Monthly Archives: October 2015

Had to be Put Down – Part II

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In 2010, my wife’s 2002 Jeep died and since our oldest son and daughter were both getting married the following year, my wife began to drive the Mini rather than us using the wedding money to replace her Jeep. It was sad not to get to choose which car to drive each morning but since it was the summer time, I’d usually have picked the ’02 Miata I was driving anyway. Then one day when my wife picked me up from work for a surprise weekend getaway, disaster struck—we got reared ended on our way downtown.

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Needless to say it was not the evening either my wife or I envisioned. And I am not afraid to admit that when we got back to our hotel after dinner, I cried over the wrecked Mini.

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We did get it repaired but as anyone knows who has had a car wrecked, it is never the same. While cosmetically it looked the same, it now had squeaks and rattles it never had before. These would have driven me crazy but since my wife was still driving it, it didn’t seem to bother her. I did usually drive it whenever we went out to dinner and while it was still fun to drive, it wasn’t the same.

My wife continued to drive it for the next several years but during that time, it began to have progressively more expensive repair bills. In 2012, I finally replaced the loss of my hardtop winter car with a Fiat 500.

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But with just a 101 horsepower engine—all that was available at the time—it couldn’t hold a candle to the Mini. It does get great mileage though, 36 to 40 miles per gallon.

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Just before New Year’s Eve this past year, I suggested to my wife that we take the Mini for what has become an annual New Year’s pilgrimage to visit our friends at their cabin in Boone, NC. It was the first time I had driven it on an extended road trip in almost four years. While the engine tuned along just fine, I could tell the rest of the car was not the same, as I experienced a rough ride and even more squeaks and rattles. Interestingly when we had it repaired after the wreck back in 2010, the owner of the body shop had described Minis as “fragile” cars.

Over the summer this year, I had it in for an oil change. When I went to pick it up, I was presented with a $4,000 repair estimate for all the things that needed fixing—a lot of it related to the suspension system, which certainly explained the rough ride, I’d detected. Since this followed onto a $4,500 repair bill we’d actually incurred just a few years prior, I declined the repairs. I guess that body shop owner was right.

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After I drove it home from the repair shop all nice and clean, I knew its days were numbered so I took it by the lake in our subdivision for one last photo shoot.

In August, my wife and I agreed that with two grandkids and probably more in our future, it was time to get another four-door car that would make putting grandkids in child seats in the back seat much easier. For my wife, now grandmother, this would be her car, a replacement for her Jeep from five years ago. We talked about what different cars she might like but in the end, we picked one she had mentioned a number of years ago that she would like to have—a Subaru Outback.

My wife built one online but when we went to the dealer, we found it could not be had from existing inventory any where in the country. So for only the second time in our car buying history, we special ordered a car—this time, just the way my wife wanted it.

For the next 7 weeks, I grieved the imminent demise of the Mini. I really loved that car but I was most sad about how poorly it had aged. And while driving, over those few weeks, I probably noticed more Minis on the road knowing that I was giving mine up. A couple of weeks before we traded in the Mini, I gave her one last good washing (to me all cars are girls) so she’d look nice and pretty for our last weeks together.

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We just so happened to be spending the night at our midtown condo the day the Outback came in and it was at dinner that night I learned from my wife that it was ready for pick up. The next morning, I volunteered to go pick it up as my wife despises all the paperwork and time it takes at a dealership when taking delivery of a new car. Unfortunately, I realized I had to first run home to get the title and extra keys and then come back and clean out all of my wife’s things from the Mini.

As my wife and kids know, I can be very task focused when I have a job to do and I completed the cleaning very quickly without even thinking about how the next step would feel. But then suddenly, it was time to drive the Mini over and I couldn’t find the extra key I had just gone home to get. In my frantic cleaning, I had left the key in the ignition, a very unusual thing for me as I rarely lose things and most always know where I have left something. I was obviously a bit flustered, partly because I was late for my appointment having had the extra errand to run home.

