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Adventures of Ron Huckleberry…#26-1 Dad and I stay at the Maxwell House Hotel in Nashville
Ron continues to relate memories of his Dad and this one becomes a short story length.
The home-office for the loan company Dad worked with was in Nashville. He frequently visited Nashville for business meetings. Most of the time he returned home in the evening, but when he stayed over night he normally stayed at the Maxwell House Hotel.
Dad was notified late about one meeting and it was too late for Mom to get a baby sitter for Sis and me. Dad suggested that since it was Friday and I had no school the next day, that it would be another adventure or learning experience for me. This time Dad drove to Nashville and we arrived at the hotel about 7 p.m.
Dad had routines that he never altered from. He polished his shoes every evening. “Successful business men always have well-shined shoes”. He often stated. So as we walked into the hotel lobby Dad immediately walked over and asked his friend for a ‘high-shine’. “Goodness yes, Mr. Gene, take a seat, Mr. Bob excitedly said”. Dad quickly climbed up onto a very large high stool. Mr. Bob quickly rolled Dad’s pants up three or four turns and began rub his fingers in the polish can. He then rubbed his polish covered hands onto the shoes until every spot of shoe was well covered with polish. In a few minutes he was using his shine brush and a minute later he began playing his famous “shoe-shine-rag-music”. Mr. Bob could pop, slap, bang, and that rag like a musician picking a guitar.
We were soon on the way to our room. I was allowed to drive the elevator and naturally I stopped on each floor for the fun of it. Once in the room Dad placed the suit case on the bed and immediately began hanging his clothes in the closet. He then gave me a lecture. “It is very important to hang your clothes up as soon as possible, so you look good the next day”.
He then placed his shoes under the edge of the bed with the shoes pointing outward. He then took the shaving kit to the bath room and placed each item out on the glass shelf. He even unscrewed the head of the razor and turned the double edge blade over. “I did that so it is ready to go tomorrow morning”. He explained.
Dad then phoned the desk and asked to have coffee for one juice for two delivered to the room at 6:45 a.m. “A good drink will always get the day started off nicely”. He said.
We were soon taking the elevator back to the lobby. We stopped by the desk and Dad explained that all messages should be brought to the room and not put in the key box.
We then went into the dining room. We stood by the door and waited. Very shortly the head waiter arrived and Dad showed him the room key. The waiter noted the key number on the ledger and asked Dad to follow him. He seated us at a nice table along the wall near the front of the dining room.
I was going to sit in the chair opposite Dad, but the waiter suggested that it would best this time if I sat next to Dad and facing the small dance floor.
Just as we were sitting, another waiter approached the table, “Mr. Huckleberry, you have a call at the desk please”. Dad asked the waiter to bring me a coke and he quickly walked to the desk.
Dad returned shortly. “It was just my boss checking to see if all was OK”. He explained. Dad ordered our meals. Dad ordered pork chops and etc and then ordered for me something sounded strange. When it came it was a hamburger with fries.
I watched as workers moved boxes and lights onto the small dance floor. I asked Dad what they were doing. He explained, “There is a variety show tonight and that is why the waiter suggested you sit here and face the dance floor and see the show more easily”.
“What’s a variety show”? I asked.
“It can be almost any kind of entertainment. Tonight they have a magic show, which starts in about three minutes. Later they have a special music with live singers”. He explained.
“What are live singers”? I asked.
Dad laughed, “It will not be just music from a record player. There will be a small band playing for the people dancing. Later other people will appear to play their instruments. There will be someone special standing there singing. That is what they mean by ‘live’ singers”.
“Will we get to see them too”? I asked
“Nope, we have to get up early tomorrow, so we have to get some sleep”, He said.
About that time someone was testing the microphones and speakers. “Why does he keep saying testing, testing”? I asked.
“There are small speakers all around the dining room area and even in the lobby. They want to be sure that all the speakers are properly working and that people sitting at all of the tables can hear everything that is said”.
The waiter arrived with our meal about the same time as the man at the microphone said, “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Colonial Room of the b beautiful old
Maxwell House Hotel in the middle of beautiful Nashville, Tennessee. We have some very special entertainment this evening just for you. We’re sure you’re going to have another wonderful evening. First we are pleased to present Jeff Morgan and his lovely assistant Marie with their bag of tricks and surprises from their box of magic”.
“After the magic show we will present some of the finest new entertainers you’re ever heard. And of course the dance floor is yours. Just be careful of the extension cords lying near the foot of the small stage area. You can dance right up until midnight”.
