Just the Four of Us

For the first time in more than 20 years—near as we can figure—my mom, dad, sister, and I are alone together in my parents’ house.* The last time this happened, according to Jill’s recollection, was just before I left for South Dakota to marry Jodi. Jill was pregnant with my niece and goddaughter Kayla (hence the asterisk above) and couldn’t travel; she recalls sitting together in the loft overlooking the great round beams of my folks’ house, talking with me and giving me a old penny from her coin collection that had belonged to Grandpa Thorp. I don’t recall the exact moment as clearly as she, but I have the penny still, and the timing seems right.

And now here we are again, just the four of us, talking and laughing together. Births, holidays, weddings, funerals. Decades pass like minutes. We are entirely different people than the last time, and just the same.

I’m not sure I have a point tonight, other than to commemorate this day and note the speed with which time’s arrow flies, the swift fluidity of life, and the beautiful permanence of family.

Thomas and Me

Blogger’s Note: What follows is as close as I’ve come to a mystical experience. Because of this, I don’t doubt the charismatic side of our faith as much as some — but also, I recognize more fully that it is extremely hard to know what’s going on in another’s mind, heart, and soul. I wrote this back in 2003, shortly after moving to Minnesota and relatively early in my return to the Church– before my conversion, in many ways. As such, it is a glimpse into an immature prayer life that was blessed with a brief but up-close encounter with God’s love. I’ve made two small edits for clarity’s sake. I would write this differently today, but it is as accurate as it can be. 

Thomas was a lucky man.

Imagine sharing your life with Christ, in the flesh. Experiencing the gospels firsthand. Hearing the people talk of the healer, the prophet, the man who overturned tables in the temple — your friend. Imagine seeing miracles not just happen, but be performed by someone you broke bread with.

Thomas was lucky — not only to have known Jesus personally, but also to have missed His first appearance to the disciples. Imagine — Thomas comes back from wherever he’s been, and his friends are grabbing his robes, spinning him around, each trying to explain over the others that Jesus, three days dead, had come to see them. Had breathed on them. Now, Thomas is no fool — he knows his Lord was flesh and blood, and saw Him crucified. He knows that, despite Christ’s miraculous powers, he didn’t make it off that tree alive, and he can see nine ways to Sunday how somebody pretending to be a risen Christ could really mess things up good for the disciples, for the Jews, for the Romans, everybody.

So he puts up both hands, looks at his brothers and says, “I’ll believe it when I see it. No — as a matter of fact, I’ll believe it when I can examine the holes in His holy hands and feet. When I can stick my hand in His side.”

Imagine the audacity! The disciples are staring at Thomas in open-mouthed disbelief: After all you’ve seen, and all we’ve told you — after all we’ve been through together — you won’t believe until you’ve pierced Him again with your own hands?

Thomas glares resolutely around the room, then stalks out again.

Thomas is lucky, because his Lord wants to give the people every chance to believe and be saved. Christ could have come back the second time and scolded Thomas for his lack of faith in God and his fellow disciples. Instead, he smiles at Thomas and tells him to go ahead and touch the wounds. Put your hand in my side, my friend, and believe!

Thomas immediately falls to his knees and proclaims Jesus his Lord. As a result, we learn two things about our God — He’ll bend over backwards to save us, and being in His presence requires no further explanation.

With 2,000 years of faith, tradition and perspective behind us, it’s easy to fault Thomas for his doubt. But remember, Thomas and the disciples were a newly formed minority, out of favor with the Jewish leadership, and now leaderless. In times like these, it pays to be a skeptic, if only to protect yourself.

Thomas wanted what we all long for — certainty. Faith is fine, but how many times have we all asked for something more?

“Just give me a sign, Lord. Give me something to believe in.”

The signs are all around us, of course — we only need to open up to them. What follows is a true account of what can happen if you do.

