The Rose Hotel

Before I even started grade school, I spent most of my nights at a homeless shelter.

I grew up with a dreamer. My father saw opportunity no matter where he looked, and his kindness knew no limits. He was a jack-of-all-trades kind of guy, a contractor by day, preacher by night/weekend, and a philanthropist by heart.  To me, he hung the moon. Try and convince me otherwise.

We never had much money, but he always found ways to give to others without his family’s suffering.

The Rose Hotel was an old dilapidated hotel located downtown in the city in West Texas where I grew up. My father managed to get a deal on cheap rent for the building and turned it into a shelter for the homeless.

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Every night, my mother made big pots of stew, chili, soup, etc, and we drudged downtown to The Rose Hotel to feed the hungry and offer as many as we could a warm bed for the night. Every night, I sat on a stool at a long cafeteria table and ate my dinner chatting with people from different walks of life. Alcoholics, drug addicts, a few prostitutes, people who were just down on their luck, and sometimes even children.

My parents never told me that the people who we helped were poor.  I never knew they were any different than us. We all ate at the same table. We all ate the same meal. My dad preached every night, and then we left and went home.

My dad hired one of the men to be his “supervisor” when we were away, which basically meant that the people who slept there had to follow the rules. No drinking, no smoking inside, and no swearing.

One night, as my dad preached to the adults, I helped my mother clean up the kitchen area. A woman and her daughter walked in, immediately grabbing mine and my mother’s attention. The mother wore a battered coat with holes and stains, some scuffed up white pumps and held the hand of a little girl, blonde with blue eyes wearing a hooded sweat shirt and pants that showed her mismatched socks that peeked out of the worn toes of her shoes.

For the first time in my short life, I felt something. An aching to do something. Perhaps it was pity.

Perhaps I felt compassion.

I couldn’t define it, but my heart went out to that woman and her poorly clothed daughter as they stood there in the doorway looking cold and very tired. After taking them to McDonald’s to get them a quick bite to eat since the shelter had run out of food for the night, my mother convinced me to give the little girl one of my barbies. I struggled and tried to argue, but my mother gave me the look, that look, so I handed over one of my barbies to this strange girl who would become my playmate for a few nights. Her name was Casey.

I made lots of friends within the walls of that old hotel. One will forever occupy a little corner of my heart. I met him when I was six years old. We called him Willy.

Willy came to us in the dead of winter wearing overalls and a dirty white undershirt, no coat , a worn out train engineer hat, and a partially toothless smile. I remember the first night he walked through the door. He smiled with his whole face. My dad greeted him with a handshake, but Willy pulled him into a hug and patted his back.

“Is this a church or a hotel? I hears there’s preaching here,” he announced.

My dad chuckled and said, “Yes, sir, there’s preaching. And a warm meal and a bed if you need one.”

Willy clapped his hands and said, “This ain’t no church. There ain’t no crosses. Gots to have crosses to be a church.”

I sat next to him that night at dinner. He made me laugh. When no one was looking he made cross eyes at me or opened his mouth to show me his chewed up food. He laughed when I did it back to him and said something I’ll never forget, “You and me, we is friends.”

Later that night, we sat on the floor and played checkers. He let me win.

I looked forward to seeing him every night. He was kind and always paid attention to me. He laughed, full body shoulder shaking laughs, at almost everything I said, and he always seemed genuinely happy to see me.

One night, he grabbed my hand and pulled me into another room. He whispered, “We’s about to do something, but you have to promise me you won’t tell you’s dad.” I nodded.  I trusted him. He put his finger over his mouth shushing me and guided me on tip toes to the room where my dad usually preached. He handed me a marker. I noticed he had one in his hand, too. “Ain’t no church if it ain’t got crosses. Can you draw a cross?”

I nodded then giggled as he drew a big cross on the wall. I watched him draw two or three more before he noticed I wasn’t drawing. “What you waitin’ for, girl? Draw some crosses on this wall.”

