Third (or twenty-seventh) verse, same as the first…

Are you even still reading about this crazy saga? I’m growing weary of writing about it… Hopefully I can get to the end quickly…

We woke up Sunday morning after a lovely wedding day, ready to go pick up our repaired van and head back home to Kentucky. After enjoying one more breakfast with as many family members as possible, we cleaned up our hotel rooms and geared up to say goodbye and head our separate ways.

As for my family, in order to get our party of seven back to Indiana, it took feats of maneuvering to work it all out. The plan looked like this: Mike and Nicole were going to drive two cars (theirs and my parents’) with all seven of us down to Angola. My other brother Tom (who drives a Honda Civic. mind you) was going to take his girlfriend, my parents, and my cousin Janine (who was staying with Mike and Nicole until the next day when she planned to fly home). Tom planned to drive his car to my parents’ house and drop off Mom, Dad, and Janine, who would wait for Mike and Nicole to drop off their car and pick up Janine. We packed the cars appropriately so we could easily unpack our stuff once we got to the van, and wouldn’t have to tear apart two cars.

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We left the hotel sometime after 11am, and had gotten about twenty minutes on the road when Nicole passed Mike (a strange thing to do). We waved and smirked at her, but she was waving her phone at us. Oops! She had been trying to call us, but Mike’s phone was on vibrate and mine was too quiet to hear. Mike called her just as she pulled off the highway. She told Mike that Ben was complaining of feeling sick to his stomach and thought he was going to throw up. OH MY WORD. HOW COULD WE ADD ONE MORE THING!?!? By this time, I was sure my brother and sister-in-law were beyond done. But they weren’t. They so were not.

Mike had to take the next exit and then turn around to go back. By the time we did that and found them at the gas station, I ran in to hear that Ben had in fact thrown up. I was fairly certain that it wasn’t a stomach issue that caused his mid-trip barfing, but was as a result of his coughing from having some serious congestion. Those sensitive gag reflexes are nothing to joke around with. The poor guy emerged from the bathroom looking pretty rough. We took some grocery bags and paper towels, and although I had started out in Mike’s car, we all agreed that it might be better if I stayed with Ben, so Brendan and I switched cars to keep everything even.

Ben was fairly green and pitiful when we all climbed back into our cars, but he was a trooper. Although he moaned and complained a few times between the first stop and our destination, we made it unscathed for the most part. No barf in the car…that has to be a very good thing!

It was around 1ish or soon after when we pulled up once again to the Best One shop and our van. Hopefully, this was the last time we’d see it. The kids helped us completely unload the luggage from the car and into the van, set up the DVD players, and got everything settled for the trip. We said our goodbyes to Mike and Nicole, thanking them repeatedly for all that they’d done for us over the weekend, took one last picture to commemorate the occasion, and we all went our separate ways (well, two separate ways, anyway…).

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The van started up rough, but I figured it was just because it had sat overnight without the usual workout we give it. I prayed for the trip home (and for Mike and Nicole), and headed out towards the road.

It wasn’t strange at all when the Service Engine Light came up when I started the van. It was more than a little disconcerting, however, when it flashed as I pulled out into traffic. That was something different… I swallowed hard and prayed it was just a weird fluke. It stopped.

Siri instructed us towards 69 south, but before we reached the highway, I knew just about everyone in the van needed a potty break. We turned into a Marathon station, which turned out to be a fantastic choice, mainly because it had only one bathroom. Super.

We waited in line–all seven of us–to empty our bladders so we could get going. It seemed to take forever! Finally, finally we all got back to the van and started out again. What happened next completely boggled the mind. After paying a lot of money to have Mike the mechanic repair our van and give us assurances that we were good to go, this happened once again:

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It got hotter than that, but at the time I wasn’t recording it. It goes without saying that I flipped out. I absolutely could not believe what I was seeing. WHY WAS THIS HAPPENING AGAIN!?!

I quickly pulled into the first parking lot we came to, which was a Speedway with the entrance ramp to the highway in view. There was NO way I was going to try that.

At this point, I really did not know what to do. I wanted to scream, cry, and frankly, bash the front end of the van in. Instead, I made one of the two most dreaded phone calls of the weekend: I called Todd. I’m sure you can imagine his reaction. He immediately instructed me to call Mike, but I resisted. After everything already? HOW could I call him again? Besides, as long as it had taken us on the bathroom break, there was no way they could still be in town. Still, I had limited options at this point.

And by limited options, I mean one option.

Calling Mike and Nicole again.

I was unable to drive the vehicle I needed to take my family home. Oh, how I dreaded making that phone call as well… But I had to.

When Mike answered the phone, I felt like crying but kept it together. Mike sighed and asked where we were. He wasn’t upset (or if he was, he never showed it), and he just assured me that it happens. While we were on the phone, he turned around from the parking lot where they had stopped to eat and use the bathroom, and started off to meet us. Nicole later told me that she just followed him without knowing what in the world he was doing. (Remember, we had gone “the right way” a few times already throughout the weekend, and she knew this was a “different than the right way.”)

We spent the next hour trying to figure out the best course of action. We checked the radiator, we googled a few things and checked out fuses. Todd was on the phone a lot of the time. All the while, Ben’s stomach and coughing were giving him fits and he kept threatening that he had to throw up. Eventually, we made the plan to attempt to drive the van back to the repair shop. Mike and Nicole would drive us to my parents’ house and we would try to figure out what to do after that. Because it was Sunday, no one would be available to look at the van before the next day, so we’d be stuck for at least that long. I was beyond sick about the whole thing. Mike and Nicole had just driven two hours out of their way on a fruitless trip to drop us off to a useless vehicle, only to have to pack everything up again in their car and drive us to my parents’ before they could even go to their home. Sick doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt.