“There is a special announcement for all of you here from Atlanta attending the IML convention. Please be sure to sign the roster in the lobby and list your room number here at the Maxwell House or your address and phone number if you are staying somewhere else. This is for your convenience so that we can contact you in case of an emergency. And remember that breakfast is served tomorrow morning at eight sharp, so that you can all be seated and ready to begin the opening of your great convention at 9:30 a.m. sharp. The note here says…PLEASE don’t be late”.
“Just one announcement before we let Jeff and Marie have the microphone. Tomorrow night we will begin serving the evening meal at 5 p.m., so that all of you planning to attend the Grand Ole Opera will have plenty of time to eat before you leave here. Special transportation has been arranged for all of you who have signed up for the Grand Ole Opera. As usual there are some folks who would love to go to the Opera, but don’t have reservations. So please, if you should decide not to go to the Opera and would be willing to sell your ticket, please notify the hotel reservations desk…right now…later this evening…or as early tomorrow as possible”.
“I know you are all tired of listening to me, so with out anymore delays…let’s have a big hand for Jeff and Marie”.
Jeff came out dressed in a black suit and big hat. He was soon pulling birds out of his hat. I got so excited that I knocked over my coke glass. Luckily there was little coke left in it.
Dad just laughed, “Don’t worry, we’ll another coke”.
I didn’t remember eating all of my hamburger and fries and I was still hungry. Dad got me more fries and a coke.
The magic show was great. A man even walked around the room selling magic books, but Dad would not buy one.
We were back in our room by nine. I noticed that shoes were standing outside several of the rooms. “Dad, why are the shoes in the hallway”?
“When you are in a big hotel you can place the shoes outside the door and the hotel staff will insure that the shoes get polished. When you get up you have nice polished shoes”. Dad explained.
“How do they know which door to bring the shoes back to”? I asked.
“I guess maybe they write the room number on a piece of paper and put the paper into the shoes. I’ve really never thought of that”. He smiled.
We washed our teeth and got ready for bed. The next morning there was a knock on the door at 6:45 sharp. A lady gave Dad a tray with the coffee and juice. He gave her some money, but I don’t know how much.
We sat at a small table in the small lounge area of our room and enjoyed our drinks. When we were finished Dad said he and I were going to take a shower. I never liked showers because the water always got into my nose and eyes. Dad made the water nice and warm, quickly washed me down, and sent me out of the shower to get dried. He then showered and washed his hair for a long time. He was soon wrapping a towel around his waist and shaving.
He soon poured a small amount of oil into his left hand, rubbed his hands together and rubbed his hands through his hair. He then rubbed his oiled hands through my hair and combed my hair and then his hair.
He washed his hand and then poured some after shave on his hands and rubbed the back of his neck. He then put some more after shave on his left hand, rubbed his hands together and then rubbed the back of my neck.
“Dad, why do you put it on the back our necks”?
“After shave smells good, but it burns if the face is raw from shaving or something. I’ve found that the back of the neck is not normally a sensitive area”. He explained. Dad always explained things.
Dad got dressed and then stood in front of the mirror tying and retying his tie three times until it hanged just to the edge of his belt. He then checked me over and re combed my hair.
I watched as Dad checked the room to insure we had made it neat. “It’s normal and natural for all hotel workers to talk with each other about all of the visitors. If you leave the room messy or leave a wet towel on the floor they talk about how messy you were. If you leave your room nice and clean they talk about how net you are”. He explained. “You will be treated in the future according to your reputation”.
We then left the room and closed the door. Dad turned the ‘do not disturb’ over. I ask why he did that. “The maids like to know you have cleared the room, so they can begin the room cleaning as soon as possible”. He stated.
As soon as we got to the lobby Dad talked with the reservations clerk. “I understand that the check-out time is 11:00 a.m. We will not clear out of the room until 12:30. I don’t want to be charged for another day, but I will pay the normal fee for being a little late clearing the room”. Dad explained to the clerk.
“Mr. Huckleberry, if you can be out by 12:30 there is not an extra fee”. The clerk assured Dad. Dad gave him $5.00 to give to the room maid for her trouble.
We were in the breakfast area at 8 a.m. Dad picked a table near the sidewalk window. “It’s always nice to have sunshine when you enjoy breakfast”. He stated. Dad had cream of wheat, eggs, bacon and coffee. I had corn flakes, hot cakes with double syrup and more orange juice.
When we finished breakfast we returned to the room and washed our teeth again. Dad then cleaned his pipe and placed it in a leather case and put the case into the right pocket of his tweed sports coat. He then opened the small green can of good smelling pipe tobacco and remarked, “I guess I had better get another can before I got to the meeting”. He then placed the can with the little leather case.
“If you come down stairs with me, can you find your way back to the room”? He asked me.
