In honor of a few friends who are participating in Chevy's South by Southwest Confernece roadtrip challenge, I will tell you the humorous tale of the last true road trip I took with Gumpy. In case you want to know more about the roadtrip challenge, you can learn more at Team Detroit's website or by following the #DETChevySXSW hashtag on Twitter. They're having fun I tell ya!
The winter after Gumpy was told he had pancreatic cancer, he decided he still wanted to go back down to Port Charlotte, FL to spend the winter. There was a ton of coordination needed for this to happen successfully and Ema was certainly busy. Getting visits scheduled with his doctor down there, arrainging for in-home physical therapy and scheduling the visiting nurses to come check on his intraveinous port were only the tip of the iceburg. Ema did it without complaint.
Part of the reason he was so weak was a blood infection he developed before they were scheduled to leave. The chemotherapy and radiation had stopped the tumor growth while almost destroying the man. He had congestive heart failure after a bleeding incident that landed him in the hospital that August for almost two weeks. He would tell you that his body was in a weakened condition but his fighting spirit was not.
My grandparents always made it a point to be home by before the Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival the last full weekend in April. And Gumpy loved making the drive home. We never discussed why, but I know I love the funny little things that happen on roadtrips. The scenery in this country can be breathtaking and there is an uncertainty about a trip that appeals to me. I like to think those were the reasons Gumpy liked roadtrips too.
Anyway, it was somehow decided that I would drive them home that year. Gumpy was too weak to drive and Ema would have too much to manage with driving a grumpy Gumpy. So I flew to Fort Meyers where my grandparents picked me up, we went to dinner at Bob Evans and I started packing their Buick Rendezouz. I mention the packing because that is always a chore. In an effort to not be wasteful, my grandmother likes to haul things back and forth from Vermontville to Port Charlotte. This step is always the most painstaking in the journey because we never have enough room for everything we need to bring home. Ever.
The next morning with a packed car and a summerized park model trailer, we hit I-75 for home. Gumpy was always a masterful backseat driver. There was never any question in your mind that he was perfectly in tune with everything you were doing behind the wheel because of his constent stream of comments. When he was in good health, I was usually immune to such chatter but he was not feeling well and had been unable to drive for almost a full year so he backseat drove with reckless abandon. Mostly about my penchant to do the speed limit on the interstate. I feel it is highly important bordering on necessary to be going the speed limit. He did not. Our ensuing discussion was resolved when I reminded him that I had the car keys and could run faster than he could if needed.
Which brought us to lunch at the great American classic eatery Bob Evans. Gumpy loved that place. Usually he would order the fried mush, but he decided to repeat his choice from the previous night which was sausuage gravy and biscuits. His appetite was as strong as ever and he plowed through his lunch like a warm knife through butter. This would normally be unremarkable except he decided that he wanted to go to Bob Evans for dinner. He started about 4:30 by saying at every exit, "I think there's a Bob Evans at this exit." When we would pass the exit with no sign of his resturant, he would usually say something like, "Balls. Well, maybe there's one at the next exit." This cycle repeated itself for what seemed like an eternity.
Remarkably, there were no Bob Evans resturants in Atlanta. In fact, there were none in the entire state of Georgia. I found this out by placing a frantic call to my sister at 5:30 in the afternoon to inform her that she better go online and find me a Bob Evans or she would need a new brother. She helped anyway. To my chagrin, she told me that the next Bob Evans would not come until we were in Kentucky, a full days drive away. So we decided to stop at the next best thing, which was a Cracker Barrel. And he ordered the sausage gravy and biscuits again!
Gumpy had lost so much weight during his cancer treatments and ensuing infections that we all hated to discourage eating. At one point, his oncologist told us to forget his diabetes and just feed him a lot of whatever he wanted to eat. Ema and I hated to discourage his food choice for the third meal in a row, but we were both a little concerned about the consequences. Fortunately, after we found a hotel to spend the night at, our concerns proved to have no merit and he slept soundly.
However the next night we were not so fortunate. You see, our breakfast that morning took us to another Cracker Barrel because Gumpy insisted on a good country breakfast. Which consisted of sausage gravy and bisciuts. Again! For lunch, Ema and I refused to stop anywhere that might serve his favorite meal. When we stopped in Troy, OH for the night, we found yet another Bob Evans. And again, Gumpy ate the sausage gravy and busciuts. For five meals in three days, sausage gravy and buscuits. We knew something had to give. And it did.
In order to save a little cash coming home (or to be frugal as Ema would say), we all shared a hotel room. I had insisted on staying somewhere decent on the second night so I could sleep without cramping up. The trip was exhausting for all of us, so we were in bed pretty early that night. After a few hours of sleep, I heard Ema trying to wake Gumpy up and could here the most horrible sounding passing of gas you could imagine. His diet finally caught up with him with such voracity that none of us got much more sleep.
The drive to Vermontville was mercifly short that day. Much of the drive was completed with the windows open so we would not be asphixiated by the noxious fumes of Gumpy. When we arrived at the farm that afternoon, I was ready for my ride back to Detroit. I was tired, a little cross, full of good stories, unsolicited advise and a few more memories I will always cherish.