He was an adult, and I was a child, and I was told to trust and obey, so I pulled the lid off of my marker, and Willy and I drew at least a hundred crosses on the wall of the former lobby of the Rose Hotel. My dad came in as we completed our masterpiece. I heard him chuckle behind me and dropped my marker. I knew better than to draw on walls.

“Preacher, we’s making you a church,” Willy said to my dad.

“I see that,” my dad said as he walked over and stood next to me. He reached down and picked up the marker I dropped. I looked down at the floor, ashamed of myself for ruining the building my dad worked so hard to keep up.

“You missed a spot, Willy,” my dad said and drew a few crosses on an empty space on the dirty wall of that dilapidated old hotel.

I  learned much later that Willy was mentally challenged. He had the mind of child, which is why he became my best friend. I only saw a person who smiled with his eyes, who enjoyed my company.

I don’t know how long Willy lived at the hotel. It seemed like years and also like minutes. One day, my dad sat me down and told me that Willy wasn’t going to be living there anymore. Already he had stayed longer than any other person. The shelter was supposed to be temporary. The goal was that my dad would try to help people get back on their feet, find work, find a home, but seeing the relationship I had with this kind man, my dad couldn’t turn him away. Plus, finding work for somebody with Willy’s disability proved to be a challenge.

He had found him something though, something that was perfect for Willy. A job with the circus. The next day, my parents took us to “The Greatest Show on Earth” and I watched my best buddy experience a whole new kind of happiness. He jumped up and down and clapped during every part of the show. After the finale, we went back to where Willy would be working. We met his boss, an old wrinkled man with a curled up gray mustache who greeted Willy with contagious warmth.

“This my new boss, Mandi,” Willy said shaking his boss’s hand.

At some point, my parents explained to Willy and me that he would be leaving town with the circus, traveling to different cities to help them get set up before the show and break everything down when the show came to an end. That meant Willy was leaving the next day.

We shared an emotional, and very tough goodbye.

The next year, when the circus came to town, my parents took me to see Willy. He walked us around like he was ten feet tall, introducing us to his friends, telling us all about all of his responsibilities. So proud and so happy. He asked me what my favorite part of the show was, and I told him it was the monkeys on the bikes. He disappeared for a minute telling us not to move. Then he came back with a little stuffed monkey. “I’s allowed to take this. It for you,” he made monkey sounds and chased me around with it before placing it in my hand. I still have it.

I never saw him again after that day, but I never forgot him. He lives in a little corner of my heart, and I see him in every homeless person I come across.

We helped so many people while we ran that little shelter. We also turned people away. We saw some really ugly things, but my parents never gave up. They saw the good in people, and they offered their assistance whenever and however they could.

That person on the street holding the “will work for food” sign is not just trash, littering up the view at your stop light. He’s a person. He’s somebody’s son, somebody’s brother, and maybe even a little girl’s best friend. Don’t look at him with irritation or loathing. Remember, he has a story, and maybe he made bad decisions, maybe that needle is the only thing that gets him through his day, but perhaps he’s just a man who needs a hand to reach in and pull him out of the darkness.

My dad is a dreamer, and his dream is to help people. He’s also my hero because he taught me that valuable trait we all need: compassion. 








74 thoughts on “The Rose Hotel

  1. Absolutely amazing. There’s a book in you, I think. A wry, honest, funny, strong, beautiful book. Either way, I always look forward to the next post.
    What an inspiring story of compassion. Love it. Ah, the monkey…


    • J, there is a book in me. It comes out this spring. I will be blasting teasers all over my blog starting next month, so hopefully, it will entice you to read. Or maybe you would like an ARC???


    • Heart squeeze back. I am so grateful for the time that I got at that little hotel. I learned at such a young age to count my blessings, you know? I need to get busy teaching my kids the same.


