100,000 Miles on Rosalita

Back on New Year’s Eve 2015 I bought my little Ford Fiesta, Rosalita Ipswich O’Molenovich. Today she reached 100,000 miles on the odometer. I found myself tearing up – thinking back to all the adventures Rosalita and I have shared in the last five years, and all the memories that are packed inside my little car. Rosalita still has the red scrapes from the times we shoved Mom’s red walker into her hatch. I can still picture my centenarian father (Dee Molenaar) sitting in the passenger seat, his head turning as he took in the scenes on our drives together. I remember taking Dad up to Mount Rainier in Rosalita, and the adventure Dad and I had going to the Big Four Inn (see the story below).

Thank you, Rosalita, for helping me care for my parents. Thank you for helping me get Mom and Dad to doctor’s appointments, and epic celebrations. You’ve done well, little one.
-Karen Molenaar Terrell

Here’s an excerpt from Are You Taking Me Home Now?: Adventures with Dad:

August 27, 2018

I stop by to see Dad while I’m in town on an errand. My plan is to take him for a quick drive to get him a root beer float, if he’s up for it. He says that sounds like a good idea. Meagan puts his alpine hat on his head, gets him in his sweater, and puts shoes on his feet. He is still wearing his pajama bottoms. That puts a smile on my face. I tell him he is a fashion plate. Meagan points out that Dad can actually pull this look off, and I have to agree.

When we get in the car Dad asks, again, where we are going. 

Karen: I thought we’d take a quick drive and I’d get you a root beer float. 

Dad: That sounds good. But what I’d really like to do is go to the Big Four Inn.

The Big Four Inn would be a major trip. I hadn’t planned on this today. But… Dad has been mentioning the Big Four Inn for a year now. Maybe two. I’ve always managed to brush this idea off, and suggest we do it another time. But… this might be our last drive before I start another school year. And I don’t really have anything else planned for today – and there’s nothing else I really want to do with my day. So. Maybe. Maybe today we’ll drive to the Big Four Inn – or to where the Big Four Inn used to be before it burned down. I’m going to think about this on my way to Big Sisters Espresso for Dad’s root beer float.

As we’re driving through town…

Dad: We used to dance in that building on the left. On the second floor. We’d come down from the Big Four Inn and dance there. 

Karen: Do you like to dance?

Dad: I’m not very good at it. I started too late. All my friends used to go dancing every Saturday in Los Angeles. I didn’t. (Thinking.) Do you like to dance?

Karen: Yes! You used to dance with me when I was a little girl.

Dad: (Smiling.) Did I?

Karen: (Remembering.) Yes. You’d pick me up and dance with me. I loved dancing with you.

Dad: I love doing everything with you.

As we head out of town…

Dad: This isn’t heading towards the mountains.

Karen: I’m going to get you a root beer float first and figure out how to get there.

When we get to the Sisters Espresso, I order Dad his root beer float. As I’m waiting for the float, my neighbor and friend, Denice, shows up. Denice is a mountain woman, too. It occurs to me that she might know how to get to The Mountain Loop Highway.

Karen: Hey Denice, the sons and I used to go hiking along The Mountain Loop Highway all the time when they were growing up – but I can’t remember how to get there anymore. Do you know how to get on The Mountain Loop Highway?

(And sure enough, Denice knows exactly how to get there! She quickly gets out her phone, taps in some words, and reads me the directions.)

Root beer float in Dad’s hand, Dad and I head out for The Mountain Loop Highway.

Dad: Are we going to the Big Four Inn now?

Karen: Yup!

I head east up the South Skagit Highway. I am feeling a happy, blissful freedom as we travel along the Skagit River, through maple trees and cedars. I am on another adventure with Dad.

Dad is observing our route…

Dad: The old route was on the other side of the river. (He’s right.)

A little later…

Dad: Now we’re going to cross over the river and get on the other side of it. (He’s still right.)

At one point I stop to take a picture of the river and I snap a quick photo of the sedimentary layers in the cliff next to the road. Dad has noticed the layers, too…

Dad: You see that white layer there? I think that’s ash from a volcanic eruption…

When we get to the Darrington Ranger Station I stop to take a little break. I ask Dad if he wants to get out of the car and he says yes – he wants to go into the Ranger Station and look at maps.

