By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published July 23, 2015
Our friends who live in a small town in north Florida invited us to a party celebrating their son’s graduation. A bunch of our relatives from other parts of Florida would also be attending, and we all decided to stay at the same nearby motel.
The motel’s website boasted new carpets, freshly painted walls, ceiling fans and cheery rooms with poetic names like Dogwood, Magnolia and Gardenia. Other advertised features were elegant cherry-wood furniture and lush gardens for relaxing afternoon strolls.
The party was slated for Saturday, but our 33rd wedding anniversary was that Friday, so my husband and I drove to Florida a day early, planning to celebrate in a nearby restaurant and then rendezvous with the family the next day.
At the motel, we were greeted by a friendly manager, who gave us the key to a room that bore the melodious name “One” on the door. Granted, I’m super critical when it comes to sleepovers, but I could not help but notice that, yes, a single wall had been repainted a perky cranberry hue—but all the others were in desperate need of attention.
After putting down our suitcases, my husband pulled the chain on the ceiling fan, only to discover that neither the fan nor the lights worked. Still, even with the meager illumination, it was quite clear that the furniture had to be early thrift store—and if the carpets had been replaced, it must have been right after the Civil War.
What should I do? What would my mother do?
That was easy to answer. My mother would have insisted that my father look for another place, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. After all, this was a woman who scrubbed the bathroom grout until it gleamed like fresh snow—and spent her summer vacation washing jalousie windows.
But did I want to come across as the Queen of Clean, the Princess of Perfection, the Mistress of Meticulousness? Did I want to put a major damper on the occasion?
Keep in mind my husband’s only comment about the place was that it reminded him of the “old Florida” motels he had stayed in as a kid. He was already padding around barefooted on the carpet, while I was weighing the possibility of spending the next two days without removing my sandals.
I mulled over my options as I peered through the broken blinds to check out the relaxing gardens, but all I saw was a dumpster and a field overgrown with clumps of kudzu just a stone’s throw away from a cemetery.
I could moan and groan about the place and demand we look for something better. But this was our anniversary, I reminded myself, plus we were meeting our relatives here the next day.
Usually I am not one for biting my tongue, but in the end, I decided to keep my mouth shut, remembering the early desert fathers who followed Christ by living humbly and prayerfully—and silently.
One of them—Abbot Anthony—offered this advice to another monk: “Control your tongue and your belly.” Another monk carried a stone in his mouth for three years in an effort to remain silent.
Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but could I refrain from complaining about the room for two days?
After a major effort of will, I decided that my temporary vow of silence would be a gift of love to my dear husband.
“Everything OK?” he asked as I poked carefully around in the bathroom like someone searching for landmines.
“Just dandy!” I smiled.
Well, actually not quite. You see, after showering, I unfolded a big towel and out leapt something small, black and quite alive, which scurried quickly away.
At the restaurant, we sipped champagne and didn’t balk when the young waitress brought us the wrong appetizer and then mixed up the entrees.
“I don’t want to ruin your anniversary!” she lamented.
“Don’t worry,” I assured her, thinking about the motel. “Nothing can ruin it.”
Later, our plan to watch TV fizzled because the cable selection only included infomercials, which, I’m guessing, was the cheapest option for the manager—but I just laughed it off and reminded myself that there is far greater suffering in the world.
The next day, we had a grand time at the party and savored every moment with our friends and relatives. And looking back now I’m fairly sure we’ll never forget this anniversary, especially the somewhat unconventional gift I bestowed upon my husband—a gift he was probably unaware of until he read this column.
Lorraine Murray is the author of three cozy Catholic mysteries, most recently “Death Dons a Mask.” Artwork is by Jef Murray. Readers may contact the Murrays at firstname.lastname@example.org.