Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Allie's Wild Ride

For many Americans, getting your first car at the age of sixteen is desired and possibly expected. A rite of passage. Not so in our house. Allie, the youngest of four sisters had a decidedly unspoiled, downwardly mobile experience. Yes, she was fortunate to have car to drive at all, but not as fortunate as many of her friends.

Somehow Lucy ended up with an old Volvo and some jeeps to drive but none of them were her own. She did learn to drive a stick. Lana lucked into the Tank, AKA Big Blue. It was a Dodge Dynasty that was so uncool the other teenagers wouldn't be caught dead driving it. Lana made it cool and it only cost us a grand. The Tank was so low tech that it wasn't even destroyed when our street flooded. All the other cars were flat-towed off and had to be replaced. She just hosed that baby out and went on her way.

All throughout college Allie pined for a car of her own, but since she was in Connecticut it didn't really make sense. There was no easy way to get it back and forth. When she was on school breaks we shared our cars and it worked out pretty well, but enough already with the cooperating. The girl is twenty-two years old and moving to Santa Monica. In LA you've got to have wheels. Personally, I’m still in the pink Barbie car stage in my mind, but time waits for no one, particularly mothers.

The search began in earnest in late May. Buying a car is like most things. The more cash you can throw at a problem, the better your choices are. There was a little money left by her grandmother, but it needed to be used wisely. Five thousand dollars was the initial budget. In order to get a good car at that price point you need to be very lucky. Allie was not that lucky. In fact, she wasn't lucky at all. She looked at one pile of crap after another. So frustrating.

The search continued throughout June into July. Priorities shifted. The Saabs were cute, but potential repair prices a bit terrifying. We tried to dissuade her from going that route, but one really caught her attention. It was being sold by a used car deal we trusted. I know. Oxymoronic. She was so enamored by this vehicle that she was willing to buy it and THEN learn how to drive a stick. Now that's pretty gritty. She got a cashier's check from the bank and got out her UConn Alumni license plate holders. Woo hoo.

We took Eric with us to pick up the sexy, black Saab and he drove it for Allie since she couldn't. After the test drive he turned it off. We decided to turn it back on to check the phone charger. Nothing. Nobody could get it to do anything. It was like it had completely shorted out. Shit. There goes that car AND the ten dollar fee for the cashier's check. Allie was deeply disappointed, but I kept imaging her on the way to LA, stopped at a gas station in hundred degree heat with her phone battery dying and the Saab completely seized up.

The Saab sojourn took the starch out of Allie. She complained that all she'd done all summer was look for a car. Time was running short before she really needed to have it. Time to move onto advanced, strategic problem solving. Add more money. Also, forget the Audi's, BMW's and Saabs. Those cars are better for people with an income - not newly graduated aspiring workers.

Upping the ante came at the right time. Last week Allie announced she would buy a car in one day. She's enough like me that I knew not to argue. That tenacious and determined apple did not fall far from the tree. The girl was on a mission. Far be it from me to interfere with the PLAN. She found a used Honda at a dealer about an hour away in Palo Alto and set off by herself to take a look.

During the time Allie was negotiating (as in paying full price) for the car which was "super cute and clean", her friend Kelsie was arriving at the airport for a visit. Allie left the dealership, went to the airport and then they went back to the dealer. The decision was made to purchase the car (with a three day right of return) and Allie handed over her debit card. Who knew you could buy a car with a debit card?  Forget the cashier's check.

The dealer wouldn't let Allie drive the car away without proof of insurance. At first she was going to use our insurance, but then decided to go get her own. Doing the paperwork, obtaining insurance and having the bumper painted took another four hours! Finally, at eight that night, with poor, jet lagged Kelsie following behind in my car, Allie pulled up to the house with the new car. It is clean and super cute, with leather seats and a sunroof. It's all hers and it was worth the wait. Watch out, Los Angeles, here she comes.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

An Irish Wake

Eric and the Delaney Boys
A light went out in our lives. Eric's cousin, Chris, lost his struggle with cancer. Although he'd been sick for several years, the final stage was amazingly fast. It was a fight to the end. Three weeks earlier he was still up and around and we all went out to breakfast. Chris was in a lot of pain, but his mind was sharp and his legendary sense of humor was still in tact.