Before setting off, I intentionally turned off the radio so I could hear that wonderful supercharger whine even though I couldn’t roll down the windows to hear it in stereo, as it was an unexpectedly cool morning with temperatures in the mid 50s. As I drove her for what I knew would be the last time, I wished I had a fun road to take her on like the Tail of the Dragon or the Blue Ridge Parkway for this final trip. But as I got up to speed on the tame city streets we would instead journey together on, I noticed she was lacking all of the squeaks and rattles that she had become known for. It was as if she had tensed all of her muscles to make herself as tight and silent as possible for the short march to the metaphorical gallows. She had always been quieter in cold weather, no doubt the contraction of the parts that normally squeaked against each other. But it seemed she was even more intent this time as if this last kind gesture would cause me to turn around and not go through with the trade.

I drove on grateful for the quiet, but undeterred. As I pulled away from a stoplight, I noticed a new clutch noise I had never heard before that sounded almost like a sigh of resignation that after several years of her squeaky transgressions, even this generous, final act on her part could not forestall the inevitable. In one last jab at me, she kicked on the tire pressure warning light, a tactic she had been using all week to garner more attention from me.

As we rolled up the street to the dealership, driving past lot after lot of all the other new car dealerships, I sensed a realization on her part that she would not have to parry with the executioner, rather it was fellow autos, friends cut from the same materials, that would surround her. After almost 10 years of residing at our home, she would be among a multitude of fellow cars; even if it was just a temporary home before she met her next family.

After parking, I exited her snug interior for the last time and went inside the dealership to do the deed.

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After a mostly painless process of exchange, I drove away in my wife’s new Outback with mixed emotions. I glanced back at the old girl one last time before driving away. While the view I had of her was from the back, marred somewhat by the dirty, discolored rectangle where the license plate had once been, it will be the images of all the fun we had together that will be foremost in my mind.

Emotions aside, it is still hard to get over the loss of all that horsepower in such a small sporty car. I loved owning and driving that car but in the end it was just going to be too expensive to maintain in pristine working order like she was in those first four years. I’ll certainly miss the fine English leather tuck and roll bucket seats…

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but I definitely won’t miss how black the wheels would get from the disc brake dust.

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So now that she is gone, I will begin the process anew of looking for what my next high horsepower car will be—the one that I can zoom off into retirement in.

Questions

Had to be Put Down – Part I

Before you get all upset about animal rights violations, this is not a tear-jerk story about a beloved horse having to be put down. No, but it is about the sad loss of horsepower, which for me, is almost the same. This is a story about having to sell one of the cars from my stable of cars. And as any true car lover knows, it is a sad day indeed.

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This new Mini Cooper S, with a super-charged—not turbo charged—170-horse power engine joined my stable in the spring of 2006. Prior to purchasing the Mini, a Mazda Miata, either a 128 horsepower ’94 or a 142 horsepower ’02, had been my daily driver for almost 10 years. And while I love the feel of the wind in my hair with the top down on sunny days, winters had gotten just too cold for me in a convertible (even with the top up). So I needed a hardtop for my winter car.

Ironically as much as I love cars and as many as I have owned over my lifetime, this was actually the very first car that I had ever special ordered to be built just like I wanted it. At the time, Minis had only been out for a few years and production had not fully caught up with demand. While it was sad not to drive a new Mini home the day I went to buy one, it was exciting to follow the production process of mine with the special website Mini had set up at the time. Each day, I could log in and see its progress through the factory in England.

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After what seemed like a long six weeks, it was fun to meet my new Mini for the first time in the showroom where they had rolled it in for me to pick up. On the drive home, I could feel the power of those extra 30 horses kick in whenever I pressed the accelerator and the wonderful whine of the supercharger as I shifted through the gears was literally music to my ears (2006 was the last year for the super-charged engine so if you ever get a chance to drive one, do so with the radio off and the windows rolled down. For a car enthusiast, you’ll get a stereo sound better than any concert hall).

I didn’t tell any of our kids that I had ordered it so our youngest son was most surprised when my wife and I drove up in it to take him out to dinner for his birthday, literally the day I drove it home from the dealer.

