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Monday, January 2, 2012

Guest Post: Christmas And The Motor Home

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Laurie Stradling is a stay-at-home-mom with a baby son and an excellent husband. Her stories about trips in the family's decrepit RV -- called "the Motor Home" -- are legion. They're all ridiculous, and they're all true. This is one of them.

You can read Laurie's first guest post here.

My dad was a sensible man with two huge blind spots: one was thinking Cougar football would have a comeback after 1984, and the second was the 1971 Chinook RV that sat in our driveway, quietly dripping fluids into the gravel. The Motor Home, as we called it, ran on a delicate balance of constant tinkering and prayer and was barely roadworthy. However, this same vessel had trundled our entire family—all 10 of us—from Arizona to Texas to Guatemala to New York to Utah to Arizona and back in less than a decade.

My dad loved it. No matter that we called it "Quinto" during our Guatemala trip because it broke down every 5th day. He didn't care that it had a steering wheel that was perfectly flat and about the size of a bike tire, or that it only ran on leaded gasoline. It carried the promise of adventure, which is why Mom and Dad cooked up a plan to take us all down to Rocky Point, Mexico after Christmas in 1996.

December 26th dawned crisp and cloudy. We went to go pick up the Motor Home from Fraley's Auto (Dad had dropped it off a few days before in preparation for the journey) and couldn't quite get it out of the parking lot. December 26th is also my little brother Jake’s birthday, which meant he spent it throwing his new Nerf football around the parking lot of Fraley's Auto with my five older brothers until the late afternoon.

On our way to Globe, AZ, Dad picked up a trio of hitchhikers, two women and a child. They climbed into our jam-packed RV and we scooted around to make room for them. Alas, I think Dad had forgotten that the Motor Home had recently developed a tic where the shifting cable had frozen, so Dad couldn't shift to neutral from the comfort of the cab. This meant one of the boys had to crawl under the Motor Home and use a screwdriver to manually change gears while Dad stood on the brake and revved the engine to keep it from stalling.

Dad asked Paul to do the honors, so he jumped out of the cab with a screwdriver and crawled underneath to shift the gears into neutral. Dad got it started on the first try and, I think in the excitement of the engine roaring, forgot Paul was still underneath the vehicle. Dad gunned the engine and we heard a scream that made several of us plaster our faces to the back window. We watched Paul stand up with grass stuck to his back, throw the screwdriver at us and yell expletives that would've seared our eyebrows off if not for the protection of the glass. I think he walked half a mile back down the road before Dad finally caught up with him.

We drove the next 60 miles in silence and dropped the hitchhikers off in Phoenix. We parked the Motor Home for the night just north of the Mexico border and drove in the next day.

We spent that day driving around town and finding a good beach to camp on. The next time my parents tried to get the Motor Home started, it wouldn't even turn over. Dad hitchhiked back into town to find a mechanic while Mom emptied out her stash of Tupperware and pots so Jake and I could collect the wildlife on the beach. When Dad finally got back, he and Mom told the guy, "It just won't start for some reason." The man opened up the floor to find a significant gas leak and said, "Well, it's a good thing it didn't because you could've blown yourselves up."

The guy announced that he needed a part to finish the job, one that would cost about $100. Dad gave him the money and off the man drove, leaving us to consider changing our citizenship as we probably would never get home.

After about an hour of anxious waiting Dad began to regret in earnest handing a stranger $100 and expecting him to return with a new part.

“I should have gone with him,” Dad said, shaking his head.

“Yes,” Paul answered. “Then we would only have to pay your ransom once they gag and bind you about a mile down the road and keep you on prisoner’s rations at knife point until we pay them $100,000.”

Dad considered this for a while and finally agreed that losing $100 pales in comparison to being held captive. We had given up all hope. It was a no-win situation.

Imagine our amazement and relief when about an hour and a half later, the mechanic pulled up with a friend, part in hand and ready to do some work. Dad looked as though he could’ve kissed him. The mechanic and his friend had the Motor Home up and running within an hour.

The next day was spent filming the first installment of my brother Joel's Indiana Jones spoof, which starred a sombrero-ed Steve as the Mexican villain and Nate as the German villain. Nate was the natural choice for the German villain because a) he owned a leather jacket and b) he could say "Vee've been vaiting for you, Doktor Chones" in a way that made my blood run cold.

Joel (as Indiana Jones) discovered the artifact (an ironwood pig) perched on top of a green glass bottle in the alley between shops. The boys filmed each other running in and out of buildings as the chase scene, which ended with Joel jumping into the getaway car (the Motor Home). The last shot of the day was a fight scene in the sand (Jake and I throwing great handfuls of sand in the air off-camera), but Joel didn't account for the direction of the wind and we ended up ruining the video camera.

After a day at church the next morning, Dad decided we were going to take a drive down to the beach. Of course the Motor Home got stuck in the sand and after probably an hour of pushing and sand flying everywhere, a pretty big crowd of people had gathered around, yelling advice in Spanish and English. Finally a driver in a fancy SUV came to check out the circus and he pulled all of his floor mats out to put under our tires for traction. This worked like a miracle and we drove off the beach to the cheers of the crowd.

The next day we spent driving back across the border when disaster struck again (where else?) in Globe, AZ. Paul was driving and Dad told him to pull up to an auto parts store. Paul pulled right up facing the front window of the store before he realized the Motor Home was stuck in drive, which meant we couldn’t go in reverse. My dad called a tow truck and paid $38 for them to pull us back 20 feet, and a handy fellow inside the store figured out a way to hotwire the Motor Home so we could drive away. Dad, not wanting to turn the engine off for fear we’d never get home again, sat in the parking lot of Taco Bell with his foot jammed on the brake while we ate dinner inside.

When we arrived home to Show Low, it was fairly late. We younger kids went to bed and the older kids sat up with our parents talking about what to do with the Motor Home. Someone made the suggestion to sell the durn thing, and everyone quickly agreed. Dad looked like a hundred pound weight had been taken off his shoulders and said, "I don't think I’ve ever felt more relieved in my entire life."

Dad sold the motor home the next April to my mom’s parents, who sold it to a woman who needed a place to live. The Motor Home—that marvelous piece of machinery that had been our home, our nemesis, the albatross around my dad’s neck—faded quietly out of our lives.

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