My dad is not your stereotypical “dude”. I don’t know that he’s ever watched a game of sport in which a descendant was not playing; he is not prone to crash-em-up, ‘splosion movies; and he is usually rather mild-mannered, unless he’s encountering a TSA agent. But he does like fast, sporty cars; a native son of Indiana, he’s particularly a big fan of the Indy 500. And it’s not just for the crashes; to him, every one of those cars is a marvelous piece of machinery and a true work of art. Last year, my brother Greg and I decided to make this boy’s Christmas wish come true, gifting upon him a full day Indy experience, culminating in an 8-minute drive of an Indy-style race car.
The lead-up to our Christmas celebration could not have gone any better. Upon seeing a Ferrari on the highway during a visit, my dad made an off-hand comment about how much he would love to drive one of those someday. I shared a quick glance with my mom – she was in on it since Greg and I had requested her consent; afterall, it was her Barkie who would be hurtling himself around the track in a small metal can. We simply “hmm-hmmed”, nodding and smiling at him like he was a daft old man. His curiosity was roused upon seeing his one loan gift bag that cold December afternoon – particularly as the feather-light weight of it quickly revealed it could not contain some mineral specimen for his collection – and he started making jokes about there being a key in it for a Ferrari parked around the corner. The pump was primed.
In spite of these comments, my dad was completely and utterly surprised by the gift and didn’t quite believe it at first. “They actually let people drive those?” he managed to croak out. Let’s just say good things come in small packages, and my dad was rendered verklempt for a good long while.
Due to our inability to plan a real vacation amidst cat-related ailments, Steve and I had already discussed taking separate mini-breaks this year. Deciding that I would certainly regret it if I wasn’t there to see “Dad’s Big Drive”, I decided that mine would be a week-long visit with my parents. I had never been to their cabin on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan before, so I would meet them there to spend a few days, and then drive with them down to Illinois, all ready to watch some vroom vroom.
The grand event was scheduled for the end of May. Aw spring! Budding flowers, chirping birds, and the implicit promises made over many years of my parents talking about seeing black bears with cubs frolicking in the pond; watching the resident Bald Eagles build their nest; and walking to the local shoppe to get amaretto cherry Mackinaw Island fudge ice cream.
As the day of my flight drew near, another snowstorm dumped several inches of snow on the UP. Three days pre-flight, Steve emailed the weather forecast to me and my parents, rather gleefully noting it was “time to break out the hot cocoa & marshmallows”. There I was, in shorts and a t-shirt the day before the trip, packing my suitcase with gloves, scarves, and even long johns.
Snow was thick on the ground as we took a drive that first day, my parents trying to point out how beautiful the area would be in a few weeks. Coming around one bend in the road, my mom was just starting to say we were coming upon her favorite inland lake when . . . “Gasp! It’s still frozen over?!?! How could it be frozen? I’ll be damned!” We all made the best of it, but the ice cream shoppe was closed, there was no maple candy to be found, and the fancy monk-run jam store hadn’t even opened for the season. I was coming to expect disappointment.
Fortunately, the weather improved enough on my final day in Michigan to allow for a pleasant stroll along the shore of Lake Superior in search of pretty rocks for polishing. My own efforts, which only thrice almost caused me to tumble into the surf, resulted in several small agates.
We all took turns at the wheel on the long drive to Illinois, with music selection firmly within the purview of the driver. The stereo in my parents’ car shook the dust off as I selected a station playing “rock and/or roll” from the last third of the 20th century. This marked the very first time my dad had ever heard “Freebird”, whereupon I tried to explain the sub-genre of Southern Rock, and the inexplicable inevitability of a cry of “Freebird!” echoing into the night at every concert. I somehow doubt he will be taking up the call at a “Music of the Baroque” concert any time soon, but if I ever tag along. . .
As the day of the Big Drive drew closer, our eyes turned once again to the weather forecast, and its ever-increasing chance of rain. Given my prior disappointments, I wasn’t even horribly surprised when my dad received the cancellation notice from the track the night before the drive. The next day, we enjoyed lunch on a cool, cloudy, and dry afternoon. My dad rescheduled his drive for Labor Day weekend and we all fervently hoped for sun.
September drew around and this time both Steve and I took a quick trip to Illinois for the sole purpose of viewing The Drive. Perhaps the cumulative effect of our combined prayers for sun were a bit too much, as the day dawned sunny and warm. There was not a cloud in the sky, and the temperature rose throughout the afternoon as my mom, Greg, Steve, and I lounged track-side in our cool summer linens. As the sweat streamed from our bodies, my dad was donned in a heavy, flame-retardant jumpsuit for hours as he awaited his moment of glory. Suddenly, his buzzer lit up and his sweat turned cold.
With all of us cheering him on as we ardently hoped he could see through his foggy glasses and his feet could reach the pedals, my dad completed his drive with a top speed of 123.08 mph. He exited the car shaky, drenched, and exhausted. His smile returned several minutes later, after he’d cooled down with a bag of ice on his neck. I don’t know if he was smiling more because he’d gotten to do the drive or because he had survived it, but it was marvelous.
As for the rest of it. . .
A few years ago, when another holiday letter told of some sadness, a friend remarked on the abrupt change from a funny story to the downer portion of the letter. In an effort to avoid such an unexpected turn, I issue this warning. Take a sip of your tea and a deep breath, because there have been some losses this year.
As reported in last year’s letter, Elsa had been diagnosed in November with an untreatable and advanced lung cancer. We lost her quite suddenly to related complications just a week or so after that letter was put in the mail. It was a sad Christmas and we spent much of the spring trying to recover from all that 2012 had dealt us.
Cassady made it to 19 before her chronic kidney failure finally progressed too far for us to maintain this fall. Her passing was less sudden, but no less difficult. We have gone from a 4-cat household to 2 in less than 12 months.
Ezra, now 17, has remained relatively healthy, although with a very sensitive stomach of which we have to be mindful. He has also become very needy with the passing of two of his buddies. We lavish him with attention, and comfort him when he calls out wondering where we are upon waking from a nap.
HB has remained healthy, although there are minor concerns we are tracking. She has been a particular blessing for Ezra, as they run through the house and groom each other in front of the heater.
This fall we also lost Steve’s dad Jim suddenly, followed quickly by the passing of Steve’s Aunt Ila, Jim’s older sister. There are no two ways about it, it’s been a tough year and we hope 2014 will be gentler.
I am still a law librarian at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton. It has been another busy year at the firm, with ever more complex research puzzles to solve. I was also President of the San Francisco Bay Region chapter of the Special Libraries Association this year. It was a lot of work, but I’m proud of all that was accomplished, from the creation of a new scholarship program to help student members attend the annual conference, to the project underway to digitize our chapter’s historical print newsletter collection. I had so much fun that I feel quite a bit like the Tenth Doctor as David Tennant exited his last episode with the cry, “I don’t want to go”. However, they won’t be rid of me just because my term is over. I have other projects in mind that will keep me active in the association for quite a while to come. (Insert “mwa-ha-ha” here.)
Steve is senior development lead for PowerPoint in Microsoft’s Apple Productivity Experiences group. It has been another busy year for him as well; aren’t they all these days?
We also continue to volunteer our Sunday mornings in the Clinic at WildCare and provide foster care in an enclosure at our home for orphaned baby raccoons. Over the last few years, it has basically become our Christmas tradition to release a set of raccoons just before, or even on, Christmas Eve, getting them home just in time to meet Santa in the chimney.
If you want to keep up with us throughout the year, Steve and I can be found on Facebook and Twitter.
Wishing you and your families a wonderful holiday season and peace in the New Year.