  2. I am bawling.
    I am glad that “you and me, we is friends.”
    WOW. No wonder you’re such an amazing person, Mandi.
    This is beautiful, and so are you.
    I have to go get a tissue now, my mascara is staining my shirt. And that’s ok.
    Beautiful post. It’s more than a post, but you know what I mean.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Joy. I didn’t mean to make you cry though. Although, I can hardly even think about that place without feeling some sadness. I was lucky to see the other side of things, the stories behind the people, and for that, I will forever be grateful. I’m so glad my dad is a dreamer.


    • Thanks, Hussy. I’m just going to call you that from now on because it has a nice ring to it. 🙂 My dad really did want to change the world. He still does. He’s opened two children’s homes and a home for pregnant teenagers, and now he’s working on trying to get older sibling groups adopted by the same family. He won’t stop until he’s dead, but at least he can die knowing he tried and he helped.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Can you put a word into your dad’s ear to adopt me? This is where my heart is as well — with record low temperatures here (and a heartbreaking story about a 3 year old boy who snuck out of his house in Toronto the other night and froze to death) I always remember how fortunate I am, and how not everyone is. I’ve been very close to homelessness myself, and I know how easily and quickly it can happen. Thank you for sharing this, it really touched me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Helena, you have no idea how many of my friends call my dad, “Dad.” He would take you, too. His heart has plenty of room. Another story I could tell from the hotel was about the supervisor that my dad hired, a man named Jesse. I don’t know exactly the time frame, but pretty shortly after my dad was forced to close the doors of the shelter, Jesse froze to death on the steps. My dad will never forgive himself. He couldn’t find a way to make it work anymore. We were all incredibly heartbroken. I’m telling you…there are so many stories behind those doors of that hotel.

      Liked by 1 person

    • My parents taught me that giving feels far better than receiving, and how right they are. I need to get back into volunteering. I keep saying that I will when my kids are older, but somehow my parents were able to do it when I was young. I should do the same. Thanks for reading and commenting and sharing.


  4. Love, love, love this. I think this is exactly what kids nowadays need to experience, because way too many kids are too focused on the latest technology. You know whose voice I kept hearing when I read Willy’s sentences? The voice of John Coffey, the big dude with the huge kind heart from The Green Mile.


    • It’s so true that kids need this. MY kids need this. I think my post has inspired me to get my kids involved in some community service. There is no better feeling that to help someone less fortunate. And John Coffey…I’ll have to look up that voice. I never saw The Green Mile.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Mandi, this is an amazing story. Your parents sound like incredible people who did way more than talk the talk. This is inspiring and has me all choked up. I love that your dad was a dreamer. We need more dreamers like him in this world. I don’t know him but please give hime a huge hug from me.


    • We do need more dreamers, and my dad continues to dream. I mentioned in another comment that he has opened two children’s homes and one home for pregnant teenagers. He is currently trying to establish a non for profit that helps children sibling groups find permanent homes together…forever homes. Apparently, they seem to slip through the cracks and often get separated, and my dad can’t handle that. He’s a great man, an inspiration, and his heart is like Lizzi’s, ginormous.


  6. Even *I* nearly cried at this, and I don’t do that. You promised so long ago that you would write this place, and I LOVE that you did, and it’s perfect for 1000Speak, and I’m so, so happy to read it. Your dad is my new hero. What an incredible man. And Willy sounds like such a beautiful soul. I’m so sad you never got to see him again, but really pleased that he seemed to have found a compassionate boss and a suitable job.

    I’m glad you still have the monkey.


    In such a few short paragraphs, you made me care about all of them. ❤


    • It’s impossible not to care about them, Lizzi. This place is so engraved in my make-up. I want to go back and do it again. I haven’t thought about it this much in so long, but see what this vision of yours and Yvonne’s has done…I’m ready to get back into it. I want to share my world with more people like Willy, like Casey, like the thousand other people who I met at The Rose Hotel. In writing this, in participating in this movement, I now want to do more. Mission accomplished, my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You have a shinybright heart, and I love it. I look forward to seeing what you do next, serial-girl. I want to do more, too. I’ll keep a weather eye for opportunities. Perhaps I’ll get to meet ‘Edward’ again. You never know 🙂


  7. I have felt like crying all day. Happy tears, mostly. I love this story. I now know just a bit more about how you became the person you are…loving, warm, and yes, compassionate. Your folks did a good thing and not just by the people in the Rose Hotel, but by you as well.

