Four years after they got married, Laura and Tom Hodge were traveling down a winding road with no real destination.
The marriage was a bit unconventional -- Laura was 20 and Tom was 40 when they met -- but it was like so many others, too. When their day started, Laura went down one path, and Tom went down the other, and it wasn't until the end of the day that they would meet again.
Four years after they got married, in 1988, they decided they wanted to spend more time together. They thought about a restaurant. They met in a restaurant, after all. She was a hostess, and he was a baker.
"But that's a good way to lose a lot of money," Tom said, "and there wasn't a lot to lose."
Then one day, they were out with some friends enjoying the weekend from the back of a motorbike when Laura noticed a tattered leather jacket.
"I'll bet I could fix that," Laura told her friend.
She did. So well, in fact, that their other friends began asking if she could fix their favorite leather jackets as well. Many of them were bikers who had a lot of miles and memories and life in those jackets and couldn't bear to simply buy a new one.
Twenty years later, Tom and Laura spend their days in Real Leather Goods, 330 18th St. in Greeley, bringing old leather goods back to life, adding some spice to others and spending their days laughing with the dozens of characters who walk through their door.
Tom, 66, sometimes wishes the characters were there to purchase something from their long line of leather goods, from jackets to wallets to pants, but most come in to get their favorite wares repaired, not replaced. Laura, 45, understands, as does Tom. Their business, after all, thrives on the attachments many develop for their favorite leather clothes.
If you aren't watching for it, you might miss their store, a Hail Mary pass away from U.S. 85 and next to the discount liquor store and across the street from the gas station. But Laura and Tom don't need the high traffic. The two don't advertise because they don't have to. The word on the street, passed from biker to biker, gives them enough business, almost too much.
"We are blessed with an abundance of work that we can't get done," Laura said and laughed.
It was a long, strange trip, but the journey wasn't over, and it's why you might do a double-take when you walk into the store and notice the Catholic goods in the corner also for sale. A Catholic biker store?
The combination isn't as unusual as you might think. Several Christian biker groups are thriving across the country.
For Laura and Tom, it began when they were searching for a place to belong. They tried biker groups and helped with a few rides, including the Linda Holt Memorial ride that honored Holt, who was murdered many years ago by Donald Long. They enjoyed and respected the company -- many were their customers, after all -- but they didn't feel like they fit in.
They were spiritual people -- they always had a sign in their store that forbid foul language and wouldn't hesitate to correct their customers -- but Tom wasn't really into church. In December 1998, 10 years after they opened the store, both their dads died the same week. When Laura and Tom went to visit her father in Oregon, she cried all the way home, and Tom told her to pray on it.
Laura lashed out. Who was he, she said, to tell her to pray. But at that moment, the sky cleared and the sun came out over the hills of southern Idaho, and they had their turning point.
After some hesitation, they tried different denominations and weren't satisfied. They craved the communion, the symbolism and the spirituality that the Catholic faith brought, and so, after a little more hesitation, they walked into St. Peter's Catholic Church in downtown Greeley and were welcomed with open arms. On the first Sunday of the new century, they became Catholics.
When they hunted for a Catholic Bible, they couldn't find one anywhere, so they decided to sell a few goods alongside the leather coats and chain wallets.
They still enjoy biking, but now they have other purposes in their life. They enjoy working during the day, resurrecting leather coats that have suffered at the jaws of dogs or the hands of angry boyfriends or girlfriends or the ticks of time. They enjoy going to church together on Sundays.
They enjoy their own journey, together, down the long road to happiness.
Photo: Tom Hodge, by Bret Hartman, Greeley Tribune