Goodbye, Dad

On Sunday, February the 27th while the rest of the world went about its business, I, along with no small number of other people mourned the loss of a truly great man. That man was my father, Ralph Evans. For those who didn’t have the privilege of knowing him, I will attempt, as best I can, to illustrate what made him such an amazing person, beloved by so many.

First a little background; my parents divorced when I was quite young, Dad remarried when I was four years old and remained (very happily) married until he passed away, nearly 35 years. Dad and my step-mother had two daughters and I always felt that I was blessed to have two mothers and two sisters; plus, getting to celebrate Christmas twice definitely had its advantages. Despite geographic distance and not getting to spend as much time together as either of us would have liked, my Dad had a tremendous influence on me. My father truly was, and will always be my biggest hero and role model.

He was a man whose actions and deeds spoke of a purity of character few can hope to achieve. Dad’s life was filled with medical emergencies and brushes with death, but throughout these and his final battle his faith and sense of humor were indomitable. In 1985 my father was in the hospital, near death. For days he had been delirious with fever, not recognizing anyone and hallucinating. I rushed to be with him and when he regained consciousness and awareness the first thing he said to me was “Hi Greg! How’s your leg?” Asking me about my (relatively) trivial injury while facing down death; that typified my father’s care and concern for others above himself.

One of my father’s great passions in life was fishing, for as long as I can remember his bass boat was very dear and precious to him. One night he and a couple of his fishing buddies were launching his boat when a Coleman lantern fell over and spilled, setting fire to the boat. The boat was a complete loss, but that didn’t deter my father, it just meant they had to fish from the bank. The next morning a ranger came looking for him, at first he thought it concerned the boat fire, but no, there was an urgent phone call for him. His father (my Grandfather) had passed away. When my dad retold the story of that fateful night, he could amazingly see the silver lining to the situation. If the boat hadn’t burned, he would have been out on the lake and the rangers couldn’t have found him. That typified my father’s incredibly positive outlook on life.

My father was quick with a joke, a smile, or a kind word; whatever the situation warranted.

Dad, I’m sorry I couldn’t articulate my love and admiration for you better at the funeral, but I know it doesn’t matter; everyone there was fortunate enough to have known you or to have somehow had their lives touched by you and that is truly a blessing. I’m sorry for the millions of people who didn’t know you and didn’t have the opportunity to see the incredible light and beauty of your spirit.

I’m sure the fish will be biting when I join you on that big bass boat in the sky, so save me a pole and a seat in the back of the boat. I love you Dad, I couldn’t have asked for a better father.

Travelogue Part 7, the final leg (Or, “That Damned Cat”)

Upon arriving back at Mom’s house in Indianapolis, I received a very warm welcome from my mother and her two kittens. My cat had elected to be sequestered in a room by herself, having decided she wanted no part of anything involving kittens or any people who weren’t me. Cali (Caldonia if she’s misbehaving) had a lot to tell me. Either she was extremely happy to see me, or she thought she’d been abducted by aliens, it all sounds the same to me.

Anyway, after much kitty-petting, socializing with Mom, tamale eating, and a good night’s sleep it was again time to hit the road. The cat seemed happy when she saw that I was gathering not only my things, but hers as well. I took this as a sign that she would behave herself for the drive home, as she had done for the drive to Mom’s. After loading my bikes, clothes, cd’s, assorted accoutrements, the cat’s food and toys, and 10 dozen tamales (sharing ain’t all it’s cracked up to be) I came for the cat. She was quite docile about going into the carrier, which I took as another good sign. She started to meow, (or more accurately to howl) as I carried her to the car, but this wasn’t a point of too much concern, she had done this before but had quieted down fairly quickly once we got in the car.

I don’t know if it was because it was dark (unlike the trip coming) or if it was because she was still freaked out about being left for 2 weeks+ with two somewhat obnoxious (but thoroughly adorable) kittens, but whatever the case, she was inconsolable – howling, panting, and just generally caterwauling non-stop. I thought that if I opened the carrier (aka cage) and petted her, she would calm down (as she had done previously). This was not to be, however. Instead she immediately made a bee-line under my seat, where she continued to serenade/berate me as loudly as possible. You would think I was torturing the poor thing, from the sound of it. Upon realizing that I couldn’t simultaneously reach under the seat to pet and comfort the cat and see the road, I opted to put on a CD, turn the volume up loud enough to drown out her impassioned howling, and make haste getting home. During the brief pauses between songs, I tried to calmly reassure her (through gritted teeth) that we would be home soon.