Dad: (As he struggles to get out of the car, laughing…) I wonder if the rangers can see me trying to get out of the car. This doesn’t look very good.

Karen: (Laughing.) Don’t worry about it!

We manage to get into the ranger station and I help Dad over to the big 3D map in the corner. I position a chair for him if he needs to sit down while I use the restroom. When I come out he’s sitting in the chair next to the map, talking with the ranger ladies. He’s already asked them about the Big Four Inn, and Erika is looking at Big Four Inn postcards with him. I buy the cards for Dad (25 cents apiece) and ask the rangers how to get to the Big four Inn. I’ll need to go straight through Darrington, they tell me, and follow The Mountain Loop Highway – at some point it’ll turn into a gravel road – and somewhere on the other side of the gravel road we’ll pass the field where the Big Four Inn used to be.

Erika has been enjoying Dad and his stories. She confides in me that her great-aunt lived to be 106 – she passed on just last spring. I let Dad know that Erika’s great-aunt was 106. Dad nods and says he’s just a kid. Erika says that her great-aunt just started using a walker in the last year or two before she died. I tell her Dad doesn’t like to use his walker. He can be pretty stubborn about not using it. Erika smiles and says her aunt could be stubborn, too. I observe that’s probably why she lived so long, and why my Dad is still alive at 100. Erika laughs and agrees.

I turn to help Dad out to the car, and he wants none of it. The ranger ladies are watching.

Dad: No. Don’t help me! I’m not a cripple. I can walk on my own!

Karen: Okay, Daddy. (I keep my arms ready to catch him if he falls, but he manages to get himself to the car on his own. He is a stubborn Dutchman. He is also my hero.) 

We drive into Darrington and I stop for gas.

Dad: Where are we? 

Karen: Darrington.

Dad: (Looking around him in wonder.) Darrington. I’ll be damned. Darrington.

Karen: (Pointing to the Mountain Loop Road sign.) The Mountain Loop Road.

Dad: (Nodding.) Yeah. The Mountain Loop Road.

The road becomes narrow at spots – but every time there’s a car coming from the opposite direction there always happens to be a place for me to pull over.

Dad: You’re a good mountain driver. (Thinking.) It’s nice to come up here when there are roads to travel on. This used to just be a trail. (A little further…) It’s nice to finally be back here. I never dreamed that one day I’d be back here as an old man with my daughter driving me in her own car. (Thinking.) All the rangers at that ranger station were women. Women are fighting for their rights. I don’t blame them. (More thinking.) It’s hard to drive with all the shadows on the road – hard to see the ruts.

The road becomes more primitive now – in places there are ruts and pot holes in gravel – in some places the gravel disappears and the road becomes a little slippery and muddy. 

Dad: I never dreamed that someday I’d be up here – an old man gripping the door handle.

We pass the trailhead for Mount Pugh and I stop to let Dad see the sign. I’m wondering if he’ll recognize it. I am not disappointed.

Dad: Mount Pugh. I climbed that one.

Eventually we roll onto asphalt again. We pass the trail to the Ice Caves, and I remind Dad that we hiked up there once with Pete Schoening. Dad nods his head, remembering. Not far beyond that is a sign that says “Big Four Picnic Area.” On a hunch I turn to follow the road to the picnic area and sure enough…

Dad: This is where it was!

(I park in front of the site of the old inn. I’m blocking the road, but there haven’t been many cars today, and I want Dad to be able to get out here and not have to walk too far.)

Dad: (Getting out of the car.) Ohhh… this is where it was… (There are tears in his eyes. His voice is choked up.)

Dad makes his way to the display that shows pictures from the Big Four Inn. He spends time there, looking at each picture, remembering his days in the Coast Guard in World War II, when he was stationed here for a time. This was a good time in his life.

Dad: What’s that…? Oh… the old fireplace. And the chimney. Yeah. I wish I’d brought my camera…

Karen: I brought my camera. I’ve been taking pictures.

Dad: Good. 