“Of course I can”. I replied.
He then took a piece of paper and wrote my name and room number on it. “If you get lost, just ask anyone in the hotel to help you. Just show the note”. He explained
We then went back down to the lobby, out the front door, and around to the side of the hotel to a glassed-in area where the shoe shine men had their stand and where the hotel workers had a break-area. We could have entered this area from the lobby, bud Dad didn’t want people seeing him go directly in to the area.
Dad then climbed upon the high stool above the metal foot-rests and got comfortable. He patted the seat next to him and told me to climb up too. I had on sandals and doubted that I was getting them shined.
“How are you today, Sir”? Asked the old black man. “Who’s this happy looking young man with you today”?
“Joe, this is my son, Ron. Ron, this is my long time good friend, Mr. Joe”. Dad explained.
“Is your wife with you too, Mr. Gene”? Mr. Joe asked.
“Not this time, Joe. This trip is just for us two men. I have another one of those quick-called meetings and my wife had other plans”. Dad stated.
“You will say hi to your wife from ole Joe, please. She is such a wonderful lady”. Mr. Joe said, as her rolled Dad’s pants legs up three folds.
“I saw Mr. Bob last evening. Will he be working today too”? Dad asked.
Mr. Joe was rubbing his uncovered fingers into the shoe polish just as Mr. Bob had done the evening before. “Bob will be in about 2 p.m.”. Mr. Joe stated, as he began rubbing the polish onto Dad’s shoes. “Well, Mr. Ron, are you having a good time with your dad”.
“Yes, we went….then Dad interrupted. “Yes SIR, Mr. Joe…don’t forget your manners”. Dad instructed.
“Yes Sir, Mr. Joe. Last night we saw a great magic show. And this morning I had pancakes and syrup”. I explained.
“Wow! “, Mr. Joe said, “Sounds like you are having a ball”.
Dad and Mr. Joe did a lot of serious talking. Dad asked a lot of question and Mr. Joe seemed to know all the answers.
When Mr. Joe was finished he rolled Dad’s pants legs down and dusted them off with his hands, which he had washed well.
We climbed down from the big stools and Dad paid Mr. Joe. Mr. Joe put his arm around my shoulder and he said, “Mr. Ron, you try to come back with your dad real often, OK”.
“Yes Sir, Mr. Joe. Good bye”. I replied.
As we walked to the next little shop and Dad bought his tobacco, I asked, “Why did you get your shoes polished again? There were just polished last night”?
“I wanted to talk with Mr. Joe about a few things. Mr. Joe is a good man and he needs the money too”. Dad explained.
“What did you have to talk with Mr. Joe about”? I asked.
“You wait until you’re grown before you worry yourself about grown folk’s business”. He said smiling.
We walked back around to the hotel lobby. Dad gave me a hug and said, “I must be going now or I will be late. Are you sure you can find the room OK? Don’t loose your key”. Dad then kind of hurriedly headed for the door. He turned and waved just as he walked out.
I felt real big as I stood there in the lobby by myself. Maybe I felt a little scared too. I headed quickly to the elevator. A man was waiting. I let him go up alone and then pushed the button for it to return for me. I wanted the elevator to myself. I wanted to push every button and stop at every floor until I got to the top floor.
I did just that. When I got to the top I didn’t know it was the top floor. I pushed again and the elevator took me back to the first floor. I really liked the way this elevator knew what I wanted.
I tried to be careful that I did not get caught playing on the elevator, but on the fourth floor a maid impatiently. She was standing next to a huge rack on wheels. She looked at me kind of stern and asked, “Were you making the elevator stop on each floor”? You know you should not be playing on the elevator, because we need to get our work done”.
“Yes, mam, I’m sorry. I just need to go up one more floor”.
I quickly learned the system. I would stand in the hall way and watch the arrow above the elevator door to see which floor the elevator stopped on last. I then learned to watch the elevator button box. If the button for floor three blinked, I got off on floor two. I could walk up or down as necessary to avoid running into the maids or hotel guests. Most of the time this worked.
Time was passing very well, but the elevator riding was getting boring. I soon began walking up the stairs and investigating every floor in the hotel. I even went up the stairs all the way to the roof.
There I was surprised to find that the metal exiting to the roof was not locked. Now I was really excited to find a new adventure. I was scared too. The metal door would not stay all the way open. “What if that door slams shut and I am locked out ON TOP of this big hotel”? I whispered to myself.
I looked around for something to prop the door open, but there was nothing in the stairs or near by. I decided to take off both sandals and place one between the back of the door and the hinge and the other between the door and frame, so I would not completely close.