Jodi and I were youth leaders for three years before moving to Minnesota. We were volunteers — actually, we had volunteered to help with the high-school youth group, and were quite excited when, the next Sunday, Fr. Bill told the flock he had two new youth leaders.
We couldn’t wait to find out who.
Let me say right off that I’m no saint. Nothing in this world can make you more acutely aware of your own weaknesses than preaching the gospel to young people, or having their parents tell you what a wonderful, positive influence you’ve been in their children’s lives. As youth ministers, were we still sinners? Yes. Did we feel worse than ever about it? Oh, yeah.
Jodi and I did a lot with the group. We made pancake breakfasts for the parish. We sang Christmas carols for the locals. We saw the Pope in Toronto. And often, we just hung out.
The high point of the high-school youth group experience, however, is the yearly trip to Steubenville, Ohio, for Franciscan University’s famous Catholic youth conferences. Thousands of young Catholics, countless deacons, nuns, youth ministers and volunteer chaperones, and the widest assortment of priests you can imagine — biker priests, rapping priests, priests who speak in tongues, wizened old men and young fellows fresh from ordination — all spending the weekend together, singing and praying, laughing and crying. And on Saturday night, calling Christ to earth to walk among the masses.
Saturday night at Steubie is like nothing else. When the Eucharist passes through a gymnasium full of spiritually famished teens, “adoration” doesn’t do justice to the experience. Christ makes His presence known — not at the altar, not on the stage at all, but out among the hungry souls, the Bread of Life, meeting the young people where they are and taking them where they need to be. Their personal God and savior.
I’ve heard from teens who claim to have seen Jesus, talked to Him, held His hand. I’ve heard from people who have been held by Jesus, rocked, soothed. A friend of mine made peace with a relative long dead. Another heard, saw and felt his sins enumerated, forgiven and fall away like so many dry leaves. Kids shriek, laugh uncontrollably, sob, shout. Some stand upright, speaking aloud with God. Some fall flat to the floor, dead to the world around them. Some are prayed over, or escorted out. It quickly becomes apparent that the adults are no longer running the show.
Even so, group leaders are encouraged to devote themselves to staying alert and keeping their young people focused and safe. And the first Saturday night I spent at Steubenville, I wanted nothing more. It was unnerving to close your eyes for too long.
This past July, however, was different. Jodi and I had already relocated to the Twin Cities, and were coming back for one last Steubie trip with “our older kids.” I wanted to soak it up — all the energy, enthusiasm and love that they could give. We arrived at the St. Mike’s church parking lot at 5:30 a.m., and a number of the kids were there already, shivering, sleep still in their eyes. I was bouncing in place. My knees were shaking. It felt electric.
The trip was great — bittersweet, of course, with constant reminders that this was it, the last hurrah. That first night we circled up on the lawn after the evening session, and I told them how wonderful it felt to be there with them. I told them I felt like a live wire, feeding off their energy. I told them I thought the weekend was going to be amazing.
Saturday dawned early and rushed headlong toward adoration. So much going on, but the constant background buzz was tonight, tonight, tonight. The Steubie newbies didn’t know what to expect, and spoke in hushed tones, equal parts excitement and anxiety. The veterans exchanged knowing smiles.
And then we were there – a thousand voices singing softly, countless palms outstretched. The Eucharist appeared, raised high, glowing from within as the spotlight followed it on its slow procession. And the tears came. The laughter, the shouts, and the cries. Our kids were swept with the Holy Spirit, and Christ was there — you could see it in their eyes. I looked from one face to the next, and oh, how I wanted to see what they were seeing.
