The Last Visit

D. E. Larsen, DVM

The weather has been pretty good for the last couple of weeks in Northern Colorado, and all the snow was gone. We had a trip home planned, and I had to visit the practice in Enumclaw, where I hoped to go to work next week. Gas was the only question mark now.

“Make sure you fill the gas tank today,” I said to Sandy as I headed out the door on my way to school. “This is our day to get gas. If we fill up today, we will be able to leave in the morning.”

Today was my last day before spring break, and we were in the middle of the 1974 Arab oil embargo. We had nearly twenty-four hours of driving ahead of us, and gas was a concern. 

I was just finishing a two-week clinic rotation at the bull farm, and we had most of the work done for the week. I had made arrangements to skip my Friday clinics so we could get on the road in the morning and do most of the travel before the weekend.

Sandy had the car ready to go by the time I got home. She had the back seat leveled out so the girls could have level ground to play or sleep as needed. We would only need to throw the suitcases in the trunk in the morning and head out.

***

Morning came, and although we were not as prompt as I had hoped, we were on the road.

“It feels good to be on the road,” I said. “I am a little excited to be going home,”

“I will feel better when I know where we will get our next tank of gas,” Sandy said. “I have nightmares about being stranded in the middle of Wyoming for all of the spring break.”

“I think that gas is supposed to be available in Wyoming and Idaho,” I said. “If we fill up in Green River, we won’t have to worry about getting gas in Utah.”

“I don’t want to be driving across a desert with a gas tank tittering on empty,” Sandy said. “I don’t think we should pass up an open gas station.”

“I agree, but Utah is like Colorado, they sell gas on even and odd days according to your license plate,” I said. “And our plate says we can buy gas in Utah on Saturday. But I checked, and we can make it from Green River to Burley, Idaho, with no problem. Then if we top off the tank before we get into Oregon, we should be fine. Our only problem will be at Burns. We will arrive there in the early morning hours, and we might have to hang around until something opens. I don’t think we would want to try to make it all the way from Ontario to Bend on one tank of gas.”

Things went along great. We pulled off the freeway at Green River and right into an open gas station with no line. We filled the tank and took a break for lunch. We had planned to eat lunches out of our ice chest, but the cold wind of eastern Wyoming suggested that we find a little cafe for the girls.

The trip from Green River through Utah was uneventful. It was getting dark when we pulled off the freeway at Burley. Gas was no problem, and we filled the tank and found a restaurant for dinner.

“What do you hear about the gas situation in Oregon?” I asked the waitress.

“We don’t hear much, I know they are on even and odd days,” she said. “And I hear that they are really strict on that. Saturday is an even day, so if your license plate is even, you should be okay.”

“That is why we filled up on Thursday in Colorado and planned to be in Oregon on Saturday,” I said. “I guess I am worried about there being anything open in Burns at two or three in the morning.”

The drive from Burley to Boise mainly was desert, and in the dark, it was a pretty dull drive.

“I think I need to take a short nap,” I said as we approached Boise.

“Do you think we can just pull over and sleep?” Sandy asked. “I think we need to find a place with some people around.”

We found a spot, I slept, and Sandy entertained Dee. At seven months, she slept too much today and was ready to play. A fifteen-minute power nap turned into almost an hour, but it was all I needed.

It was three in the morning when we were approaching Burns. Sandy had been sleeping since we left Ontario. I could see lights on the edge of town, and as we got closer, I could see that it was a gas station. I pulled in.

A guy was pumping gas, and several cars lined up at the pump. I stepped out of the car to speak with him. The wind was blowing hard, and it was cold. This young guy pumping gas was bundled up and wearing a thick stocking cap.

“Do you have gas to sell?” I asked the young man.

“I just got a delivery,” he said. “I am selling to anybody for a couple of hours. Cash only sales, that way, there is no record.”

“I have the cash,” I said.

“Pull up to a pump, and I will fill you up,” the young man said.

When I paid him, he had a big roll of bills in his pocket. He was doing a booming business for now.

We had to wait for a restaurant to open in Bend, so we could get breakfast. We were able to fill the gas tank again and sleep a bit in the restaurant’s parking lot.

“We should have enough gas to get to Myrtle Point,” I said.

“If we can get gas in Roseburg, I think we should,” Sandy said. “Otherwise, we will run on empty when we get to Myrtle Point, and we won’t be able to get any gas until Monday.”

***

The trip was an obvious success. Both sets of grandparents were thrilled with getting to see the girls. They pretended they were happy to see Sandy and me, but the girls stole the show.

“I have to run up to Enumclaw and look that place over a bit,” I said to Mom. “But I want to visit with Grandpa Davenport if he is up to it.”

“He is doing pretty well right now,” Mom said. “I will give Bernice a call and see when would be a good time for you to visit.”

Mom’s sister, Bernice, and her husband, Hub Haughton, had moved up from California to care for grandpa during the final years of his life. He was getting pretty frail at ninety-four and couldn’t really live alone.

It was two in the afternoon when he arrived at his house on Catching Creek. Bernice had him up and dressed, and he was waiting on the couch when we arrived. 

When I was fifteen and thinking I was pretty tough, this old man was eighty-one. I worked for him that summer, and he had worked my butt into the ground. He had trouble keeping the pace for a full eight hours, but the time he worked beside me showed me what endurance was all about.

On this day, I was amazed at how pleased he was to see us.

“David, how have you been,” he said as I sat beside him and shook his hand. His lower lip quivered a bit as he looked at the girls.

I introduced Sandy and Brenda, who he had seen before. But Amy was his first great-granddaughter born following my grandmother’s death, who was also named Amy.

“And this Amy,” I said as I pushed a reluctant two-year-old over to a strange old man.

“Amy,” he said as tears welled up in his eyes. He took her hand, and his lower lip quivered some more.

“And now we have Dee,” I said as Sandy sat Dee on his knee. His sister, Auntie Dee, had been a favorite aunt for a couple of generations of his family.

“Dee,” he said as he balanced her on his knee, and a tear fell down his face.

Our visit was brief but profoundly rewarding. I clearly understood that this was probably my final goodbye when I shook his hand for the last time. It made that long drive worth it.

Bernice went out to the car with us when we were leaving. 

“I am so glad you could come to visit, David,” Bernice said. “You know, of course, he probably doesn’t have much time left. But I think he will hold this visit near his heart. We can’t thank you enough.”

The rest of the trip has become sort of blur in my memory. I did make an overnight trip to Enumclaw to look over the job offer. And we did manage to navigate the gas crisis on our return trip to Fort Collins.

My grandfather passed away on June 14 of that year, just as I started my senior year of vet school. There was no possibility of attending his funeral. But this trip had served as my goodbye to this significant role model in my life.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

One thought on “The Last Visit

  1. It is good you were able to see him before he died. It probably helped bring him some peace, and you, too. It matters most to says those goodbyes while the people are still here. The funerals are for the living left behind.

    Liked by 2 people

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