Indeed we were home soon but she had apparently decided that she was going to take up permanent residence under the seat. “Fine”, I thought. “I’ll carry in a load of stuff; a few minutes alone in a cold car should change her mind”. Upon my return, she was still hiding under the seat. I attempted to extract her from the front of the seat, which proved quite impossible. I’m not sure how she managed to squeeze under in the first place. Thankfully the space under the rear of the seat is larger and I was able to drag her out. She didn’t put up a struggle as I re-inserted her into her carrier, though she did resume howling as I carried her inside.

As soon as we got inside and I let her out, she was transformed. It was as though nothing had happened at all; business as usual in kitty-land.

If only I, too, could go from total screaming freak-out to docile tranquility so readily, life would be so much easier.

Travelogue Part 6, the Trip back to Indianapolis (Or, “Thank You, Officer!”),

So, it was with a heavy heart and 20 dozen tamales packed in styrofoam coolers that I left Midland, on my way to Mom’s house in Indianapolis to pick up my cat and part with some of my beloved tamales before the short jaunt from there back to Ohio. I was a bit concerned that I was leaving several hours later than I had planned and that shortly after awakening I felt as though I hadn’t had enough sleep. No worries, though; after all, sleep is for sissies!

Having renewed my vow never to return to the state of Oklahoma, my chosen return route was; Fort Worth, Dallas, Texarkana, Little Rock, West Memphis, then north along the Mississipi river on I-55, across the SE corner of Missouri, to I-57 into and across Illinois, to I-70, then through Terre Haute, and on to Indianapolis.

I was quickly approaching Fort Worth and making very good time. A group of trucks seemed a little too eager to move aside and let me pass, but I chose to ignore the alarm that this sounded in the back of my mind. A little while later, I’m about 5 miles west of Ranger, Texas (Not to be confused with “Walker, Texas Ranger”, the worst TV show ever made. Well one of them, anyway.) when I crest a small rise while passing another group of slower traffic. As soon as I come over the top of the hill, “Shit!” the median just ahead comes to life with headlights and flashing blue lights. I glance at the speedometer, which is now swinging down toward 80 (the posted limit was 65) as I signal my lane change back to the right, frantically hoping it’s not me he’s after. Alas, there is no one else, it has to be me. I’m filled with a heart-pumping, sick to my stomach rush of adrenaline, but I can’t help smiling just a bit as my mind replays the tape of Johhny Depp as Hunter S. Thompson in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” saying:

Few people understand the psychology of dealing with a highway traffic cop. Your normal speeder will immediately panic and pull over to the side. This is wrong. It arouses contempt in the cop heart. Make the bastard chase you, he will follow.

Ignoring the good Doctor’s words, I immediately panicked and pulled to the side. Texas Highway Patrol officers don’t mince words, as soon as he stepped up to the passenger’s side window he told me who he was and why was stopping me.

Texas Highway Patrol. I pulled you over for exceeding the posted speed limit.

Of course, I’m very contrite and apologetic, explaining that I’ve had to leave my father, who’s very ill, back in Midland and that I guess I was a little distracted and got to going faster than I intended. You know, basically pleading for mercy without coming right and begging (and not really expecting it to work). He asks for my license and proof of insurance. I promptly hand over my license but can only find expired insurance cards. He suggests I continue to look while he checks my license. When he reapproaches the window he asks, “Did you find that?”
“Yes sir, it’s right here”, I reply, shakily handing the current insurance card over.
He glances at it, hands it back, then reaches back in with the dreaded pad and pen. I am positively dumbstruck as he tells me that he’s giving me a written warning, I feel as though I’m having some sort of out of body experience. I sign where he tells me, and hand it back saying, “Thank you, officer.” I’ve never uttered those words with more conviction in my life… I really meant it.
He tells me to be safe and keep my speed down, then sends me on my way.

I’m not sure if it was divine intervention, mercy on his part, or dumb luck (perhaps brought on by the figure of Señor Misterioso glowing atop my dashboard), to which I owe this good fortune, but believe you me, I am immensely grateful and thankful.

