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Bucksnort to Bethlehem
by Amy Kenneley

Somewhere on Interstate 40, halfway between Nashville and Memphis is a little dot on the trip map from AAA.

"Did you find a spot to stop for the night?"

"Yeah. Bucksnort, Tennessee."

"You're kidding."

"Nope. Got to stop in a place called Bucksnort, don't we?"

You have to brake quickly at the exit, or you skid right past Bucksnort, but once the van was maneuvered around a wide bend of road, the erector set of a motel was tucked into a neat little elbow of the mountain.

"For such a small motel, the parking lot's as big as a football field."

"We're the first ones here. There's a restaurant right next to the motel office."

The motel office was a little bigger than our closet at home, a small black-and-white television sat on a corner shelf. The door jingle brought the motel manager from behind a curtain in the rear. He was a middle-aged Indian or Pakistani who seemed very world-weary. One can only wonder what tides of fortune cast him ashore on the road called the Music Highway.

He shuffled in his slippers to the front door, waving his finger to show us our room barely 6 feet away. It was standard fare, nothing fancy. The decor fit any motel chain in any direction of the country. We dropped our suitcases and hurried over to eat dinner.

Yes! we will be open at 4am-- Hunter breakfast specials $3.95 proclaimed the hand-written sign on the door. What era would Rudy's Restaurant fall into-we spent the next few minutes deciding we had landed in pre-HGTV country. A hand-carved sign over the door proclaimed: Bucksnort Tennessee, Population 18.

Clustered around the cash register counter was what must have been the collective "brag souvenir" stash of the entire population. Shirts, mugs, key chains, baby rattles and ashtrays all proclaimed their town of preference. Even the hunter's caps, bright neon red, were emblazoned with the town's name. I would think a hat that bright should give a deer a head start in the woods.

Booths and tables were plain but comfortable, walls and seat covers a forgettable neutral. The large room sported a huge television set tuned to football wrap-ups.

If I had designed this place there would have been a Wurlitzer in the corner playing Hank Williams. Pushed into a far corner was a dusty salad bar. The demand for rabbit food must have been short-lived; huge hams now hung from the sneeze cover.

A rainbow of trucker's caps was the crown molding around the walls, heraldic shields of modern knights of the road. Our waitress, chirpy and pleasant, suggested the special for today: thick ham slices, mashed potatoes, lima beans and fried corn bread. We tucked into the hearty meal, and I couldn't resist ordering a slice of pecan pie for dessert.

"Ooooh, good one! Homemade, too! - Ya'll want that with ice cream, honey ?" Well, in for a dime....

Back at the motel we prepared for the next day's journey, laying out our clothes and checking the mileage we'd made. The mattress was firm, the pillows a much better grade than those found in more expensive motels. Knowing the light-finger penchant of many tourists, most motels stock really cheap pillows. Perhaps the customers here are more honest?

We slept peacefully, only now and again mindful of muffled sounds through the papier-mâché walls. Somewhere around midnight, we wakened.

"Honey, come to the window"

"Hunnnnnnh?"

I stumbled over to the heavy curtain being held aside for me.

"I think I know what the big parking lot was for"

Outside, where brief hours ago bare asphalt had been, a convoy of semis was idling for the night. Loudly idling.

We climbed back in bed, trying to be lulled by the chugga-chugga of our truck lullaby. Around 3 a.m. however, water was running, doors slamming, footsteps clunking down stairs, yawning voices, and strange metallic sounds. This time I was the one who peered from behind the motel curtain.

"Honey! There are men with GUNS outside!"

"Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. This is the first day of rifle season. Deer hunters."

All of them going noisily for their Hunter Breakfast special, $3.95, no doubt. Well, sleep had evaded us by now, so we decided to pack up and get a move on-especially if there were 2 more Hunter Breakfasts with our names on them.

You know a place has a reputation for good cooking if there are toothpicks by the cash register. I took two while the bill was paid. "How much is that hat there?" I asked, pointing to the neon red one with Bucksnort, Tennessee scrawled across the top.

"Four ninety-five, honey. Everyone knows our hats 'round here." I bought it and pulled it down over the chill of the early morning darkness outside. Warmed by her cheery goodbye and a "y'all come on back" We departed Bucksnort.

Hours later, we were well down our long road heading homeward. As we passed yet another semi, I glanced up at the driver. He glanced down at me. We both grinned as we recognized the same neon red hats on each other. Our van pulled away and the driver gave a quick toot-toot on his air horn, a little blessing to our mutual good taste in haberdashery.

Okay-where does Bethlehem come in, you are asking? A modern-day Bucksnort and an ancient Bethlehem? Surely there are no parallels between the Holy Family and an old retired couple? On the long road homeward I had plenty of time to think about that.

We were two sets of travelers far from home, weary and pressed for travel time. We had our deadline-- and Mary certainly had hers. Our accommodations were a giant step up from theirs, but then again, I have slept on hay and found it very comfy under a blanket.

They had only the warmth of stable animals around them and the company of shepherds, while we had the comfort of forced air heating to keep us snug and for company, truckers and hunters.

Their stay at the stable was earth-shaking, changing the course of the world. Our stay was so minor that only a motel register will note we were ever there.

Both of us, however, arrived at sleepy little places, little dots on the maps of time-crossroads momentarily crowded by the press of census or commerce. Both of us found a welcome. Welcomed in spite of the busy-ness of more profitable customers.

We have often traveled far from home, arriving dusty and tired from the frantic changes of planes, trains and cars. What a blessing to find that pleasant smile, that hot tub or shower, that soft bed, that soul-filling food that makes us lean back with a sigh and say, "This is nice."

Perhaps Joseph, as he made a pillow of hay for Mary said, "This is nice."

Perhaps Mary, settling the infant Jesus into his soft hay-filled manger, said, "This is nice."

Wouldn't it be wonderful if, even for one night, every town were Bethlehem, welcoming strangers who knock at the door?

Wouldn't it be wonderful if, even for one night, everyone in the world could go to sleep in safety, dreaming sweet dreams on a full stomach, warm and comforted?

This night, this Holy Night, let every town be Bethlehem. Perhaps God will look down and smile at what we have finally managed to learn. Perhaps God will say, "This is nice."

All the blessings of this Holy Season,
Amy Kenneley


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