A Cross Country TripbyMendonFishers©
There I was driving my Uncle Joe's new motor home on Interstate 90 in Montana. Now Montana is beautiful country, it rightly earned the name "Big Sky Country" because of the scenic views. Well that's what I read anyway. However, I was crossing the state in February and the weather was shit!
I had been driving in a snow storm for the last four hours and there weren't any signs of it letting up in the near future. I was down to about 30-35 MPH and visibility was so poor, I was lucky to see the point where the headlights faded out in front of me.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention it was night too.
The vehicle weighed about 63,000 pounds, but from the way it was handling, I thought it was a Mini Cooper instead of a Newell Luxury Motor coach. Was I stupid for driving under these conditions? Yes I was. But I was looking for someplace big enough to park this monster and avoid getting plowed in by the snowplows.
It was close to 2:00 am and I hadn't seen any other traffic or parking spots. I was getting sleepy and I knew if I didn't find a spot soon, I'd probably fall asleep at the wheel and crash. Then I saw the lights.
Sam Walton, I love you. There was a Wal-Mart sign ahead.
As I slowly drove forward, I realized the store was closed. The only light on was the sign. I slowly pulled into the parking lot and parked in a fairly clear area, kept that way by the strong wind. I wanted to be in a spot where I wouldn't get buried in deep snow. There was another car in the lot near where I picked. But besides that car I was alone in a sea of swirling white.
After I got the vehicle parked, I started the process of setting it up for an overnight stay. My first chore was to flip the switch to set the custom hydraulic jacks to level and stabilize the coach. These were a boon to "camping". They leveled the interior and took out all the sway from walking around.
The next item on the list was starting the auxiliary generator. There was no point running the main diesel engine and wasting a bunch of fuel when all I needed was electricity and heat. Hey, diesel fuel was almost $4.00 a gallon and besides the big engine vibrated the entire coach. The auxiliary generator was quiet and small.
It took me about 10 minutes to set up for the night. About the time I finished, my stomach reminded me that I hadn't eaten since lunch, about 14 hours ago. I started heating up some canned chicken noodle soup and made a grilled cheese sandwich. I knew that would tide me over until I woke up many hours later. By that time I hoped the storm would be over and I could find a diner.
While I was waiting for my supper to cook, I tried the GPS again, still "No Signal". Then I got stupid and turned on the satellite TV, "No Signal." Oh yeah, heavy cloud cover was blocking the signals. Oh well, I put a music CD in the consol. And slowly ate my dinner.
My dinner was interrupted by the door bell on the coach. "Who the hell could that be?" I thought as I turned on the outside camera. I was shocked by what I saw. A small child all bundled up and covered with snow. "What was he doing out in this weather at this time of night?" wandered through my brain.
I rushed to the door and opened it. He was starting to fall down as I opened the door so I grabbed him in my arms. He was blue from the cold. I carried him into the bedroom and started stripping the cold and frozen outer clothes off his stiff body. My bed had an electric blanked on it. I turned the control to high and covered the child with the blanket.
It seemed like hours but was only about 10 minutes when the color started returning to his face and arms. He opened his eyes and squeaked, "Mom?"
"No, my name is Gene" I replied.
"No" he said, "Help Mom."
I must have looked confused because he said, "In car."
Then I remember the parked car when I pulled in. It was nearby in the snow. I put on my heavy coat and boots and opened the door. "Damn it was cold out here," I thought. I trudged into the darkness and swirling snow toward where I remembered seeing the car. I kept looking back over my shoulder to keep my bearings by watching the marker lights on the coach.
On one of those look backs, I walked into the side of the car. It was so covered with the swirling snow that I had completely missed seeing it. It was just plain dumb luck that I found the car.
I pulled open the passenger door. It took me a couple of tries as it was partially buried in the snow and I needed to keep clearing a path for it to swing open.
Inside I saw her. She had pulled all the clothing out of a suitcase on the back seat and made a nest on the front seat for herself and her child. I could see where she had kept the child wrapped up and covered with her body.
I was about to pronounce her dead when I saw a faint pulse in her throat. I carefully picked her up and started back to the coach. I had to get her warmed up. I carried her back to the bedroom and put her down next to her child.