Gimme a sign, Lord, I thought. Just a touch, a taste.
I could hear the priest’s voice ringing in my head, advising the chaperones: “Remember, this is for the kids.”
But your will, not mine, I added.
That night we sat in a wide circle on the grass. One by one the kids and the adults shared how Christ had manifested Himself, speaking their language, sharing with them exactly what they needed. When my turn came, I told them I’d felt jealous.
“I know I shouldn’t have felt that way, but I so badly wanted to experience what you were,” I said. “Finally I made my peace with the fact that this wasn’t my time — after that, it was just a joy to be with you all.”
And I told them I loved them.
On the bus home Sunday evening, we’re called to the mic at the front of the bus to share our final thoughts on the trip. I don’t know what I’ll say when my turn comes — I want badly to be light and funny, but leaving the youth group is weighing heavily on me.
“Tell us a college story!” someone shouts, and everyone laughs. I have a well-documented tendency to fall back on those stories — and to run long in the telling.
“No college stories,” I say. “What I want to tell you is something you’ve all heard before from me, lots of times. But I want you to really listen this time. I love you guys –”
“We love ya, too, Jim!” the girls in the back shout.
I stop a moment, shake my head: “Thanks, but guys, listen…”
I wait. The chorus of “love yas” slowly quiets.
“Listen to me. We have a tendency to say these things in a casual, off-hand manner like that, but I mean it. I love you. All of you. So much.”
The bus is quiet now.
“We goof around with that phrase all the time — either we don’t say it because it’s sappy or we’re afraid people might think we mean something we don’t, or whatever. Other times we say it offhand, like it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just something we say, right? Let’s not do that. Tonight, let’s take a minute to look at each other, to recognize each other for what we are — flawed human beings, and children of God. Let’s tell each other how we feel and mean it tonight.”
By the time we get back to St. Mike’s, Jodi and I have visited with nearly everyone on the bus, one on one. Even the chaperones have taken my speech to heart, and the bus is warm with affection.
The bus pulls into the church parking lot. A few cars are waiting there already, and a small knot of parents stand in the evening cool, talking quietly. The kids pile out of the bus, a tumble of sweatshirts, pillows and duffle bags, raucous from lack of sleep. Some hug their parents; some, each other. A few hug Jodi and me.
I shout above the din for the group to circle up, and invite the parents and bus driver to join us in a closing prayer. We join hands, and begin in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
“Guys,” I say, “I’m shaking again.”
I don’t know where to begin. I tip my head back and stare up into the heavens’ blackness, past countless twinkling stars.
“My God,” I say. “Look up there!”
My legs are trembling.
I begin: “Dear Lord Jesus, thank you. Thank you for the love in this circle tonight. Thank you for the experience of this weekend, for your love, for being there with us. For being here with us. Thank you for joyous laughter and cleansing tears. Fill us with your Spirit, Lord, that we may carry this feeling forward with us, and share it with everyone we meet.”
I ask if anyone has petitions. I’m still looking to the heavens. Ron and Josh, the boys on either side of mean, are squeezing my hands, and my legs continue to shake. There are petitions — for safe travel home, for the youth who couldn’t go to Steubenville, for the church, for sick loved ones, and for all the young people touched by God over the weekend. When the circle is silent, I’m out of breath. “You guys, I can’t stop shaking,” I say. Then I begin the Lord’s Prayer.
“Our Father, who art in heaven…”

