’re passing in the halls and whatnot.”

Sighing, Jeri realized it would be sort of nice to have a support system and found herself tearing up at the woman’s kind invitation and nodded.  “You know what, yes.  Yes, thank you very much, Ruth.  That would be lovely.”

“Alright then.  Let’s say, about six o’clock?  That will give you a chance to walk over and find your way while it is still pretty light out.”  Stumbling a bit, Ruth grabbed Jeri’s arm.  “Forgive me, dolly.  Sometimes the first few steps out of the gate aren’t the most stable for the old gray mare.”

Jeri found the oxymoron of Ruth’s scrappy strong personality and obvious physical weakness endearing.  She found herself genuinely pleased at the thought that she and Andy would have the chance to spend more time with Ruth, getting to know her and maybe learn more about the town she loved so well, but knew so little of.

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