    Gorgeous story, love.


  8. Wow. You had me all teared up. This was such a beautiful story. My mom was a lot like your dad, methinks. We didn’t have a lot of money, but whenever she could, she was all for helping people who needed it.


    • It’s good to grow up with people who offer that kind of modeling. I don’t think I’m doing enough for my children in that I give them too much, and they have no idea how the other side lives. This whole compassion movement has done exactly that though, moved something inside to take action and show my kids the power of helping others. Thanks for reading.


  9. Wow. This is amazing and I feel honored to read it as part of #1000Speak. Truly. I could feel the warmth and love at The Rose Hotel.


    • Thank you so much for reading. There was so much love there. Writing that piece made me want to go back so bad and see all of those wonderful people. I can still see them in my mind. I was so fortunate to get to experience that.


      • Yeah, it’s wild how many posts there are! I tried to go through a crap ton over the weekend. And probably this week, I’ll go through a few per days. There’s big such a nice variety of topics covered as well. Good times.



  10. Incredible, beautiful story. Your parents are amazing, and it looks like you are following in their footsteps with the love and compassion you share.


    • Thanks, Marcia. I’m not doing nearly as much as I should, but in reading all of these compassion pieces, I feel the stir to do more, and I will. I want to be the Village that inspired Lizzi and Yvonne to start this in the first place.


  11. This was wonderful, Mandi. It’s amazing the imprinting we get as kids (whether conscious or not by our parents) that we can carry on into adulthood. We are given some early life experiences that open up the door to choose…to go “this way” or ” that way”. Sharing your Barbie doll, drawing crosses with Willy…it obviously had an enormous positive impact on the amazing woman you are today. What an INCREDIBLE thing your father did in the church those days. Your writing teleported me to that place and I was lost in the story….wonderfully so. I’ve spent a huge part of my adulthood since I was 18 years old volunteering. I’ve learned a lot on that path…the good and the bad. The story of the homeless (something that I’ve dealt with directly and indirectly with my job for 27 years) is one that is seen through a great deal of ignorance and lack of compassion with the general public. You are my rock star always, my friend, with YOUR compassion and you…being you. Send me off an email when that book is close to launching (I don’t always keep up with social media notifications like I used to)…I will most definitely give you my support as best I can, my dear. Sorry so long…that’s a reflection of your powerful post 🙂


    • Oh, Mike! You always say the nicest things. I want to hear more about your job. I don’t even think I know what you do. There’s something wrong with that. Thank you for always supporting me and for always giving me the kindest comments. I have no doubt that your heart is huge and full of compassion. It shows in every word you type. I miss you, my friend.


    • A few months ago, I went to ACL in austin with a group of friends, and as we walked into the venue after a night of heavy rain, we passed a homeless man, hanging his blanket to dry. It broke my heart. I told my friend how much it troubled me. He told me where he lives the homeless population is so large, but to help, he keeps $5 McDonald’s gift cards in his wallet so that when one asks him for money, he can at least offer them a meal. I already loved him to death, but when he said that, I knew he was an even better person that I thought. If we all did stuff like that, wouldn’t the world be better?

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m all teary – it’s becoming a theme when I read what you write.
    What an awesome dad to take you with him while fulfilling what must have been a strong calling. I can’t even volunteer at our shelter anymore. I cry every time and end up having the residents comfort me – it’s so embarrassing because I want to help.
    Reading this makes me want to try again. Thank you, Mandi. Xo

    Liked by 1 person

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