The circle picks up the prayer, but my voice falters. The trembling in my legs hits my chest and spreads rapidly toward my fingertips. My head is back; tears are streaming past my ears, and my mouth is open as if to shout, but I can’t speak.

“You okay?” Ron says. He’s squeezing my hand tighter now. So is Josh.

A feeling like strength and power and pure joy arcs through me in waves, and I feel like I’m rising. The Lord’s Prayer complete, kids begin to laugh, shout and sing. The circle remains intact, however, and I manage a groan: “Guys!”

No one hears me. I can’t stop shaking — don’t want to — this feeling — incredible! I don’t know if I’m standing on the pavement or floating above it.

“Guuuys!” I rasp. “Pray! Don’t stop — pray!”

The new youth minister, Mianne, starts a Hail Mary.* I can barely hear them — the feeling is deep and resounding and intense and glorious.

My body is dissolving, except my hands, and I grip Josh and Ron more tightly.

Jesus. Lord Jesus. My God.

Mianne leads a second Hail Mary, and I’m coming down now. I’m laughing and sobbing as they finish the prayer. The circle is intact.

“You know,” I say, gasping for breath. “Remember…I said…I was jealous?…I’m not…anymore…I just…got mine.”

“Praise God!” says Mianne, and the circle cheers. I collapse on Ron and Josh — they are hugging me, and I tell them to hang on to me; I’m not sure I can stand.

Ron whispers in my ear: “What was that?” I look at him and see a knowing smile. “I could feel it,” he says. “Coming out from you. Could you feel it, Josh?”

He could. Ron leans close again, and whispers, “Dude, it felt like you were gonna lift off. We had to hold you down to keep you here.”


I don’t think most of the adults knew what was happening. The kids who were closest to me in the circle knew I’d felt something incredible — some of them had felt it, too — but Jodi, on the far side of the circle, had thought I was just “getting into it” a bit.

I pull her close and try to explain. As the kids begin to leave, we walk to a bench outside the church and pray together.

I pray for understanding. Already my skeptic’s brain is working — I’m exhausted, and have so much emotion invested in the group, etc., etc. Had to be adrenaline, or something.

No. You were touched. And another wave hits me — just one. I look at Jodi with tears in my eyes, smiling.

“Jodi,” I say. “I think I felt God tonight.”

She smiles, and continues to pray with me.

When we arrive at my parents where we’ll spend the night, my mom is waiting up. She asks how the trip was, and we tell her it was great. I’ve a strange look on my face, and when she notices I tell her I had an experience I want to share with her, but I’m not sure how. I tell her I want to sleep on it.

In the morning it’ll be gone, my skeptic’s mind says. Instantly, I begin to tremble, ecstasy and tears rising to the surface.

That night I held my wife until she was sound asleep, for possibly the first time in nearly seven years of marriage. Always before I’d been too warm, too tired, too uncomfortable. Too selfish.

I woke wondering how to explain to my mother, only recently back to the church, and my father, who claims to be atheist, that I’d come heart to heart with Christ. I was afraid they would think I’d finally cracked — I’ve always been an emotional, and sometimes dramatic, child. I lay awake for a while and imagine what they might say to convince me otherwise. In my head their arguments made sense, but each time my heart would rise up and another wave would crash down on me — strength, power and joy. In the shower. Over breakfast. Each time I tried to deny what had happened, or call it something it wasn’t, I would be overcome.

When I finally explained to my parents, I was trembling again, not from fear, but from conviction. When I finished, they didn’t question me or laugh. When I finished, I knew the truth — I had been touched by God. And with the same certainty, I knew I wouldn’t get that feeling again.

So far, I’ve been right. God doesn’t let us replace our faith with Truth, but fosters faith in Truth. My sign was mine alone, to believe or disbelieve, but as soon as I made my choice the sign itself was gone. I don’t tremble. I don’t float. I don’t spark anymore.
Only once in a while, I’ll brush up against it and get gooseflesh and tears — all that remains of that glorious feeling. The earthly things we enjoy — food, drink, sex — don’t come close. The greater joys — love for family and friends, spouse and children; memory; the beauty of life — these too fall short. All strength, all power and pure joy combined as…what?
Love. The love I’d preached to the youth group but never given before that night. A love without boundaries, infinite, founded on our deepest commonalities — we are alive, we are human and we need to love and be loved. A selfless, giving love that never ceases, and never dies.
Christ’s love.
I’d like to say I’m free now. I’d like to say that Christ touched my heart, and I sinned no more. But it hasn’t happened. Touching God didn’t make me perfect, any more than experiencing Truth means I don’t need faith. The good new is it’s harder now — harder to sin, and harder to bear it. The good news is I’m more aware now, and it matters to me. The good news is that love really is all we need.
The Good News is He is real, He is here, and He is love.
J. Thorp
29 Sept 03
*Accounts differ from my own on this point. Mianne told me afterward that we didn’t pray a Hail Mary as a group and suggested that must have been between me and Our Blessed Mother. The teens couldn’t recall for sure.