This was also the first time in my life that I had two cars from which to choose for my morning drive into work (since my oldest son had “borrowed” my ’94 Miata), a real treat for a car lover. Each morning, it was fun to pick, though usually the weather influenced the decision (rainy – Mini, sunny – Miata). But just driving to work turned out to be the least of the fun I was going to have with this little car.

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In 2007, my wife and daughter agreed to take a detour from our trip to NC for me to drive it on the Tail of the Dragon. In 2005, I had previously been exposed to that wonderful driving enthusiast’s road—318 curves in 11 miles—when my sister accompanied me to drive the Dragon in my ‘02 Miata.

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While my wife and daughter sat in the café at the Deals Gap motorcycle resort, I took her out for a run. The Mini, with its four wheels pushed to the corners, and its 30 extra horses, gave me an exhilarating go-cart like ride that exceeded the thrill I had experienced in the Miata. The only negative of the day was as I was squealing all four tires around one of the sharp corners, I was met by a highway patrolman with his radar gun. Fortunately he had it pointed in the opposite direction and by the time he was able to turn and aim it at me, I had quickly slowed to the posted 30 mph speed limit. As I passed him, he just shook his finger at me like I had been a very bad little boy.

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On our return trip home, I managed to talk my wife and daughter in to again going out of our way so I could drive the Mini on the Blue Ridge Parkway. They were very indulgent of a little boy with his new toy and I most appreciated it.

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The next year, I took a “male bonding” road trip with my two sons—the youngest having just turned 21—to again ride the Dragon. With three drivers but only two cars (the ’94 Miata was in CA at the time), we swapped who was driving what. While I was driving, my son got some great shots with us as the lead car.

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I don’t recall how many runs we made that day or the next but I do know it was a blast!

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From 2006 to 2010, it was four blissful years of fun driving and then all that changed…to be continued.

Dad’s Journal

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Today would have been my dad’s 89th birthday and in anticipation of this date, I’ve been thinking a lot about him. I’ve written before how after our mom died, my siblings and I just didn’t get enough time with Dad before he succumbed to cancer. And recently, I received from my sister, one of my dad’s journals that brought him even more to mind.

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This is one of the birthday gifts that I gave my dad every year for his birthday, a daily journal with spiritual devotions and inspirational photos. In fact this is one of the journals I wrote about on my dad’s birthday last year. While I gave these to him each year for a number of years and I knew he wrote in them each day, I had never before read one until now.

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Quickly flipping through the pages, I couldn’t find a single day that he had not made an entry. This must have become such a regular part of his daily routine that he even carried these journals with him whenever he traveled so he could chronicle his activities each day. We used to often joke how poorly our mom’s handwriting was and how hard it was to read but I must say I think Dad must have taken a few lessons from Mom as on some of his calendar pages, it was quite difficult to figure out some of the words he had written.

Each daily entry would start with a brief synopsis of the weather such as: “Partly cloudy and warmer.” Dad would then go on to capture what all he did during the day, where he ate his meals and often what he ate. He would include what TV shows he watched in the evening before bed and even something as mundane as a discussion with one of my sisters about purchasing new car tires.

With 365 day’s worth of writings, it was hard to know which dates to focus on first. I started by flipping through the pages to my sibling’s and my birthdays and noted Dad had duly documented each one even including our age on that date. For my sister’s birthday in August, he was in Montreat with her and documented not only driving to Black Mountain to get her a birthday cake, but also walking to the Montreat general store and purchasing the Smoky Mountains calendars he and Mom always gave all four of us for Christmas each year.

Calendar my dad bought us that year in Montreat

Calendar my dad bought us that year in Montreat

Sunday pages in the journal were a full-page and Dad wrote even more on those days.

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On the last Sunday in July (preceding my sister’s birthday celebrated in Montreat), Dad wrote about how after church, everyone had walked to Assembly Inn for lunch and Dad had treated, documenting even the cost ($10.50 each for the buffet).

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As I read a few more days from this trip I found my own name written the night I treated everyone to pizza. Going back to my old photo albums, I realized my family had also been on that trip, our first time to go to Montreat without Mom (she had died the prior year).

