Monday, March 29, 2010

You Know You're A Redneck If...

...folks bring their shotguns for the family photo. L-R: My "aunt & uncle" Sandy & Dean, Pop, Jim, and me.

We had this taken on our family trip to Virginia City this summer. I've always wanted to do one of these silly photos, and it was pretty easy to talk the rest of the crew into it. My Dad and Dean wanted to be Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and I think they really looked the parts!

Options for the ladies included some high-collar school marm stuff and a sea of petticoats. I wasn't quite sure which direction to go, but Sandy turned to me and said, "let's be tarts!" and that was that. She sure is a good influence.

And, of course, Jimbo had to be the pious one. But that's only after Pop wrestled the shotgun out of his hands. Leading up to the click of the shutter, Jim was determined to be clutching both the bible and the shotgun. Not sure what to make of that but I'll let the seminary administration sort him out.

Goodbye Roo

As many of you know my wonderful parents purchased a truck for me during my sophomore year at Willamette. It was a great rig but once I graduated and got a job that required me to wear a suit, I realized climbing in and out of a muddy truck wasn't exactly a genius move.

Being that I was making money for the first time in my life I decided to upgrade and buy something that still could haul things, have the greatness of four-wheel drive but might also have things like power steering, cruise control, air-conditioning and seating for more than 3.

Into my life came Roo. My father actually found the car. He has a propensity to keep things inside until he knows for sure that he is right. Then he will mutter it under his breath. Things like, "I really don't know why you don't just date that Nicole girl," or in this instance, "you should've made an offer on that white car in the front of the lot." Of course this always happens about two years after he comes to the
realization or later that night at dinner.

There it was, in the first row, my white Subaru. Of course Dad had seen it and let me blast right by. As we sat at dinner I ask him, "what do you mean the white one, which was that?" He goes into all the reasons why the car was right, on year old, 9k all wheel drive with room to haul stuff. I called Carr Subaru and asked if the car was still there. They had loaned it out to a "special" customer. I said it was in their interest to get it back. I test drove it the next morning and bought it.

I ended up moving in with a close friend (and later my best-friends wife). She owned a full-size Subaru Outback and when they were parked in the garage together, we realized it was totally the mom car and the baby car. Not sure who said it first but Kanga became Trica's car and Roo became my car. Not only were the outback connections abounding but the Winnie-the-Pooh reference was genius.

Roo treated me well and through the support of my parents, I was able to keep it through my Boston excursion. Roo went anywhere. I swear I could have four-wheeled with that car and out done some of the rigs on the trails. Snow didn't faze the car either. Even with the nice sporty tires it made it through some precarious situations.

I loaded up Roo in 2008 and drove it out to St. Paul, MN. Roo made it through two winters and a second road trip back and forth to Oregon. In February when we found out about Earl I jumped in Roo and hit the road. We made it to Missoula in record time. Besides hitting some drifted snow in North Dakota and driving sideways for a few minutes, the trip was pretty eventless. I did hear the engine more than normal and was trying to figure out why.

Turns out the piston on one of the cylinders was wearing out. As I was almost across Montana on my way back home she went. Piston Slap as they call it is when the piston starts wear smaller than the cylinder and move horizontally instead of vertically. What I had heard on the way out was the piston wearing and when it finally went, my car lost all power and sounded like I had blown a rod.

The above picture is where I ended up. About 80 miles from the ND border and about 33 miles from Glendive Montana. Glendive turns out to be just that, a dive. About 6000 people, it's a lot better than the middle of North Dakota but not by much. Wouldn't you know it though, God shows up in the strangest places. Three older gentlemen go on a yearly ski trip to Canada. They were hit by a blizzard and cut the trip short, dropping down into Montana earlier than planned. In the storm a semi swiped the front corner of their car and they were stuck in Glendive, towed by the same people who towed me. They left the car to be fixed and headed home. Home, as it turns out was about 10 minutes from me in St. Paul. I was able to drive their van back to Minnesota for them. Coincidence?

After serious discussion and decisions we decided to just sell the car to the really nice autobody who towed me into Glendive. I am sure someone else will get a chance to have some more fun with Roo but I know I will miss it something fierce. I put 105,000 miles on that car personally, which is a lot of time in a car.

While we figure out if we are going to get another vehicle I have been blessed with the Vetsch family who offered me their 1985 Honda 150 Elite Deluxe Scooter. I'm getting 90 miles to the gallon and having a bit of fun too. It's no Roo but it'll do. Now, if I could only hit 66mph I might get the flux capacitor to kick on...

