Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Al-Can Adventures Part 23: Decisions and Life

"Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon

Sorry for taking a break over the past few days, my wonderful readers.  I've gone through a lot recently, severing one relationship and re-kindling another--and no, not in the romantic sense.  On that matter, my lovely bride and I have been apart for four and a half of the five weeks we'd planned, and I can't wait till the flight home Thursday night.

Oh, and I get to see my fluffy spastic puppy once again.  Yay!

I probably won't post much this weekend.  Just--FYI.

Anyway, the rekindling of the friendship with a former coworker and boss got me to thinking of the broader scope of life circumstances that surrounded my most recent trip down the Al-Can.  It was a big move for me; transitioning from being the Dean at the largest campus in a small college group to being the Dean at the smallest campus in a much larger college group.  I was leaving Alaska, my home of fourteen years, and returning to Mississippi, the state of my birth.

And my mom passed away when I was halfway down.

You know, sometimes we make decisions that are good, and sometimes not so much.  My mother had been sick with lung cancer for several years, her strength of character on full display as she battled both the disease and its treatments.  She cheered for me when I got the new job, and then her health turned hard south.

The timing just plain sucked.  I mean, there's never a good time for such things to happen, but there are degrees of badness to the timing, and this was way down that chart.  I'd already flown down to Mississippi and seen that campus through a successful start.  I had two weeks of unofficial paid leave to fly back, pack the U-Haul, and get it to Mississippi--honestly, as such things go, not a bad deal.

As we were loading the truck, we learned Mom had been moved to "hospice care," which basically means the end is near.  The doctors were saying she had only a few weeks.  Now, I'm not sure what all my options were at the time because I didn't investigate much.  To me, the idea of unloading the truck and returning it to fly down to Phoenix for an indeterminate amount of time couldn't even really be in the realm of consideration.

Our arrival in Montana was both blessed and cursed.  I've already described the border crossing, in which we ran into one of the newer agents with something to prove.  Then, just past the border in Babb, we pulled off at a wonderful cafe called Two Sisters to get a bite to eat.  It's really cute, and the folks in the cafe were extraordinarily friendly as we talked about the fact that my planned route over to Kalispell to spend the night with Heide's aunt was still under about six feet of snow.  Then one guy--the one you see minding his own business in the picture--actually let us follow him along the alternate route, and he went nice and slow so that we didn't blow up our radiator any further.

Yes, I said any further.

Coming out of the Two Sisters I noticed small green tendrils of fluid running down the grill of the truck.  Vehicles generally only have one kind of fluid that's green, and it should never make an appearance in the open air unless you're doing work on the cooling system.  We weren't doing such work, and so the tendrils alarmed me greatly.

Now, the bad thing about the cooling system is that if it's not performing its primary function you can melt an engine down.  The good thing is that it doesn't have to be in perfect working order, generally, to perform its primary function of keeping the engine from melting.  It just needs to maintain enough fluid circulating to transfer the hot out of the engine.  After looking at the radiator closely I figured that it would most likely make it to a more populated spot, and so we pushed on.

Thus it was that we arrived at Heide's aunt's beautiful home in the vicinity of Kalispell, Montana.  We were in a rush to get done with the trip so I could get to my mom, and it was late Friday afternoon and our radiator had gone from little green tendrils of fluid to--well, larger green tendrils.  Its end, in other words, was also near.

And then the keys got locked inside the U-Haul (yes, I'm perfectly aware that sentence is in passive voice, because I'd prefer that you added "by zombies"--the typical test of passive voice--rather than pointing out who actually was responsible for the mistake).

Monday, then.  Monday, we were told by the friendly guy who unlocked our door for us, we'd get a new radiator and be off.  That gave us a nice relaxing weekend on a fairly large piece of property with springtime deer running across it.

The next morning we got the call.  My cousin's somber voice at the other end informed me that my mom had finally lost her battle.

It's difficult to lose your mother.  It's even more so when you aren't there with her because of a decision you made.

You know what helped?  Deer.

Heide and her aunt took off for the entirety of the day after murmuring all the concerns and condolences they could muster.  They actually found the family's old homestead and gallavanted.  Me?  I brooded.  I sat and watched the deer as they wandered across the yard.

It's amazing how therapeutic something like that can be.

I don't remember much of the weekend, really.  I remember that I really liked Heide's aunt and uncle.  They're awesome folk who I hope to see again, and hopefully under less tense circumstances.

The fix went pretty much as scheduled; we rolled out of Kalispell with a new radiator right on time as the next week started.  The rest of the trip--well, I guess that's another story to be told.


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