Carefully I let the door close onto my shoes as I stood on the flat, tarpaper roof that was covered with tiny gravel. The door stopped on the shoes just as I had planned and stayed ajar about two inches.
In my sock feet I carefully walked a short distance away from the door, and then returned to see if my shoes were still holding the door ajar. I did this a couple of times and finally got the nerve to stray further away from the door. My fear was that someone would come and see the door ajar, take away my shoes, and let the door close. “If this should happen, how would I ever got off the roof or let any one know I was on the roof”. I kept asking myself.
Even though the gravel hurt my feet, I continued to be more and more brave and was soon investigating every inch of the roof. I could never have believed that the roof of a hotel could be so big, so high up, have so many things built on it, and be so scary.
I worked my way to the nearest side of the roof and stood by the fire-wall. The fire-wall came about to my waist, but it was too thick for me to see over it and look directly down the side of the hotel to the sidewalk below.
I could see from an angle the street below and the next building and I saw how small the cars and people looked. In order to look directly down the side of the hotel I would have had to climb upon the fire-wall and lie on my stomach on top of the fire-wall and carefully look down. I was too scared to do that.
I walked across the roof to the nearest little room-like structure. It had no door, but it did have vents on all sides. I could hear what sounded like a fan or motor when I placed my ear to the vents.
There were small and large pipes sticking up from the roof. The odor around some of them was not nice. There was even some steam or smoke coming out of one.
On the other side of the roof was a large glass like structure, which was about my height. Along one side a glass window had been propped up about four inches. I thought I could hear voices, so I did not go close for fear of being seen or heard.
Behind the door that I had propped open with my sandal there was a black metal ladder that curled over the fire-wall and went down the side of the building. As I approached the ladder I thought how much I really wanted to look straight down from the roof to the sidewalk below.
I stood for a long time beside the ladder getting enough courage to carefully climb two steps up and carefully lean over the fire-wall, while holding on the ladder rails for dear life.
I still could not see straight down. I would have to push my stomach even further across the top of the thick fire-wall in order for my head to hang over the side of the fire-wall.
With my stomach in my mouth from fear, I slid my arms under the metal ladder on both sides and so very slowly pulled my stomach across the fire wall top about ¼ inch at a time until my head hanged over the fire wall.
I could now clearly see the sidewalk directly below. In fact I could now see the side of the hotel directly below. I felt so sick, but excited. The people below looked so tiny and short and the cars and trucks looked very small.
Two men were dumping garbage in to the bed of a truck. I remembered seeing a Saturday morning movie where the hero jumped from the roof of a building into a garbage truck and was saved. How could anyone jump and be sure of landing into something that small.
I had seen enough. I just wanted to get back onto the hotel roof. My stomach felt very funny. As I tried to move my stomach and body backwards I found it was much more difficult than moving forward with the assistance of the ladder. I was not making any progress of backing off of the fire-wall and I was quickly having fear of being stuck there on top of the fire-wall.
By ever so slowly using the muscles of my stomach, like a snake I guess, I moved backwards enough that I could finally get my foot over the inside of the fire-wall and my foot now helped me pull my body backwards enough to finally reach safety.
It really felt good to have the roof under my feet. I looked at the fire-wall and the black ladder for a few moments. “I could do it better the next time”. I said to myself. Suddenly I was not scared at all.
As I walked slowly back to the door I felt like a real adventurer. Now I needed to check on the time. But first I had to get my shoes on.
I pulled the metal door open and was able to get the nearest shoe with ease. I stepped on to the stair well and put this shoe on. I then tried to push the heavy metal door open enough to dislodge the other shoe from the hinge. I could not push the door far enough open to reach the shoe at the same time. I needed help.
Even though I dreaded asking a maid to help me, I was desperate. I walked down the top floor hall way, but there was no maid in sight. I wend down one floor. As I entered the hall way I saw a friendly looking black maid. I explained my problem and she agreed to look. When she saw the sandal stuck in the roof door she laughed. “You went out on the roof didn’t you young man? Good idea blocking the door with the shoe, but too bad it got stuck…right”? She said as she laughed more.
“Yes, mam, will you help me get my shoe”? I asked.
She smiled and pushed the door open real wide. “I’ll hold the door, but you watch your fingers”. She instructed.
The shoe came out with ease. “Now you go back down stairs and promise not to come back up here anymore. Do you hear me”? She said with a smile.
“Thanks a lot, mam, I’m not coming up here again”. I told her.
When I got back to my room I noticed that my shirt had black dirt marks all over the front. I left my shirt on and used a wash cloth and a spot of soap to try to remove the dirt. Most of it came off. By the time I rinsed off the soap the entire front of my shirt was very wet. It was warm outside, so I decided it would dry more quickly if I walked around outside.