The kid was awake and crying for his mother.
I pulled the frozen outer clothing off the mother. The mother was not dressed for the cold. When I removed her coat she only had a nightgown on. It was a long cotton one, but there was nothing under it but mom. I started rubbing her appendages. The child watched me and was soon helping.
I picked mom up and carried her into the bathroom. I started the shower and walked into it clothes and all with her in my arms. The water was not that warm. I remembered reading somewhere that a hypothermia victim should be returned to normal temperatures slowly.
While she was warming, I was slowly freezing my butt off in the lukewarm water.
I noticed the child standing outside the shower watching his mother and I in the shower. "I'm trying to warm her up," I explained. He looked at me and started to sniffle. My guess was that he was 5 or 6 years old.
"What's your name?" I asked him. "Tessa" was the answer I received. "Oops," I thought, "A gender mix-up on my part."
"Hi Tessa. I'm Gene. Remember?"
She nodded her little head. "My mommy going to be OK?"
I really didn't know, but I lied and said "yes."
The water was starting to get even colder so I shut it off. Between Tessa and I we managed to get her mother dried off and into one of my long flannel shirts. There wasn't much I could do to maintain Mom's modesty, but I tried for Tessa's sake. After I got mom tucked between the blankets, Tessa joined her.
I watched as Tessa hugged her mom and tried to go to sleep. The light in my head finally went on. I asked, "Tessa, are you hungry?"
The little head nodded yes.
I micro waved some of my soup for her and brought it to her. I swear the bowl was empty before I could get back to the kitchen area. I returned to the bedroom with a Reese's Peanut butter Cup I had purchased for a snack as I drove.
I made a friend for life with that little gift.
I whipped up some instant hot chocolate and returned to my two charges in the bedroom. Tessa accepted her drink and I started the questioning. After all my questioning, I learned:
1) Mom's name was Mom.
2) They lived in a house.
3) She had a Daddy, but he died.
4) Mommy had a boyfriend, but he wasn't nice.
I decided I wasn't very good at questioning small children.
By now it was almost 5:00 am and we were both falling asleep. I tucked her in next to her mother who was looking a lot healthier and breathing well. I kissed Tessa on the forehead and wished her a good night. At Tessa's insistence, I did the same for Mom.
I slept on the couch until I woke up around noon. The first thing I saw was Tessa's smiling face staring down into mine. "Mommy! Gene's awake" came out of that small body at a truck driver's volume.
"Good morning Tessa. Mom's awake?" I asked. I got the nod again.
"Well let's go see what she wants for breakfast."
Before I could get both feet on the floor, I heard that same little voice yelling at the same loud volume, "Mommy, Gene want to know what we want for breakfast."
A very groggy and confused voice answered, "Gene Who?"
"Gene D'Amico," I answered. "May I come in?"
"I'm not decent," was the answer I received.
"I know. I'm the one responsible for making you that way," was my answer.
"Oh! I guess then you can come in. You must have seen it all anyway."
I got her a pair of my sweats, "They will be too big but they are warm," I said as I handed them over.
I took the breakfast order. Tessa wanted an Egg McMuffin and French fries. But she settled for the French toast and milk that I made for all of us.
We introduced ourselves over breakfast.
Tessa's mom was named Sharon, and she was running away from an abusive boy friend in Chicago. The boy friend wanted to share her charms with his drinking buddies. The men were drunk and she was able to feed them drinks until they passed out.
Sharon then grabbed Tessa, cleaned out all the men's wallets and just started driving west until the two were stopped by the snow storm.
Sharon had only the nightgown and a coat. The only clothes she packed were for Tessa.
By afternoon Wal-Mart had opened for business and the three of us went clothes shopping. They got the new clothes and I got the bill. But I was actually spending Uncle Joe's money and he wouldn't mind.
Well I guess it's time I told you a little about my history. Uncle Joe was really my Great Uncle. He was my mother's uncle. He and his wife Antoinette took me into their home when my mother and father were killed. I was only 10 at the time and didn't understand that cars just didn't blow themselves up.
Uncle Joe was a crime boss and my father was one of his underbosses. The bombing was a message for my Uncle. My Uncle didn't like the message and took the war to the other side. When the smoke cleared, my Uncle ended up the boss of bosses. The other side was history.
