Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cathleen and I arrived into Centerville, TN around midnight. We had traveled from central Arkansas  the day before, and I was looking forward to the prospect of reconnecting with the McDonald family.

Our 1986-'87 Walk really was a journey of discovery. We kept our minds open to whom we might run across or meet in the small towns across rural America. The first Tennessee town we walked through was called Bolivar. We had stayed in the Bolivar Inn for a couple of nights. One evening after walking, we ate at Austin's Restaurant where met Rick Kee, the general manager. It turns out that he had bicycled from Tennessee to Los Angeles and could relate with some of what we had been up against. Rick turned out to be very helpful to us by referring us to various friends and colleagues who could provide us a safe place to camp during the next couple of weeks from western to central Tennessee.

On Saturday April 11, 1987, my Dad and I were walking a segment east of Parsons when a man rode up on his bicycle. He asked in a European accent whether we knew of or happened to be the people walking across America. The young man introduced himself as Ben from Austria. He had ridden his bike all the way from Alaska and was on his way to Florida! As we were chatting by the side of the road, another man pulled up across the street and walked over to where we were standing. He introduced himself as Harold Fasmire. Harold and Rick Kee were friends in Bolivar. Rick had given Harold advice on how to finance his own bicycle ride to Florida!

Harold then recommended that Ben head to some friends of his at the McDonald Funeral Home in Centerville about 35 miles down the road. He said that they would take care of him for the night. Coincidentally, Rick had lined up the McDonald Funeral Home for us to camp in their back parking lot. Ben was pleased because he wanted swap more stories with us. So we ended up inviting Ben to join us for dinner that night in our tent trailer.

I can remember swapping stories with him and enjoying the intersection of our paths crossing. Bill McDonald, who owned the funeral home, was out at a function at the local high school when we pitched camp behind the funeral home. We met him later that evening.

Centerville just happened to be the town where all the signs for McDonalds Restaurants were manufactured. So at the back entrance to the funeral home, there is a sign that reads McDonalds in strangely familiar lettering. The factory presented it to the funeral home. Bill confessed later that he would tell people there are two McDonalds in Centerville...long pause...and one's a restaurant.

That night, Bill made the studio apartment above the morgue available to anyone who might appreciate some privacy and a warm bed. Ben was offered a room in the family residence next door because he usually had to sleep in a backpacker's tent. After Bill's invitation to sleep in the funeral home, there was an awkward silence. My mind raced as I weighed the new opportunity.  I blurted, "I'll take you up on that!" My parents exchanged concerned looks, but then said, "If its okay with you, Bill, its okay with us. Behave yourself Allen." As if I was going to climb into one of the coffins or do something crazy. "No way! I'll be fine...When will I have an opportunity like this again!" Aaron piped up, "Uh...when you're dead!"

I began to privately question the wisdom of my decision, but I couldn't back down now!

McDonald Funeral Home, Centerville, TN.

Parking area where we camped behind the funeral home with he familiar McDonald's restaurant sign.