I rode the elevator down to the lobby with a lady that kept looking at my wet shirt. In the lobby I felt everyone was looking at my wet shirt. I quickly walked outside.
As I walked around the corner of the hotel, Mr. Joe yelled, “Mr. Ron, you be real careful if you cross the street. Those taxies and buses always go too fast”.
I walked over to Mr. Joe. “Hi Mr. Joe, I just need to get my shirt dry, so I’ll just walk around awhile while it dries”.
“That should do it. Just be careful”. He warned me.
I had only walked a short distance when I saw three men taking some large pipes through the hotel basement window. I suddenly remembered that I had not explored the basement.
I reentered the hotel and walked directly to the elevator to ride to the basement for my new adventure.
I soon noticed that this elevator did not go under the lobby level. “How do I get to the basement”? I asked myself. I saw the stairs door near the lobby desk, but that would be too dangerous. I took the elevator up one floor and then went down the stairs to the basement. When I opened the door I found the basement was huge and poorly lighted, but I was not scared at all.
Immediately I heard women’s voices. I carefully walked to the left of the stairs and I saw where the voices were coming from. It was the maid’s break area. There were five or six maids talking, eating, and laughing.
I quietly walked back towards the stairs. On the other side of the stairs was a huge room with shelves full of sheets, pillow, blankets, towels, etc. Just on the other side of this room was a much larger elevator.
I was just about to be brave and ride the large elevator up to see where it when, when there was a strange noise. It sounded like something sliding and then a ‘plump’. I walked about ten feet past the stairs and saw ten or more very large canvas carts on wheels. Some were full of fresh wash, some were empty, and one was parked under a large shoot. The strange noise was from linen being dropped down the shoot.
I quickly went to the larger elevator and pushed the one button I saw. The double doors closed and the elevator slowly went up one floor. It stopped and the double doors opened by them selves. When I stepped out of the elevator I realized it was located directly behind the reservations counter.
It seemed that the maids could drop the dirty linen down the shoot into the basement. They could use the elevator to bring a cart of fresh linen up to the lobby, roll the cart to the passenger elevator and go up to the desired floor.
I began talking to myself, “Why was fresh linen kept in the basement? How did it get there? If they brought the dirty linen up to the lobby floor, how did they take it out of the hotel? Is there a secret tunnel or something”?
It would be necessary to go back to the basement to the answer to this mystery. Man, was I getting brave. I was sure that there a few more secrets hide in this big hotel.
Again I went to the basement by way of the stairs, because I knew this route. When I got to the basement my question was being answered. A black man was rolling one of the carts with dirty linen onto a large flat metal plate that was located near the outside hotel wall. The man pushed a button hanging on a heavy cord. The metal plate became an elevator as the plate and cart of linen rose towards the ceiling.
As the cart neared the ceiling, two large ceiling plates slowly opened and the cart exited the basement by the sidewalk outside the hotel.
Someone outside rolled the dirty linen off the plate and soon rolled another cart onto the plate-elevator. This elevator soon lowered a cart of fresh linen into the basement. The man rolled the cart of fresh off the plate and rolled a cart of dirty linen onto the plate-elevator. This process continued until all of the dirty linen was outside on the sidewalk.
Now I rushed to observe the outside operation. Outside there was an old truck parked there were the linen carts were brought out of the basement. The metal plate-elevator came out of the basement and actually went up three feet higher than the sidewalk. A wooden walkway was laid from the plate-elevator to the bed of the truck. The carts were rolled on and off the truck. It looks dangerous, but the operation was so slow I guessed it was safe.
No doubt this had been the most exciting day of my young life. I guessed Dad’s hair would have turned white if he had known everything I had done and seen since he left the hotel that morning.
It was now almost noon, my shirt was now dry. I had lived my own little action movie. I was hungry, tired, and Dad would be arriving soon. With a smile on my face I went up to our room and washed my hands and returned to the lobby where I sat and waited for Dad.
Dad was a little late getting back to the hotel. As soon as he arrived we rushed to clear the room and took the suit case with us to the dining area. After we ordered lunch Dad asked what all I had done to entertain myself while he had been gone. I only said I had a ball riding the elevators up and down.
We both had a soup and sandwich and tea. On the way home I think I slept most of the way. It was early afternoon when we arrived and Mom wanted a full report. Before supper all seemed to be back to normal. The maid left early for regular Saturday night date. Dad began repairing or building something, Mom was, as usual, busy cooking or cleaning. Sandra, my little Sis, stayed busy driving me ’little sister’ crazy.
© GENE HUDGENS
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