My new room with a silver ceiling had a loft bed that I decided to use for storage, not wanting to go up and down the ladder each time I had to use the bathroom. I bought a twin bed, hung twinkle lights and my star light from the ceiling, arranged books on the shelves, set up a writing desk, put my half & half in the frig and I was home.
Winter was coming in Montana, and I couldn’t wait. Eugene held my dear friends, but it didn’t hold my heart, Montana has since I came to visit my brother in the 80’s.
My cocoon of a room had all I needed. Covid times have not been social times. But for me, social times began to slip away in 2017 as I began to grieve the loss of my relationship with my daughter and grandchildren. Now that the rest of the world had joined me in isolation, I felt a comfort that felt unfair because the rest of the world was now grieving.
Slowly but surely, I meet the other residents of this historic hotel. With Covid protocol, residents mainly kept to themselves in their rooms, a twist from its history. Back when Robert acquired the building some forty years ago, bohemians inhabited the rooms, art was created, and parties thrown. Friends who are long time Missoula residents have said to me with a laugh, “oh yea, I remember the parties at the hotel.” Surprisingly, I didn’t attend parties at the hotel during the 80’s but I was certainly at other parties, after waiting tables then out dancing.
Completed in 1902, it was bustling with a restaurant, and saloon on the main floor. Rooms were rented for 75 cents by railroad passengers and workers. It’s been said it was a brothel at one time. With travelers and a saloon downstairs makes sense.
The extend of socializing when I moved in was meeting in the kitchen while preparing a meal. Jennifer, lived in the room next to me. We’d chat as hot water ran through the cone for morning coffee. Sleepy eyed, she told me about her work at a peach orchard, her love for plants and her boyfriend. Eventually, she shared about her conflictual relationship with her mother, but how she was committed to loving her. Of course, I commended her for this commitment. On her 30th birthday, Jennifer, proudly showed me the presents her boyfriend had given her; a plant and an apron he had sewn himself.
John, lives at the far end of the hall in the biggest room at the hotel. It even has its own bathroom. He’s around 30 years old, works for the forest service Bless his heart, he tries to keep everyone in line, leaving notes on the white board, reminding everyone to lock the doors, shared stats on daily Covid deaths. He’s a sweetheart but I wish for his sake he didn’t worry so much.
Sam, what a sweetie. He’s early twenties, in school and works for the forest service. He’s from Virginia. His room is small, and he is a growing boy, so we’d end up together in the kitchen mornings and evenings. We talk food, the South, it’s history, the why of it all and how can we bring justice to this world. As I cooked pancakes for the two of us, he said, “man you remind me of my grandmother” Well shit, he had won my heart!
The common areas weren’t and aren’t as clean as I care for. It doesn’t seem to bother the others too much. They are young, in school, working, and keeping a social life such as it is. After a few weeks, I was able to rally Jennifer, John and Sam to deep clean the 3rd floor kitchen. Jennifer tackled the refrigerator, pine soled the ceiling light fixtures that had years of dirt of them, Sam scrubbed the oven, John and I threw out items in the cupboard that were, yes, years expired, plastic lids with no bottoms. Counters were scrubbed and the floor swept and mopped it. It felt good and I got to know my fellow roomies a little more. I learned that Jennifer and John had never heard of Walt Whitman nor Leaves of Grass. I remedied that at my next visit to the 2nd hand bookstore.
Charles, who doesn’t leave his room much, stopped me in hall one day, “hey, would you roast us a turkey for Thanksgiving? My work is giving me a free turkey.” “Sure” I replied. I started my internet search for how to roast a turkey, it had been a few years. I asked Robert what he would like to have served at our Thanksgiving meal? He put in his request and meal planning began.