Monday, June 20, 2011

Daddy's Girl

I remember the day like it was yesterday -- a typical afternoon in the office in 2006, working on proposals and contracts. It was the holiday season, right after Thanksgiving, so the office was abuzz with the Christmas spirit. I picked up the phone that afternoon, and and was surprised to hear my mom's voice on the other end. Her voice cracked as she said hello, and at that moment, she didn't need to say anything else. I knew what was coming next. 

 Dad had been in and out of doctors and hospitals for as long as I can remember. He had a few heart problems, and struggled with asthma. Other than those health issues, he was super active and continued to work 6 days a week, sometimes more. I never once heard him complain, and his work ethic was better than anyone I've ever known -- if people had half the determination and dedication he did, this world would be a much better place!

In his spare time he enjoyed fishing and boating, driving the RV, attending Nascar races, listening to country music, grilling T-bone steaks, watching action movies, and using power tools. His favorite pastime was spoiling us as much as possible--candy before dinner, gifts for no reason, and later in life, cars when we turned 16. Speaking of cars...he loved going shopping for cars, and would also love to "surprise" us by trading in one car for another. I can't count on two hands how many times I came home from school to a different car/boat/truck in the driveway.

He was a very simple man - all he wanted for Christmas was socks, because he claimed he didn't need anything else. He never met a stranger, and would become friends with anyone from the checkout clerk at Lowe's to the people the next campsite over when we went on vacation. He'd give you the shirt off his back if you needed it, and would expect nothing in return.

When I was in college, we found out he had liver cancer. The first thing my parents did was go to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL to get tested. The tests would show how big the tumor was, and if a transplant was possible. After what seemed like an eternity, the tests came back... the cancer had grown just a little too big for Dad to get put onto the transplant list. At that point they gave him 6 months to a year to live. Being in Auburn and not living at home was something I had looked forward to for so long, but now I ached to move back and be with him. I would head back to Cullman for as many weekends and a holidays as I could to soak in as much time as humanly possible. 

Every time I came home, I always expected the worst, but was repeatedly surprised at how well he seemed to be doing. He was pretty matter-of-fact about things, but instead of lying around on the couch just waiting for the pearly gates, he went out and did what he loved best -- He went fishing. He grilled steaks. He went to a Carrie Underwood concert. He bought a BMW Z3 convertible. He even came to Florida and we went to Disney World!

I eventually began to see a little decline, mostly in his energy level. Life Care Hospice had started coming to the house a few times a week to take blood pressure, give him medication, and do any counseling if it was needed. Since he was in the Air Force, the VA gave him benefits, including a motorized wheelchair to use. (I remember he put a Jimmy Johnson sticker on it as if it were his race car, and used it to go down to the mailbox and check the mail every day.)

When my mom called the office that day, it had been over two years since the original diagnosis of 6 months. That was just like my dad - determined to not give in easily! 

The Lord took him at home, in his sleep, the morning of December 5, 2006. Me, my brother and sister, my grandparents, and my Mom were all there with him praying when it happened. His funeral was just the way he would have wanted it - his favorite men's quartet sang gospel songs, and his favorite pastor did the service. I knew he had a ton of friends, but didn't realize how many people's lives he really touched. There were so many people there! Friends of his came from all over the state (and surrounding states) that I had never met. They knew all about me and my brother and sister, solely by how much Dad bragged about us.

Every day, especially Father's Day, I reminisce about my Dad and how good of a man he was. I wish I could shout from the rooftops to the entire world to never take advantage of a moment with your dad or mom. Life can throw curve balls and you never know what can happen or what lies ahead. I would give anything for one more bear hug, one more deep bellied laugh, or one more ride in the back of the truck to the corner store for a candy bar. 

He didn't tell me how to live -- he lived, and let me watch him do it.

In memory of Roy H. Malone: an Irish Blessing
May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be ever at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
And the rain softly on your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Are We There Yet?