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When I came to my mom’s birthday, I saw that he had noted it along with her age had she still been living. On that date, I also saw that Dad had written that he had gotten 50 gold dollar coins to give to my oldest sister for her 50th birthday that October. When I turned to the page for her birthday, I didn’t find any notations of a celebration. I flipped over a few more pages and then found that we had celebrated her birthday the following weekend and I had been there too.

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When I turned to the calendar page for Dad’s birthday, I was pleased to read that Dad had noted everyone who had called to wish him a happy birthday. However one call Dad captured on that date did not bode well as it was from his doctor stating that all but one of the spots he had removed from my dad the week before were malignant. I got chills when I thought what terrible news to get on your birthday and what prescient news it was though none of us knew it at the time.

When I glanced back at the year of this calendar journal, I realized that this is the one I had given him for his birthday just six months after our mom died. When I turned to that page in April, my eyes filled with tears as I read that my dad had marked the one year anniversary of her death by driving from Hot Springs, AR to Sibley, LA to place a pot of tulips on my mom’s grave. I never knew that.   I was deeply moved but joyed that he had chosen to mark the occasion that way.

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But tears came even harder when I suddenly realized reading Dad’s entry for the one-year anniversary of Mom’s death that the page in his 2002 journal would be blank on the day he died. While it breaks my heart to think of that page and all the rest of the pages for that journal remaining blank, it is comforting to know that I have captured the events of that day, not in his journal but in my own way, in a Glimpse of My Dad blog post.

A Small Taste of Montreat

One of the best times from our summer vacation this year was getting to spend a day in Montreat, NC. I‘ve written before about what a special place Montreat is to my family and me and it was great to revisit after a long absence. For those who have been to Montreat, this will be a familiar pictorial taste of Montreat.

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As always, the iconic rock gate that has eternally greeted us upon our arrival warmly welcomed us again to what many have referred to as “Paradise on Earth.”

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After driving up the narrow road running along the burbling mountain stream, our first stop was the porch at Assembly Inn overlooking the frigid Lake Susan where we swam as kids. In later years after the lake was closed to swimming, my brother would fish there for rainbow trout.

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With near perfect weather (which means no rain for those familiar with Montreat), my wife and I decided to hike up Look Out Mountain, a trek we had not taken in well over 10 years, maybe longer.

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Parts of the trail are fairly easy, but towards the summit, it can be quite rocky and steep.

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And at the top, one can see Lake Susan and the Assembly Inn way down below…

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and the Blue Ridge Parkway well off in the distance.

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After the healthy exertion of our climb, we wanted to take our time snapping off photos everywhere we looked.

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I recently posted a picture of me from many years ago on this summit and so I wanted to get an updated one…

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along with us both.

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After our hikes back down, it was time to refresh with a beer and some lunch in the nearby town of Black Mountain.

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Then it was back to Montreat for an afternoon of reading on the porch of the bookstore.

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Only, we discovered it wasn’t a bookstore anymore. After so many years of providing a wealth of religious, spiritual, and general interests books for the Presbyterian conference goers that travel to Montreat each summer, the bookstore apparently went the way of so many “brick and mortar” bookstores and was supplanted by the Montreat general store that had been on the ground floor of the same building.

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As the afternoon wore on and I knew our time in this wonderful place was coming to a close, I decided to take a stroll around Lake Susan once more as I did as a child, capturing current images along the way that brought back so many fond memories of the fun times I’d had.

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Moore Center

Looking down on mountain creek from dam by Moore Center

Looking down on mountain creek from dam by Moore Center

Left Bank

Left Bank

Assembly Inn overlooking Lake Susan

Assembly Inn overlooking Lake Susan

Next year, our plan is to spend an entire week in Montreat for a multi-generational family get together. For several grandchildren and spouses, this will be their first introduction to the mountain retreat that I have been to for vacation so often for more than 50 years. We’ll do all of the many fun activities I did growing up and likely discover some new ones as well.

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As we left the rock gate behind it wasn’t the usual sad valediction I often feel upon driving away; no it was the knowledge that we already had plans to return in less than a year for a special week that made our departure bursting with excited anticipation of another fun time in Montreat!