I grew up in his household just outside N.Y. City. He and my Aunt were a very loving couple. I was taught the "families" way to do things and that the "family" always came first. When I was 16 my uncle sent me to work part time in a Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant he somehow managed to own. Food service was soon to become my first love. It kept me off the streets and out of the kind of trouble that teenager boys usually find themselves in.
People that worked for my uncle could eat in the restaurant for free. A few I recognized from home, but most of them were men I only recognized by their hard looks and dead eyes. I was never introduced to them, but they all knew my name. A few of the older ones said that they knew my father, usually followed by, "He was a Good Man."
One day one of the really hard ones said, "Don't worry about revenging your mom and dad. We did that for you already. They all sleep with the fish now." I wanted to hug him, but I was covered in flour from making the pizzas and he was wearing a black shark skin suit. Somehow I figured that he would not like white hand prints on his suit.
"Thank you for your kindness," was all I could say, but he understood. These guys always talked in riddles, but they knew exactly what was wanted or needed.
When I graduated from high school, my uncle gave me the pizzeria and restaurant to run as a present. I jumped into making it the best in the area. The pizza rolled out the front door from about 11:00 AM until 1:00 AM. The ovens never stopped.
The seating area was small but we served real homemade Italian food. There was always a waiting line for a table most afternoons and evenings. My uncle liked the increase in business. One Sunday while I was sitting in his study, I said "I could do even better if the place just was bigger so I could seat more customers."
Three weeks later I was invited to attend a Police Benefit Association banquet. While I was eating and drinking with all the police big shots, the building my restaurant and a couple of other stores were in burnt to the ground. No one was injured, but the building was a complete loss.
Six months later we were holding our Grand Opening in our brand new and three times larger restaurant/pizzeria.
We had a small bistro style seating area, a large dining area and a party room for weddings and such. By the time two months had elapsed, we were back to being completely full six days a week. We were closed on Sundays or it would have been packed all seven days.
The hard guys liked the dining room. They could hold small meetings there while eating a fancy meal. We even had a small dance band on Friday and Saturday nights. The hard guys brought their wives or girl friends to either show them off or shut them up. I made sure that none of Uncle Joe's guys ever got bills.
The bistro was the favorite of the local police. It was small and cozy. They were allowed to move the tables around as needed to accommodate the size of their parties. They got billed for their meals, but the amount was about half of what it should be. If they were in uniform and working, they didn't get a bill at all.
I don't know if it was the hard guys in back or the uniformed police in the front, but we were never robbed, the patrons were never bothered outside, and there was no graffiti or vandalism to the building or parked cars in the area.
I was happy and care free, then I met Sheila. I didn't know it then but I was destined to be her husband.
While the mother and daughter examined their Wal-Mart loot, I got on my cell phone to Uncle Joe. I wanted to explain about Tessa and Sharon and the bills that were coming as well as ask a favor.
After I got done talking Uncle Joe remarked, "I have friends in Chicago. I'll have someone look up the boyfriend." I felt a cold chill run down my spine, I knew exactly what my Uncle meant by "looking up".
The weather had finally cleared. The girls went to their car to repack their lone suitcase and brought it over to the coach. I had invited them to accompany me to the West Coast and they had accepted.
Sharon's car actually belonged to her boy friend. It was a ten year old Honda and way over the hill. It took me a couple of phone calls before a junk yard agreed to take the car for parts.
Sharon's boy friend would never find his car again.
The three of us spent one more night in the parking lot. We moved the motor home to a new location so the snow plow guy could finish around where we were parked. We restocked the food supply with things a six year old would like, and found a site to dump the "holding" tank, as well as refill the fresh water supply tank.
The worst was topping off the diesel fuel tanks.
The top off took 175 gallons, which isn't as bad as a fill up. The whole fuel load was 250 gallons when empty. So you can understand why I said 175 gallons wasn't bad. But shit it was still almost $4.00 a gallon so nearly $700.00 went for the diesel fuel.
That night I fired up the satellite TV and we watched kid stuff until you know who fell asleep. While I was carrying her back to bed, somehow a "chick flick" was on the set when I got back into the living room.
