Mary Beth Writes

Part 2 of the 4-part series of interviews at the Nativity Scene

This was written December 10, 2005


 Let’s meet "innkeeper" Monica Hanson.  Monica, who is manager at the local Microtel Inn and Suites, is slight, has warm brown eyes, and smiles when I address her as an innkeeper.  She's just Lutheran enough to get the joke.

I ask her why she picked this career.

"I really like spending my day with people and in this job we serve people who are either on vacation, or at least, when they are here they aren't at work.  We have guests who've stayed here off and on for years. We get to know them, we ask about their kids and they ask about ours.  It's enjoyable to work with people from so many different places.

"The other day, for example, the printer at our front desk stopped working.  The guest waiting for her receipt, instead of having a fit that we were delaying her, said she worked with a similar printer at her job, so she came around to our side of the counter and fixed ours!"

I ask about memorable guests.

"Well, we had one woman with a delightful voice who called the front desk every day for something or another.  The thing was … she'd lived here years without ever coming out of her room! When she finally moved many of us who had talked to her sort of came by the front area as she was leaving, just to see what she'd looked like.  She was very small and, obviously, very pale."

"One of the hardest situations I've handled was an older couple who also stayed here more than a year.  The husband worked but as time went along, they got further and further behind.  They were nice people, all of us liked them, but my bosses wanted full payment. Which makes sense; we're a for-profit business, not a social service agency.  What made this so hard was that it came to a head at Christmas. I was supposed to evict them, but I just couldn't.  I asked them to make some payment and they did, though it was smaller than what I was supposed to accept. I did anyway.  It was such a relief to let them stay in their room through the holidays.  They did move in January.  It took them awhile, but eventually they paid their entire bill."

Innkeepers are the ones on-premises when we are away from our home.  They get to observe how we act when our mothers aren't watching. 

Ms. Hanson laughs. "I worked several years at a classy hotel in Madison. The place had a beautiful, dimly-lit bar on one of its top floors where successful business people and politicians would relax at the end of their long working days.  I tell you, that was the place where I saw people act in, um, tacky ways.  You can tell a lot about people by how they behave when they are not at home."

I was curious about Monica's experience on 9/11, thinking it might have been a powerful day to work in a place that caters to travelers. "I wasn't working in hospitality then.  I was a sales rep for a big company and my husband was an investment banker.  We were living in Manhattan."

The lightheartedness has gone out of the room.

 "I traveled constantly for that job; that day I was in Detroit.  When I came out of a meeting you could feel that something had happened.  Someone told me a plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers.  My husband worked for Lehman Brothers, an investment firm across the street from the WTC. 

"I tried to call him on my cell, but service was out. 

"It took four hours to learn, via my mother in Minnesota, that Paul had contacted her through his Blackberry.  He was all right, but he'd been evacuating his building when the second plane flew into the second tower.  He saw things that are too terrible to say.

 "I didn't know what to do since I was in Detroit with a rental car.  I thought maybe I should just go to my next meeting in Columbus, Ohio.  I started driving south.

"In northern Ohio I realized I couldn't see the road because I was crying so hard.  I pulled off and found a motel and called my parents.  They asked what I needed.  I said I didn't want to be alone.  They got in their car right then and started driving.  They arrived at my motel the next morning.

"My husband found a friend in New Jersey who lent him a car.  He drove through the night and got to the motel a few hours after my parents.

"I had been falling apart when I was alone. Then the people I love came to me.  None of us have been the same since. We realized what we had."

Within months Monica and her husband quit their high-pressure jobs and moved back to the Midwest. They now have a daughter and a life they are spending together.

Innkeepers have always been witness to two strong human stories.

When people are far from home, they can cheat if they want.  Many do. 

But others, away from home, understand that what they need most is to get back to the ones they love.              


Awesome story. I cried as I read about Monica and the horrors of 911.

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A-Z M is for Aunts


Reprint of old column from 5/22/2004 

Happy Mother's Day to all the women who raised us! 

This was my all-time favorite moment from the "Friends" TV show. It's a few hours after the birth of Ross's son (not with Rachel) and all the friends are meeting the baby for the first time. Monica, Ross's sister, holds her newborn nephew tenderly, tears in her eyes with awe for this new life in her family.


This was first published May 10, 2002

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were talking with our kids about the best and worst jobs we have had. I said picking asparagus was pretty boring. My husband didn't like the day he was a taxi driver. We both love writing when it goes well, we get a lot done, people tell us what clever people we are, and we earn lots of money from it. These aspects of writing come together about once a, well … I'm sure it's right around the corner.

My daughter prodded, "Come on, Mom. What's the best job of your life?"

Dark River

The photo is the Platte River in Nebraska. This post was a newspaper column for the Racine Journal Times in 2003.


Dark River

"I think us here to wonder."  (From "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker.)

The day was one of those glorious October days when the sun blazed through gold and crimson trees; the incense of burning leaves perfumed the air. It seemed a shame to go inside simply because night was coming on.

"Let's take the canoe out on the river tonight."

Where Heritage is Found

Last week I spoke with a woman who  is working to support MayaWorks.

I sent her this writing I did back in 2006.


I stayed several days with the Sepet family, a very cash-poor Maya family that lives in the altiplano, the mountains of Guatemala.  These people were so intelligent, gracious, strong, and hospitable.  

This adventure happened during my second day with them.

Quarantine Dairy #669 A Rerun


I have a lot of projects to get through today. I wrote this in 2006 when I worked at Target for six months. I still like it.


This week I saw an inspiring sight.  I saw a little kid completely lost in his imagination. 

Car Accident & Not Buying the Farm Today

My friend Karen texted last night that she is okay but she had been in a car accident in the afternoon. A driver had not stopped at a stop sign, thus plowing into Karen’s rear driver-side door.

Her accident reminded me of one I was in with my son years ago. This is the newspaper column I wrote about the event.

Hold a good thought for Karen today, okay?  She texted this morning, rather poetically, “I feel like I’ve been dragged through a knothole.”


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