The trip back to Mom and Dad’s was tiring, frustrating, and long. Ben was miserable, but he made it. I suspect the entire situation probably only added to his ill feelings. I felt like throwing up myself. How we were going to get out of this, I had no idea.

I can’t say enough about my family and their selflessness and generosity. My parents opened their home to us without blinking, and Mike and Nicole never complained even once. Amazing.

Once we arrived at Mom and Dad’s, we heard hilarious stories of how my dad, Jessica, and cousin Janine had to maneuver to squeeze into the backseat of Tom’s Civic. They showed us on the couches how they’d had to sit in the car, laughing the entire time. Apparently, at least on their end, the inconvenience led to some definite hilarity. It lightened the mood a bit.

Mike, Nicole, and Janine left soon after that, and headed for their home and certain bedtime.

It was fairly easy to ready the kids’ sleeping spaces for bed and once they were settled for the night, the rest of us weren’t far behind. The weekend had taken its toll. Before bed, I spent some time talking to Todd about what the next step would be. He mentioned that his friend had offered to let us borrow an 8 passenger vehicle that had towing capacity with the possibility of towing our broken down van home. Todd could drive up to get us, we would drive back to the van, and take it home. It sounded like a way we could avoid inconveniencing too many more people.

The next morning, Mike my brother called before we’d heard from Mike the mechanic. He’d already hatched his own plan: he’d rent a trailer that could hold the van, drive down to Angola and pick it up, come back to my folks’ house, pick us up, and drive to Lexington. I’d have to drive my parents’ car in order for all seven of us to fit, and then once we arrived in Lexington, he would put their car on the trailer and drive it back to them.

DOESN’T THAT SOUND RIDICULOUS?!?!?!

I seriously hoped it could work out a different way.

Before lunch on Monday, Todd called me with the dreaded diagnosis: blown head gasket. I think we all knew by that point, but it still stunk to hear it said out loud. The van was undriveable. Who knew what I’d already done to it by driving it 300 miles north in the first place. We all realized it was just a vehicle, but by this point, it was nothing more than a colossal headache and money pit.

I won’t go into the details of the conversation between Mike the mechanic and Todd, but after that, Todd and Mike my brother spoke and a final plan was hatched: the convoluted plan I mentioned earlier. There really seemed to be no other way. Again, more sick feeling.

Mike’s plan was to get the trailer and van Monday evening and then come to get us Tuesday morning. I just could not believe he was willing to do all of this for us. How do you even begin to thank someone for all of that?

Meanwhile, the original shop in Lexington who replaced the thermostat the first time called Todd wondering “if his wife made it home.” (He’d called them either Friday or Saturday to let them know what had happened. I wish I had been a fly on the wall for that conversation. Although I know Todd wasn’t yelling or cussing them out, I also know that the mechanics heard the saga of the van. They agreed to “take care of fixing it,” although as of right now, we don’t know what that is.

Despite all the unknowns and anxiety, my parents were gracious hosts for us. We had an enjoyable extra day at their house, and the kids got to see their grandparents a tad extra. That was a blessing for sure.

The story almost comes to an end today. We woke up early and packed Mom and Dad’s car once again, making sure we were ready for Mike when he arrived. He had been driving the night before picking up the van until almost 11:30 (he had to go after work), and was right back on the road that next morning.

When Mike pulled up, this is what we saw.

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I really wanted to kick the bumper again like I had before we left it in Indiana (again) on Sunday.

After saying our goodbyes to Mom and Dad, and thanking them for entrusting us with their car, we began what I really hoped would be our last journey home. Mike wasn’t sure how fast he’d be able to drive with such a heavy load, but we were ready for whatever it took. I hated that he had committed to so many hours of driving.

This is what we looked at for most of the day. More feelings of wanting to kick it ensued, to be sure.

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Except for periods of rain (and a few downpours), and a couple slowdowns because heavy traffic, the trip went quite smoothly. We arrived in Lexington at almost exactly 5pm. I was so thankful to pull up to our house, and so grateful that everything worked out. Mike’s truck had successfully hauled our piece of junk–err, family van–home.

Todd and Mike delivered the van back to Exhaust Pro for whatever the next step with that will be, and they loaded up my parents’ car on the trailer. We had dinner together before Mike decided that he’d sleep for a while at our house before trying to wake up and drive back home through the night. I hate that he still has that leg of the trip to make on his own, but if I’ve learned anything about my brother this past weekend (that I knew before but has really been solidified in my mind), once he gets focused on a problem and the solution to fix it, there is almost nothing that will stand in his way. He’s a beast. I simply can’t speak highly enough about him, or Nicole, or my family.

So now, we wait. We have been taken care of this entire journey, even when it felt like we were stranded. My family has been a shining example of how it’s supposed to be done: when someone needs help, and you can help, you help. That’s pretty much it.

I pray that someday–any day–when the opportunity to come to someone else’s aid arises that I will remember how grateful I felt when so many people did that for me. And then just do it, no matter the inconvenience or sacrifice.

Once Mike returns safely home, this “weekend trip” will officially be over. Of course, we have many decisions to make regarding the future of our van o’ vexation, but it seems oddly secondary now to the real lessons.

So I guess, the saga lives to see another day…

Friends don't let friends drive repeatedly overheating vehicles.

Friends don’t let friends drive repeatedly overheating vehicles.

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