Travelogue Part 5 (or, “The ‘Race'”)

So, my Brother-in-law Danny has this Camaro. It’s a 3rd Gen (1982-92) model of indeterminate year(s), painted 2004-5 Corvette ‘Le Mans Blue’. For the first week+ of my visit it had been in the shop. One day, Danny comes by Dad’s, positively aglow; he got his car back! He asks if I’d like to go for a ride. My Sister (bless her heart) says that she thinks I’ve been wanting to drive it. Amazingly, he hands me the keys, asks Zac, my 8 year old nephew if he wants to go (of course he does!), and off we go.

First of all, I love the exhaust note. Not many things sound better to these ears than a built small block chevy with a good set of pipes. Even with catalytic converters, this car just sings (in a lusty, rumbling sort of way). We’re tooling down Midland Drive, and Danny suggests that at the next light I should put it to the floor when the light turns green. I don’t think he realized at this point that there was a new Corvette the exact same color as his car right behind us. Anyway… the light turns green, I stomp the gas, and the Camaro surges forward, the cam timing is still a little off, so it bogs down a bit at first, then clears its throat and pushes me hard back into my seat. We quickly come up on slower traffic, and as I’m about to pass, the Corvette, apparently upset by this display of power, is swinging out from behind us and coming around. He’s not leaving us behind though, and now that the Camaro has caught up with the fuel supply we’re hanging with him. Then we both spot the cop, ease off the gas and put on our best choir-boy faces. At the next light we’re beside the Vette, Danny and I both smile and wave, then I turn right, back toward the casa. Danny’s pleased with how well his car measured up to Vette, especially considering the Corvette’s ~$50K price tag.

Upon our arrival, our little backseat passenger runs into the house, shouting excitedly to everone about how we raced a Corvette, leaving us, the two uncles, attempting to explain that it really wasn’t like that at all. The good news is, no one was (too) upset with us, no one got a ticket, and now my nephew has a great story to tell all his friends about going out ‘drag racing’ with his two cool uncles.

Travelogue Part 4 (or, “Oops!”)

So, the second weekend of my visit I had the fine pleasure of attending my 8 year old nephew’s basketball game, which really was great fun. Afterwards we (my two sisters, their husbands, the two nephews, and myself) go out to eat. I’m excited when they tell me we’re going to a Mexican restaurant, but wary and suspicious when they begin to sing the praises of the fajitas. We find a table and sit, it’s a nice enough place, but I’m still dubious of its, shall we say, authenticity. My suspicions are confirmed when the chips and salsa arrive. The salsa is the blandest I’ve ever tasted, they have spicier salsa in Ohio, for Heaven’s sake! Anyway, I get my huevos con chorizo (eggs with Mexican sausage) and it’s tasty, although also a little bland for my taste. I ask the waiter for some hot sauce, and he looks at me like I’ve just stepped from the mothership, then brings me another bowl of their flavorless “salsa”. I patiently explain that this is not what I was wanting, and he says, “You mean like Tabasco?”
“Yes, exactly like Tabasco, that would be great.”
He brings it, I apply it liberally and all is well. The food is quite good, it just needed a little pick-me-up.

The true comedy didn’t arrive until after our meal. My brother-in-law (whom I won’t name, to spare him further embarrassment) gets up to go visit the restroom. Quite some time passes and he hasn’t come back. My sister suggests that perhaps my nephew should go check on him. Brother-in-law #2 nixes this idea, saying; “He’s a big boy, he’s been using the bathroom by himself for 30 years, I’m sure he’s got it under control”.

As it turns out, this was not the case. He had gone into a stall, taken care of his business, then as he was washing his hands someone else walked in and disappeared into a stall. He got to thinking “Hmm… that looked like a woman…” Upon exiting the bathroom and looking at the sign on the door, he realized he had, in fact, been in the wrong bathroom (for, let us not forget, quite some time).

That was his first mistake. Telling us all of his folly was his second. So, Mr. Brother-in-law, if you’re reading this… Ha ha! Oh, and thanks for lunch!

If this were a TV (or radio) show, at this point they would cue “Ladies Room” by KISS and fade to commercial.

Travelogue Part 3 (or; “Hot tamales!!!”)

So, I arrived safe and sound in Midland. One of the first things I asked the family about was Bernard’s, a tortilla and tamale factory which sells (in my estimation) the world’s best tamales. No one knew if it was in the same place or even if they were still in business.