Called to the Light Through Confession

Not long after Jodi and I were married, I found myself sitting beside her at Mass with more questions than answers about why I was coming every week, but refusing to resume receiving the sacraments. I had been baptized Catholic as an infant, and had made my First Reconciliation and First Communion as a tween, but had not grown up in the faith. I had a few doubts, a dozen objections, and a hundred excuses — but fatherhood changes a guy, and I was struggling with the fact that what I loved about my wife (her strong and solid faith) I was as yet unwilling to commit to myself.

Our priest at St. Michael Catholic Church in Remus, Michigan, changed all that. I asked Fr. Bill if I could meet with him one evening, and we talked for a couple of hours or more. I dumped my doubts, issues, concerns, and questions in the middle of the floor of the rectory living room, and he helped me pick through them awhile. 
Finally he said, “Jim, you’ve got a good head on your shoulders. God gave you that brain, and he wants you to use it. But you aren’t going to find the answers to all your questions if you hold your faith away from you and examine it at a distance. You need to embrace it and look at it up close. You should consider going to confession and resume receiving the Eucharist.”

It sounded reasonable, so I thought I would consider it. “Okay,” I said, “Thank you, Father.”
He smiled. “If you like, I can hear your confession right now.”
“I dunno,” I said. “It’s been a long time…I don’t even remember how.”
“Don’t worry,” Fr. Bill said. “I can help you through it.”
After another half-hour or more, I floated home to my bride, a goofy smile on my face. I have not lived my faith perfectly in the days since that second “First” Confession, but I am always amazed at how wonderful it feels to receive God’s mercy through the sacrament of Reconciliation.
A couple weeks ago, a dear friend in Michigan sent me a copy of Faith magazine from the Diocese of Grand Rapids. On the cover was Fr. Bill, older and balding, but with the same kindly smile. The title of the article? “God is Madly in Love with You: Fr. Bill Zink and the Sacrament of Confession.” It’s a great reminder to practicing and fallen-away Catholics that God loves us — and a reassuring pledge that there is nothing to fear from this blessed sacrament. 
Read it and share it, if you feel called — and thank you, Father, for calling me back into the Light!

Farewell to Puck

Our new pup, circa 2002

We lost Puck today. At 13 years old, he was certainly not a young for a dog, but definitely not old for a Schnauzer. He had begun, in recent years, to sleep longer and run less, and earlier this fall, he had some teeth removed. At that time, the vet said his blood work was clean and extolled how healthy he seemed for his age, but warned that at this stage in a dog’s life, anything can happen.

And it did. Over a matter of weeks, Puck went from old to frail. He never complained, but slept more, ate less, and stayed closer to the house and us. He was slower on the stairs and slower to respond to our calls and whistles. Then a few days ago, he lost his balance and struggled to stand. Our other dog, Boomer, had done this several times in his old age — he would usually sleep for the better part of a couple of days, then be up and around again. Only Puck didn’t recover.

He was 13, and our kids are age 16 to 2, so he’s been a part of the family for as long as they can remember. We miss him.

Puck, all Christmased out.

We got Puck from a Schnauzer breeder on an old farmstead in rural Michigan. I wanted another dog — a smaller, indoor pet, since Boomer was big, woolly, and hated being inside. Jodi is not a dog person, but gave in to my persistence and the boys’ pestering. (Or was it vice versa?) He was an adorable pup (my Dziadzi — Polish for grandpa — was not overfond of our Airdales, but looked at our Schnauzer and said, “Now that’s a dog!”), and full of curiosity and mischief. I was struggling to come up with a name that reflected both his Germanic roots and his personality, and my choices were getting more and more outlandish. At one point, the name Wolfgang came to mind. I had Mozart on the brain, but was freely associating, and thought of the chef, Wolfgang Puck, then of the Shakespeare character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I looked at our impish pup, and the name fit. (Of course, only later did I discover how a grown man shouting, “Puck!” out the back door sounded to the neighbors, or how many Minnesotans would instantly assume I was a hockey fan.)