The last couple weeks were brutal but mercifully short. After a brief stint in the hospital he was sent home for his final days under the care of his sons, seventeen and twenty years old. They were kids when their father became ill. Now they are men, albeit young and broken-hearted men. These two guys took turns taking care of dad while juggling their own lives and commuting two hours to his place. Sam had two part-time jobs and Max was still finishing high school.

When Hospice entered the picture in the final stage they weren't too sure about these arrangements, but what could they do? It was the best situation for Chris. The boys did it all, the feeding and cleaning and administering pain medication. They stepped up in ways a lot of people wouldn't or couldn't. We are so proud of them.

The Sunday before Chris died Eric visited with him and he was still lucid, but aware he was running out of time. Chris asked about his oldest son, who lives in Texas and his brother, Robin, who lives in D.C. When would they be here? He needed to see them. They weren't scheduled to arrive for a couple weeks. Chris insisted they needed to get here sooner, so they did. His son, Christopher, arrived the next day, joining his brothers in a harrowing time. Robin arranged a flight for Thursday.

On that Wednesday the boys said Chris was taking a turn for the worse and we should get there soon. We got to the house early afternoon Thursday. Robin arrived from D.C. about an hour and a half later. Max was in school and would head up afterwards. Chris was really suffering. The guys all agreed that when Max got there they would try to convince Chris to let go. It was time. They surrounded his bed and told him how much they loved him. Three sons, one brother, one beloved cousin. At 5:50 p.m., less than an hour after Max arrived, in the living room of his white, clapboard cottage, Christopher Day Delaney took his final breath.

Irish immigrants who worked in the railroad industry in upstate New York, the Delaneys had an indelibly sad story two generations back. In another white, clapboard house Chris and Eric's grandmother died in childbirth. The baby was lost as well. As was the Irish tradition there was a wake at the house. The remaining children, Eric's mother and Chris's father and another sister, all under ten years of age, were locked in a bedroom upstairs with a fifth child- a toddler. During the wake the toddler choked on a marble and died. The children frantically banged on the door to no avail. They weren't heard.

 In a matter of days, Chris and Eric's grandfather had lost his wife and two children. He was never the same. Eric's mom was farmed out and raised by her aunt. The other sister was also raised by family members. Chris's father stayed with his Dad, who was haunted by the demons of his loss. It was not an ideal childhood. Perhaps as a reaction to the chaos, Chris's father became a military man.

Perhaps as a reaction to HIS upbringing and as an adaptation to the times, Chris became a rebel. Flaunting authority, flirting with danger. Chris was responsible in ways and a very hard worker. He was a practical man and got the job done, but he liked his recreation and it got the best of him at times. His cancer was lifestyle cancer. Such a shame.

Chris Delaney was a concrete form supervisor and buildings he worked on stand all around the country. His last project was the parking structure at San Jose airport. When the interferon treatments made him too sick to get to the job he managed it from his apartment which became command central. Eventually, he could no longer work and had to go on disability. Two years ago he went in for surgery and they took out part of his liver. Surviving the surgery was not a given.

 Chris knew how much he was loved. The entire family trooped up to Sacramento the night before his operation. We had a huge dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Chris and Eric and Robin told some great stories which I videotaped. Three generations waited for hours at the hospital, nervously playing games and waiting. The surgery went better than expected so Chris had more time. Still, it's never enough. 

The service for Chris was held on St. Patrick's Day at St. Patrick’s cathedral. Eric was incredibly brave and gave an emotional eulogy that was perfect for Chris. There was a wake with corned beef and cabbage and a slide show that had everyone bawling.

 It's been four months now and it's still sad but we try not to think about him. I so miss the way Chris made Eric laugh. Sam turned twenty-one and Max graduated from high school, the first of many milestones without a father. The boys have a large and loving family on their mom’s side. They obviously have more than enough guts to succeed in life. They’ll be alright. So will we.