Ever since I was old enough to remember, my family had owned a motor home. This was a non-negotiable term for vacationing in my family - if we were going on a vacation, we were going to drive and we were going to stay in a campground. That was it, end of story. No hotels, no airlines. It was all 5 of us (and the dog) packed up in the RV heading down the highway.
My parents did an amazing job of coordinating vacations for us - keep in mind these vacations we planned were before Google, before GPS and navigation systems, and before cell phones that could make calls while you were on the road if you got lost. My mom was in charge picking out the destinations, most of which she tried to make educational as well as fun. She also mapped out the good campground spots that had the best reviews in the KOA campground guide, and made the reservations. My dad was responsible for navigating through the handy dandy Rand McNally Road Atlas (you know, those paper map books that show the roads? Yea, they're like antiques now). He also made sure the RV itself was in good working order, and drove the majority of the trip.

We made big 2-week-long trips like our vacations out west, to the Grand Canyon and to Yellowstone National Park, but also did some short weekend fishing trips to Guntersville Lake that were just as fun.
Old Faithful Geyser at Yellowstone National Park - my most memorable vacation

As Prateek and I are cruising down the highway on our 1,200 mile journey to New York from Tampa Bay, I'm reminded of my fond road trip memories, and it made it that much more enjoyable: the snacks, the singing along to 80's music, the games, and the good conversation and laughter.

The Malone/Gupta Road Trip 2011 had two main purposes:

1) Convert Prateek's Diesel Dodge Ram to run on Vegetable Oil (Yes, literally the same vegetable oil you fry calamari and chicken wings and french fries in!)
2) To relax and visit with family and friends, and have a little fun!

If you go to your local Chinese or Mexican restaurant (or really any restaurant that fries food), they throw out their used oil and will most of the time give it to you for free if you ask. If you collect the used oil and clean/filter it, presto - free fuel!

These are typical "cubies" of oil that hold 5 gallons each
The vegetable oil conversion doesn't take away the Diesel tank, so you can run the truck on either type of fuel. The conversion was nothing new to Prateek and his family, as they have had 3 other diesel automobiles already converted to vegetable oil (aka "VO").The conversions all went through Sam at Full Circle Fuels - read all about the conversion on his website! There are other places out there that will do a conversion that would be closer to home, but Sam is someone that P's family knows and trusts will do the best job, in order to do everything through Sam, the truck needed to physically be in his shop in New York. 

Thus, the vacation started panning out.

We made a stop in Charleston, SC to break up the trip a little bit, where I was reminded of how much I love the south and miss living in it. After a fabulous southern breakfast at Poogan's Porch consisting of  Pulled Pork Benedict and a Crawfish Quiche, it was sadly time to get our full bellies moving again.

We dropped off the the truck in New York, but the VO conversion was going to take a little over 2 days to finish. I played the role of my mom and decided that we should plan a fun destination to go to in the meantime. I had never been to Boston, which was only a few hours away- so Voila! The second part of the vacation was born. 

Boston Harbor

It just so happened that the Bruins were playing the Vancouver Canucks in game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Boston that night. After wandering around the city a bit, we found Canal Street and joined in the camaraderie of the game. Boston ended up beating Vancouver 8-1, so needless to say there was celebrating being done that night by the crazed hockey fans. 

Surrounded by rowdy Bruins fans on the train

While in Boston, I ate the clam chowdah, had a whole steamed lobstah, had a beer at Cheers, and ate cannolis as big as my face in the North End at Mike's Pastry. To burn off my caloric intake I went on a running tour of the city the next morning through RunBoston, which included running across the Boston Marathon finish line!

 After the truck was finished, it was driving time again- this time through the Poconos into Pennsylvania to visit with family. We had a wonderful relaxing four days spending time with everyone! Prateek is a proud uncle of three nephews - Aarav, Jeet, and Ronav, and they are the top three most handsome boys I know (Jadoo would be the fourth, of course). 

We made the last minute decision to stay an extra day and come back in one fail swoop on Sunday --  this is the part of the trip where it got a little, um, interesting. 17 hours of driving in one day. Luckily I had my road trip buddy with me to keep me company when Prateek was napping!

I decided to think of the drive as if I were mentally preparing myself for a nice long run. To pump myself up mid run, I never think about how I've only gone 3 miles so far -- instead I think  
Wow, I'm almost a quarter of the way done! 

We switched drivers back and forth to keep ourselves fresh, and finally rolled into Tampa on Monday morning about 5 AM. We had to be at work by 8. Needless to say, I was just as tired as if I would have actually ran a marathon. But, it was definitely worth it.

And the best part of it all.....we drove all 1,200 miles for free, in our truck fueled by vegetable oil!