Steamy summer roadtrip…

He’s always been an easy keeper and a good traveler. In fact, the only trouble he’s ever been came from a tendency in his younger days to know exactly when we were preoccupied by something else and high-tail it around the neighborhood. During the day, he would turn up in someone’s garage, or walk in through their front door with their kids, and they’d look at his collar and call. At night, he’d run yard to yard, and I’d drive with my head out the window, listening for jingling dog-tags or a neighbor dog in an uproar, trying to catch up to him.

After Boomer passed, Puck no longer wanted us to travel anyplace without him. If he sensed even a hint that we were preparing for something longer than a day trip, he would look for an opening, jump into the van, climb as far back in as he could, and refuse to come out unless I removed him. He would lay in whatever open space he could find in our overstuffed minivan, never bothered the kids when they were eating, and was content to sleep in the vehicle, in garages, in tents, wherever, as long as he could come with us. On cold winter nights, he would curl up under my old Carhartt jacket, head and all, and be there in the morning, ready to greet the frosty dawn.

He loved dog biscuits and pop corn and being scratched above the collar bone, beneath the collar. He used to love chasing tennis balls, but only in the house. He never liked to be picked up or manhandled — I could do what I wanted (he would even roughhouse a bit with me), but he only tolerated Jodi or Brendan lifting him, and nobody else. In recent years, he tended to get out of traffic when little kids were around. He tolerated other known dogs, but strays drove him berserk. Cats made him quiver with nervous energy; he was never quite sure whether he was supposed to chase them or not, and they seemed to relish his uncertainty and rub it in his face.

The old man, a couple weeks ago.

When we told the kids last night that it might be his last, we recalled three other special memories. Jodi remembered how our little ones, especially Lily, bonded with Puck by dropping food from their highchairs, and when they realized he was eating it, making a game of it. I remember him shifting from front foot to front foot and softly ruffing at us when he thought we were paying too much attention to baby Lily and not enough to him.

I also remember how perceptive he could be. He had a habit of sidling up to whomever he thought was most likely to pet or snuggle him — he would sit on your toes, even, or thrust his soft gray head up under your hand. But when we lost little Jude, I remember him insisting that I pet him as I lay on the couch or the bed, quiet and sorrowful. He nudged, prodded, cajoled, as if to say, C’mon…better days are ahead!

And he was right.

Goodbye, old man. Good dog.

Rosa Comes Home

Look who’s back!

When Jodi and I first moved to Minnesota, I wanted a pickup to help with the move. We had a couple thousand dollars to spend, which won’t get you much unless, it turns out, you go “classic” — then it will get you a project truck. I’m not particularly gifted as a mechanic, but with Dad’s help, I figured we could get into something basic and make it roadworthy.

We found a ’66 Ford F-100 with a 240 straight six and three-on-the-tree — a ranch truck, “farm fresh” from Texas. The back bumper is heavy steel stamped with the dealer name: Kozelski Mtrs. West, Texas. The chrome brush guard on the front reads Smash Hit, Waco, Texas (with a lightning bolt between the Hs), and in the back window is a sunbleached sticker for 99.5 KBMA “La Fabulosa” Bryan-College Station. It had originally come to Michigan as a project truck for a father and son who had never quite gotten to it. The body and engine were solid, the electrical system and gauges were marginal, and the shift lever was inserted through a wallowed-out hole in the steering column and “secured” by a filed-down mini screwdriver that served as a pin. As you drove, the makeshift pin would sometime vibrate out, which led to a momentary thrill when the lever came off in your hand mid-shift.