Actually it wasn't that bad a flick as far as chick flicks go. I especially liked the part when Sharon snuggled up and put her head on my shoulder.
Sharon wanted to start a fight when I offered her and Tessa the bedroom. The fight would probably still be going on if I hadn't demonstrated the hidden drop down bed in the living room where I planned to sleep.
I was up at first light and on the road. My two sleepy heads showed up front around 9:00 or almost 300 miles further down the road. It was nice to have company while I drove, especially when one of them was six years old and never shut up. It felt as if I had suddenly acquired a family.
We stopped at the first truck stop we came to. There were three empty stomachs that needed filling. Nothing was more filling than greasy truck stop food.
Tessa was impressed when we parked in the part of the lot reserved for big trucks. Her little eyes got bigger and bigger as we pulled into a spot between two tandems. She was glued to my side as we walked by one of them. I could hear Sharon softly chuckle about my new appendage. Hey, to a six year old these are very big trucks and really scary.
Suddenly the driver's door opened on one of the cabs opened and a female driver climbed out. I swear it was the first time in two days Tessa was quiet. Her little mouth hung open and her eyes were saucer wide.
Later Sharon claimed that Tessa was too busy trying to climb up me for protection to talk.
The female driver, who appeared to be in her 40's, smiled at us and said, "Hi little girl. What's your name?"
Tessa buried her face in my shoulder and whispered, "Tessa."
"Well I think Tessa is a very nice name. I have a son about your age at home. His name is Adam," was the lady driver's reply. I looked at her with a little greater understanding. A mother who was on the road for 4 or 5 days a week and still raising a family got my admiration. She was a hard worker.
Well that was all it took to get Terra started talking again. She talked all the way across the parking lot and into the restaurant. She invited the lady trucker to join us for breakfast. Soon we were a four some in one of the booths. Tessa found out that the trucker's CB handle was 'Crazy Lady' and wouldn't let it go. She wanted to introduce her new friend to all the other truckers having breakfast.
But Sharon put a stop to that by saying, "Tessa! Shut up and eat." Mother's always know exactly how to control their children.
I guess enough of the other drivers eating heard Tessa's mouth that they would stop on their way by our table and introduce themselves to her. She met Widow Maker, Gas Man, Mr. Bell, Brandy's Kid, Grandpa Jack, and many more. But the highlight of her morning was when a great big state trooper stopped at our table and introduced himself as "Big Bear."
Tessa's chatting with her new found friends put us about an hour behind the schedule I had in my mind for the day. But it was worth it. As we were pulling out, "Crazy Lady" caught my eye and waved the microphone from her CB radio at me. I nodded "yes". I reached down and turned my CB on and adjusted the volume.
As soon as it quieted down on the channel, the call went out, "How about ya, Little Tessa. Crazy Lady askin."
I wish I had had a camera so I could have captured the expression on Tessa's face when she heard her name come over the air. Sharon grabbed the mike and held it up for Tessa to speak. And speak she did. There is not a shy bone in that little girl's body.
As Crazy Lady's signal started to fade I realized we were headed in opposite directions. Sharon quickly explained to Tessa that she needed to say goodbye before the signal was gone.
Tessa said, "Goodbye Crazy Lady, You're my best friend next to Mommy and Gene." Damn that kid knows how to climb into your heart.
After Crazy Lady said goodbye, the next 30 miles were filled with truckers saying "Goodbye" to Tessa also. She answered everyone back with a great big smile on her face and in her voice. Sharon just beamed at her daughter. She was the typical proud Mom.
I was also very proud of her until it hit me that this was not my little girl and never would be as long as I was still married to that bitch Sheila.
I guess I'd better take some time and explain about Sheila.
It was shortly after I reopened my restaurant when on one weekday night Sheila and a couple of her girl friends stopped in to pick up a pizza. They said that they had heard about the place and wanted to check us out. It was slow, so I entertained them with all sorts of pizza stories while theirs cooked. They turned out to be a fun bunch, so I invited them back on a night the band was playing.
The next Saturday night I spotted them on the dance floor. They appeared to be having fun. Saturdays are very busy for us so I didn't have the time to visit with them. I did get a smile and a wave from them that night. So being the nice guy that I m, I sent over a round of drinks for the girls.