(A car pulls up behind my car and I scurry back to drive my car out of the way so the other car can get past. I want to explain to them that my dad is 100 years old and I just parked there so he could walk to the site of the old inn. But I know they don’t care about any of that – the straight-lipped looks on their faces tells me that. So I pull out of their way and then loop back to where I was so I can load Dad back up in the car.)

Dad: What’s your hurry?

Karen: We’ve been gone a long time, Daddy. I need to get you back. (I’d told Dad’s caregivers we were going for a short drive, and I haven’t been able to call them because we’ve been out of cellular phone range.)

Dad: (Looking at his watch…) Oh yeah. 3:30. Okay.

As we’re driving away from the Big Four Inn…

Dad: Thanks for finding The Big Four Inn for me.

A little further…

Dad: Mom won’t be worried about us this time.

As we’re getting near his home…

Dad: We saw some pretty country today. 

Karen: Did you enjoy our drive?

Dad: (Nodding.) Yes.

We pull into his driveway and I come around to help Dad out of the car. Dad shifts his body around, trying to get in position to get out of the car. This is not easy for him. He looks up at me and I look down at him, and we both start laughing. Then Dad manages to get his feet on the concrete and I heave and he’s up.

Dad: Thank you for the drive today.

Karen: I love you, Daddy.

Dad: I love you, too. We blow each other kisses and I leave him on the lounge chair in front of the television.

The Saga of the Paper Clip and the Alternator

This morning I was rooting around for a little paper clip to attach one paper to another paper that I needed to send in to a very formal, officious organization. And alas! There were no little paper clips to be found. In the entire house. Anywhere. Trust me, one does not appreciate the value of paper clips until there are none to be found.

Skip forward a few hours: My car and I are now plodding our way through Bellingham in search of a parking space. My prospects do not look promising. I had not realized that I had made my semi-annual hair appointment in Bellingham on the day that Fairhaven celebrates Dirty Dan Day.

As I was just about to exit a parking lot my car’s power suddenly clicked off – no steering, no brakes, no anything – I managed to make it through the exit lane – I didn’t want to clog anyone up in the parking lot. I cranked the wheel hard to the right so I could move the car off to the side a little, and pulled up on the emergency brake to keep my car from rolling into cross traffic.

A gentleman named Jose and his wife were sitting in a car near by and he heard the sound my car made when I tried to start it up again. He recognized that telltale click. Jose and his wife came over to help. Jose suggested that I either had a bad battery or a bum alternator. After tinkering around under the hood for awhile, he was pretty sure my alternator had gone kapooey. He asked me if I had triple A. I said no. American Express? No. Then he asked me if my car insurance covered roadside service. We switched insurance companies just a couple months ago and I wasn’t sure if we had roadside service or not, but a quick look at my insurance card seemed to indicate we did. I called the insurance company and sure enough! – my car could be towed for free!

I thanked Jose and his wife for their support – gave his wife a hug – and settled in to wait for the tow truck. As I waited at least a dozen people stopped to ask me if I needed help or if they could do anything for me. Bellingham is full of the best kind of people. 🙂

A man named Sean, wearing a neck brace, came up to chat. I asked him about the brace. He said he wore it to pick up chicks, and asked me how it was working. I started cracking up. Then he told me what had actually happened – he’d been hanging upside down from the rafters at a party (“Of course you were,” I responded – duh, right?) and fell head-first into a metal box. The metal box broke his fall a little. He said he broke his neck and was thanking “the lord every day” that he could walk and was still alive. He called his experience “a miracle.”

When the tow truck arrived, little Riley came by with his folks and a fistful of balloons to watch the tow truck hoist my car onto its bed.. I got a picture of Riley posing with the tow truck. It was so fun to see him enjoying the show.

My little car looked so forlorn and embarrassed sitting on the bed of the tow truck. I felt kind of bad for it. But I would not be looking for a parking place for it, and that was kind of cool.

At the end of the day my husband and the sons drove up to eat dinner with me in Bellingham, and then to drop me off at the Shell Station (which actually still has a full service mechanic station – just like in the olden days!) to pick up my car. As I was getting in my car to drive it away I happened to look down on the pavement and guess what I saw?!!

Yup. A little paper clip. And you can bet your bippy that I picked it up!