We fixed it up well enough to drive it to Minnesota with a chest freezer full of beef in the back. We hauled whatever needed hauling around here for a year or so, and parked it during the winter so as to avoid getting road salt on a 40-plus-year-old body that had only two tiny rust perforations. It was a three-season vehicle only I would drive; we couldn’t fit it in the garage, and couldn’t afford to store it — so finally, we put it on Craigslist. Dad urged me not to do it. “You’ll never find another one like, and you’ll wish you had it back some day — I know from experience.”

I was only trying to get my money back out of it, but there were no takers. I thought about dropping the price. Then one afternoon, Dad called to make me a deal. He wanted to buy the pickup. He would pay us in beef over the next few years. He would take the pickup back to Michigan, drive it only during the summers, and “someday when I’m gone,” he said, “you can have it back.”

I signed the title over to him, and we were well supplied with meat.

About a year ago, I saw the old pickup again and told Dad I was glad he hadn’t let me sell it. He mentioned that if I wanted it back, I could have it — but he’d only sign back over if I promised not to sell it. This winter we shook on that deal, and today, the old girl came back home to Minnesota.

The journey back was a father-son road trip for Gabe and me — we took two days, traveling north from my folks’ place, over the Mackinac Bridge, then west across the Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin on US 2 and US 8. No more than we got on the highway, fellow motorists started rubbernecking as they passed. The old timers gave us thumbs-up or nods of approval. We stopped at a few antique shops and got a few compliments and one not-so-subtle hint that we should consider selling. We speculated that the big shiny pickups roaring past us on the highways would not still be running in 50 years. Our pickup ran like a champ the entire trip, with only three minor challenges and one momentary thrill:

  • The gauges don’t work. The gas gauge never registers more than half full, and may or may not register empty — that, coupled with an odometer that registers 7/10 to 8/10 of a mile for every actual mile traveled makes judging when to fill up a challenge. Solution? Fill up frequently. The speedometer doesn’t work — but wouldn’t you know, there’s an app for that, using your smartphone’s GPS to tell you exactly how fast your moving and in what direction.
  • The doors don’t lock — which meant I carried a backpack with me wherever we went rather than leave anything of value unattended.
  • The wipers seemed to have a mind of their own. During an Upper Peninsula downpour, they worked great — but a few hours later, when we were thinking of stopping for the night, they quit just as the rain started. Coincidentally, we had just spotted a likely looking motel, so we pulled in. This morning, they worked fine — maybe the old truck was ready to turn in, too?
  • Old-school drum brakes needed polishing? If you have driven an old vehicle, with drum brakes that aren’t somehow power-assisted, they take some getting used to, and you’re wise to give yourself a little more distance to come to a stop. When a line of cars in front of me came to a quick stop behind a vehicle turning left, I had to get on the brakes hard — and the truck pulled sharply toward the shoulder, causing the tired to howl angrily and me, Gabe, and driver in front of me a moment’s panic. Later I tried the same hard stop in a more controlled and traffic-free environment — it pulled hard to the left once, then began stopping more effectively. Little rusty, perhaps?

Dad sent us home with a wooden duck decoy he’s hoping one of the kids will repaint. The duck sat on the dash, and whenever one of us predicted something unfortunate about the truck or the trip, Gabe would knock on the only wood available — earning the decoy the moniker “Lucky Duck.” As for the old truck: she’s never had a name, but given her border town roots and faded red paint, I dubbed her Rosa. Gabe thought immediately of his sister (whom I sometimes call Rosa) and then of her patron saint, Rose of Lima — he began to call the truck “Santa Rosa de Lima” (or more accurately in Gabe-speak, “Santarosadelima!” But for me, she’ll always be La Fabulosa. Bienvenidos, chica.

Rosa La Fabulosa: Thanks for keeping her for me, Dad!