Sitting around with my Dad a few days later, he asks if I want to go for a ride. “Sure,” says I, and off we go. I’m just driving aimlessly, we swing by the house where I grew up, which was really quite sad; the neighborhood has taken a definate turn for the worse during the roughly 16 years since I last saw it. My boyhood home looks very weary and run-down and the Elm trees that once lined the streets are all gone, victims of Dutch Elm Disease, apparently.

As we wander through the downtown area, which is still surprisingly familiar, despite an abundance of ‘new’ buildings, I remark that it seems as though Bernard’s wasn’t too far from where we are. Dad agrees and asks if I want to try to find it. “Yes I do!” Now we have a mission! Dad seems unsure that he can actually find it, but then directs me right to it. Amazingly, it looks exactly the way I remember it! Stepping inside nothing has changed, it’s as though I’ve walked through a portal back in time. I can practically see myself, 10 years old, waiting nervously beside my Grandmother while they ring up our tamales.

Then came an even bigger shock, Mrs. Bernard, who was an old lady back way back when, in my youthful eyes, is still there! Of course, she’s older now, but unmistakably the same lady. The whole experience is so overwhelming, I literally am briefly reduced to a nervous 10 year old. “Un docena tamales, por favor”, the words tumble out, automatically, and even as I’m handing her my money I realize that this is not nearly enough tamales.

With my deliciously fragrant bundle in hand, I rejoin Dad in the car. I’m beaming, glowing… I’ve been dreaming of Bernard’s tamales for so long. Our mission now accomplished, we head back to the house. It’s all I can do to keep out of the tamales until we arrive, but unwrapping and eating greasy tamales while driving a stick shift would be a messy proposition.

The tamales are everything I’d hoped for. Spicy enough to make you sweat a little, just the right masa to meat ratio, and just fantastically; sinfully good. Of course now I have to have more, and finding coolers to load full of tamales and bring back becomes a top priority.

So anyway, If you like real Mexican food and you ever find yourself in Midland, Texas, stop at:

Bernard’s Tortilla Factory
511 N Tyler St.
Midland, Texas

Trust me, you won’t be sorry.

Travelogue, part 2 (or, “Thank God; it’s Texas!”)

So… as I’m finally starting to see the metaphoric light at the end of the tunnel (the rapidly approaching Texas border), I decide this is the time to check out the mysterious cassette tape I found in one of my bags as I was packing. As best as I can figure this (unlabeled) mix tape has been lurking, unseen and forgotten for 12-15 years. Popping it in I’m pleased with the sound quality and the tunes are an interesting window to my past. As I make my way to within 10 miles of Texas, a Stevie Ray Vaughan song comes on. I think to myself, “well, almost perfect timing, anyway…”, then another SRV tune blares forth, then another, and the next thing you know, I’m crossing into Texas, listening to some butt-kicking Texas blues-rock. Life is good and Oklahoma is in my rearview mirror.

I roll into Wichita Falls, Texas a short time later and stop for gas. Surveying the beverage selection in the cooler I decide I want something other than Coke. Hmmm… Dr. Pepper! I don’t know why, but that’s what I want. I pay the man and rocket back into the darkness. As I crack open my Dr. Pepper and take a sip I’m overwhelmed by a rush of memories. Childhood memories of being on roads just like this one, drinking Dr. Pepper, riding with Dad, heading out for a fishing trip. Just then, streaking across the sky, I see a shooting star leaving a shimmering, glittering trail of sparks in its wake. Welcome back to Texas, Greg. Welcome home son.

I had figured I’d be rolling into Abilene around dawn, but had neglected to take into account my westward direction, the Earth’s curvature and the inherent difference in the time of the sunrise. So, I go by Abilene and onto I-20 in the dark, heading West; the home-stretch, only a little over 2 hours to go! As you approach Sweetwater, Texas, there’s a bit of a rise that you crest, then Sweetwater is spread out before you. As I crest this hill, the sky is just starting to get some color and the twinkling lights of Sweetwater (My father’s boyhood home, his dear departed parents’ home, and a frequent fishing destination of ours in my youth) are like jewels on the horizon… a breathtaking tableau.

I roll into Midland (my birthplace and home through the 7th grade) around 9:30am EST,
just under 19 hours after departing Indianpolis, Indiana, some 1200 miles away. Not bad considering the wasted hour in “the bad place” (Oklahoma).

And that was my trip back home to see my Dad, stay tuned for the low-down on my trip back “home”, which more than likely will not include Oklahoma.