Thanks Earl for the memories and that one last road trip. Everything it seems is going to plan. Not sure if I like the plan but I will continue to accept it and see where it leads.

Blessings -


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Goodbye Earl

You've probably noticed the "silence" around this blog lately. We're mourning a loss and it's been easier to be quiet than to talk about what happened. One month ago today (February 23rd, 2010) my dad passed away. What I find therapeutic today is to tell his story - complete with the irreverent humor and the shoot-from-the-hip honesty that characterized my Pop. I don't know whether our readers will find this of interest (or think I'm crass and tacky), but I'm really just doing it for me.

Pop was 61 years old - too young for dying - and lost his life to melanoma (that's skin cancer to the non-oncologist crowd). Melanoma is one of the nastiest cancers. There is no cure. Chemo doesn't touch it. Radiation wouldn't matter. There are a handful of experimental biochemo treatments available, but the success rate is about 5% and it is horrible to endure. When confronted with those options, my Dad opted for no treatment at all. Our goal was quality of life, and making the most of the time he had left. Considering that he had been given 6-12 months to live in March, 2008, it's pretty remarkable that we got nearly two years with him after the cancer metastacized. Pop would certainly have attributed that success to a commitment to doing whatever he darn well pleased, and a his favorite pain-killer, Jack Daniels.

The day after he was diagnosed, Dad quit his job and "retired." Shortly thereafter he bought himself a brand new truck and a fifth-wheel trailer. The very first accessory purchased for the trailer was a customized vinyl decal:
And that pretty much sums up the attitude Pop adopted toward the melanoma. He didn't waste any time compiling his Bucket List and checking things off. Drive to Alaska? Check. Catch a 30-pound halibut, fly to the Arctic Circle, ride a dog sled, ferry down the Inside Passage? Check. Jim and I joined Pop for a week of his Alaskan adventure, and helped him celebrate his 60th birthday.
After a summer in Alaska, Pop's next trip took him south. Zion National Park? Check. Alien-watching in Roswell? Check. (And I got the care package to prove it). Decorating a cactus for Christmas with the snowbirds in Arizona? Dipping a toe in the Rio Grande? Fishing any lake they didn't kick him out of? Touring air-craft carriers in the Gulf of Mexico? Check. And finally, the big destination: Mardi Gras! CHECK.
We got a box of trinkets when he checked that one off the list, too. But I think I'll save that for another time. Pop's gift-giving is...well..."renowned" to say the least, and is certainly deserving of its own post.

And still the Bucket List went on. Jack Daniels Distillery (hallowed ground)? Check. Pop even called me that day to tell me he could die a happy man because now he'd seen heaven. Double check. Non-geographical items made the list, too. Sleeping late and fishing all day? Check. Eating all the chocolate you want without worrying about the consequences? Check with hot fudge on top. Saying exactly what you think? Che...oh, wait...he'd had been doing that all his life anyway.

And then there was the matter of a girlfriend. Someone who would always attract attention for her good looks...someone who would be a loyal traveling companion, and who wouldn't nag. Check. Meet Sugar:
Yes, it is completely ridiculous for a man who has already exceeded his life expectancy to adopt a puppy. But the thing about exceeding your life expectancy is that you learn to do what makes you feel good, not what makes sense. Pop loved labs. LOVED labs. We had a sweet chocolate named Maya when I was a kid. After she was hit by a car Dad would joke that he'd trade me to the gypsies if he could just have another dog like that. So, when he started talking about wanting a puppy, I knew it would make him happier than anything else. We told Dad that we would be willing to take care of the dog if and when we were needed. He was on his way to pick up his puppy the next day. (And I'm happy to report that I have not - to my knowledge - been traded to the gypsies. Phew.)

In the end, no amount of puppy love would change the fact that Pop's days were numbered. The last six months were long and hard for him, and for us. Though we didn't know it, the melanoma had metasticized to Pop's brain. When faced with the option of a risky brain surgery that may or may not have helped matters, I went back to what I knew about my Dad. He had no interest in lying in a hospital bed, and he definitely didn't want to spend a minute doing anything that wasn't worth his precious time. So we let him go. We gave him the gift of peace, and relief, and eternal rest.

And so my Pop is "on the road again" leaving me with no doubt in my mind about his love for me, and with gratitude for the blessing of a devoted dad. May light perpetual shine upon him.

And may the fish keep biting.