Wednesday, June 6, 2012

MOTEL MUSINGS #1



I was born in a cabbage patch and raised in a fish bowl called Perkins Motel.    The cabbage patch story was the rote answer my Mother gave when I asked the proverbial question, "Where did I come from?"  The fish bowl story is true.  Not only was Perkins Motel a family business,  but it was also our home since our three bedroom modest apartment was located just a few steps behind the front desk.  As time went on,  I would tell people my Mom and Dad ran a hotel as opposed to running a motel because of the notell motel relationship or heaven forbid a connection with the Bates Motel in the Alfred Hitchcock movie "Psycho."   Today I might say we were in the hospitality business.   Funny how words have different connotations over time.    


Artist rendering of Perkins Motel, phase 1
The idea to sell their main street restaurant and build a motel outside of town was spawned in 1953 when they were escaping the chill of a New Hampshire winter and driving 1500 miles south to the Sunshine State.  From New Jersey to Florida they passed mile after mile of newly built motels that had colorful neon signs flashing No Vacancy in the window.  This was a gutsy idea for two Greek immigrants, one with only a second-grade education and the other with a high school diploma.  But then everything they had done up to that point in their lives was pretty gutsy, like my Dad at the age of 14 boarding a ship alone and sailing to New York hoping to find his older brother.  Their entrepreneurial spirit was well timed as travel was changing in the early 50s.  Hotels and guest houses were considered old fashioned and too confining.  Being able to park your car right up to the front door of your room made it easy and offered flexibility to move about spontaneously.   Although the bed and breakfast concept, as we know it today, hadn't caught on yet,  Perkins Motel was ahead of its time offering complimentary coffee, juice and a hot bun.  One morning in our breakfast room, a family of five was served the standard fare.  My mother, not recalling this large group from the night before, asked Daddy and me if we remembered them, but we didn't.   Lucia Perkins, the quintessential hostess, sidled up to their table and in her most sweetest voice asked them what room they had the night before.  "Oh, we didn't sleep here," one of them replied nonchalantly.  "We saw your road sign that said you served a free breakfast so we decided to drop in."  Mom smiled as she refilled coffee cups and juice glasses knowing this story would be told again and again.   But I bet she never thought the story would be posted in her daughter's blog.


Proprietress Lucia Perkins, circa 1956
Mom and Dad put their hearts and souls into the business 24/7 and loved the work they shared. We kids always said Mom spent her happiest years at the motel so after she passed away, my siblings and I gathered together at Perkins Motel, fifty years after its grand opening.   Except for weddings and funerals, I don't remember another time when the three of us came together as adults to laugh and talk about our growing up years, each of us telling a slightly different version of the same story because our mother was prone to and famous for exaggeration.   The only somber moment that weekend was when we scattered Mom's ashes in her beautiful garden  under the now-mature apple trees she'd planted back in 1955.

Every summer that I can remember,  my bedroom, my sister's bedroom and our adjoining bathroom were closed off from the rest of our "house" and rented out to guests for the handsome price of something like thirty bucks per night.  This gave my parents extra money that would help send me to camp for the whole summer and eventually boarding school for 9 months of the year-- two privileges that my hard-working parents yearned to give their kids.   When I left for summer camp at the age of five, many said I left home too early,  but it was preferable to sharing a bed with Mummy while Daddy slept on a pullout sofa in the living room.   I had my own phone too, but it was a pay phone hanging on the wall in a hallway off the lobby.   For a nickel, I could dial a friend, hang up after one ring and my five cents would be returned to me like I'd hit the 3 cherry jackpot on a slot machine.  The one ring was a signal to my girlfriends for a call back and most of the time it worked.   When I was not in camp or in private school, I worked at the motel, showing newly registered guests to their rooms, delivering ice,  extra towels and keys or my favorite -- chatting up people, which, as many of you know,  is still my nature.  One couple complained to my Dad and rudely insisted on seeing the room he thought was highway robbery at $16 per night.   No apologies required as this was our high season rate.  If the man wanted to come up here in the middle of winter,  that same room was a bargain at $8.   As I walked the man and his wife to see the room, he inquired obnoxiously,  "Does it have a gold bathtub or what?"  "No, Sir" my authoritative thirteen year old voice replied,  "We don't have rooms with gold bathtubs here at Perkins Motel" which implied that he might find a gold bathtub as some other establishment.    Now when I think about the rates we charged, it makes me laugh    Today in a city hotel you might have to pay as much as $16 just for internet access.    








This is me, age 11, serving guests at grand opening  
in 1955

Here's another image I can easily conjure up.    I'm probably 11 or 12,  practicing my piano lessons in our living room  when  a stranger walks in.  He taps me on the shoulder, shoves a plastic bucket in my hand, and says he wants ice delivered to room 8 right away.  Intrusions were commonplace; privacy was a privilege.  But I was used to it.  Strange as this may sound, I didn't mind living in a motel because the way I saw it my parents worked at home.  I didn't know any other kids whose mom and dad worked at home.  This is what I was used to.  I  credit my ability to remember names, faces and dates, even at my current age, to my experience of  growing up in a motel.   We took great pride in always remembering our guests by name, even if they only stayed one night.  Some times Daddy would quiz me and ask for the names of each of our guests and the number of their room.   I met people from around the world and heard stories that no one wrote about in the books I read.  There was this beautiful couple, the Pardos, from Cuba who came every summer and stayed for two months.  He was a lawyer working for Batista's regime and they lived a very aristocratic life, certainly one much different than the life I knew.  They became best friends with our family and Mom and Dad even visited them in Havana once,  but after the Revolution in 1959 we never saw or heard from this couple again.   When I visited Cuba last January, I couldn't help but think about the Pardos as we toured the once beautiful neighborhoods where wealthy Batista supporters used to live before they fled the island or were executed by the Communist regime.   At Christmastime our fireplace mantel was decorated with cards written by many guests who became friends with our family,  loving my parents and vowing that their stay at Perkins Motel was one of their best vacations ever.    Good memories, yes.  Painful memories, yes.  That's what's called growing up.  




2 comments:

  1. Pam, I LOVE this post. Even though I knew you "grew up in a motel" I did not know every detail, and I love the ones you describe here. Keep writing!! XOXO
    Laurie

    ReplyDelete
  2. Love this, Pam. Especially the photos. I would not have recognized you at age 11. Keep writing.

    ReplyDelete