Tuesday, October 08, 2013

FAREWELL, MY LOVELY!




Sun Plaza Motel, Mackay
Gunabul, Restaurant-Function House, Gympie
Gunabul from another angle

Wedding ceremony at arbour in the gardens of Gunabul


3-par 18-hole golf course...Gunabul

My late brother Graham & Bernice - and "The Rattler"

Little Lady Echo

Perhaps Raymond Chandler wasn’t saying goodbye to a femme fatale when he wrote his novel, “Farewell, My Lovely”, but, instead, he was bidding adieu to Cape Farewell, the southernmost tip of Greenland, which he thought was lovely; just a thought.

Chandler may have been the first cab off the rank when he penned the words in 1940, but I’m nicking them; a loan, only a loan. He can have them back when I’m finished. I’m using poetic license that I don’t have in my possession right now. I know it’s here somewhere, but I can’t put my hands on it at the moment.

Also, at the risk of overstepping copyright restrictions, as well, it was a matter of “Farewell, My Lovely” for me the last Saturday; a moving farewell to a very dear friend of long-standing; a bittersweet parting enacted out at my driveway. 

I hate good-byes. I’m the one you see bawling her eyes out at airports; and you’d never want to be with me when I watch “The Notebook”!  I’m even worse when I read the book!

Forlornly I stood, around 11 am Saturday morning, fighting back my tears; tears that threatened to overflow in liquid abundance; enough to flood the valleys below. Sobs threatened to wrack my body as they struggled to break free.

My constant companion for the past 20 years; she who willingly went along with me to areas far and wide throughout this state; transporting me to some places I’d never been before or since, gave not a backward glance as she was taken away strapped on the tray at the rear of a truck; beyond my reach; out of my life forever.

 I’m sure she was afraid to look back, knowing if she did she’d fall apart seeing me standing there, alone, long of face. It might have been wishful thinking; a figment of my imagination or the reflection of the noon day sun, but I was certain her rear right tail light flickered at me as she disappeared down the road. Her final salute; her way of saying: “So long, my friend! I’ve enjoyed the ride, too!” 

Yes! I’m talking about Bessie, my doppelganger Ford Festiva. I purchased brand-spanking new Bessie from Bowen’s Ford dealership on the 9th November, 1993; two days before my birthday; my birthday gift to me. Over the years, like a pigeon-pair we covered a lot of territory, but the time had come for us to part ways. 

Together we weathered many storms.  We shared many happy fun times under the sun. 
Not once did she complain about my tuneless singing or mutterings. 

Bessie and I also shared sad times. She was my constant companion and means of transport when my late brother was in the P.A. Hospital prior to his passing.  Almost every day she ferried me from Gympie to Brisbane and back again in the six weeks leading up to his death. Never once did she let me down. Never once did she complain.

My brother, Graham had undergone major surgery for throat cancer at the Townsville Hospital in late January, 1998.   He’d spent over 6 hours on the operating table.

On New Year’s Day, 1998 I took up the position as manager of the Sun Plaza Motel, Nebo Road, Mackay. Taking on that job was one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made in my life. Looking back on it, I still ask myself the question “Why?” - I could write a volume about my short tenure at the motel. Perhaps one day I will; the story of that nightmare will have to wait for now. 

Mackay is south of Townsville; a two-hour road trip between the two cities. The only free  time I had from my motel duties were a few hours on Sundays; the hours between when I’d finished preparing and serving room service breakfasts on Sunday mornings and 4 pm in the afternoons. Those precious few hours were “my” time. 

From when Graham entered hospital in Townsville I spent my free hours on Sundays visiting him.  As soon as I’d finished preparing the last motel breakfast, I’d jump into my car and hurtle northwards to Townsville, my foot on the pedal, to spend a couple of hours with Graham before having to turn around and head south again around 2 pm to be back at the motel at 4 pm. 

I despaired at having to bid my brother farewell. I dreaded the return trip to Mackay. It wasn’t the trip or the city I dreaded, but what awaited me there - the motel.

Those few hours on Sundays were the only time I had to spend with Graham. I never burdened him with my problems; they were mine.  They were minor details compared to what he was dealing with.  It was a stressful time because I wanted to be near to him; I desperately wanted to be able to sit with him every day; but I couldn’t. 

At the motel I was working 24/7. Not only did I prepare the room service breakfasts every morning, I attended to the daily office duties, as well; along with overseeing the housekeeping staff and all that that entailed. At night I tended the restaurant bar and waited on the tables; while all the while bearing a smile on my face and exuding a pleasant attitude towards the dinner guests.  And if that wasn’t enough, I was on call throughout the rest of the night if late-comers wishing to book a room rang the night-bell.  Often I was woken in the wee small hours. 

The motel was situated on Nebo Road, which is the main thoroughfare through Mackay.  The Bruce Highway, Queensland’s main coastal highway, becomes Nebo Road when it reaches the southern outskirts of the city. 

Managing the motel kept me very busy, with little time of my own. The job kept Bessie busy, too, because she was my only means of transport when it came to running motel errands, such as banking, shopping etc. It was a full-on job. 

To make matters worse the owner of the motel at that time who had a sugar cane farm at Marian, a cane-growing area about 30 minutes west of Mackay, was a horrible person.  He was an arrogant, paranoid, ignorant, thoughtless creature, with the manners of a pig.  Actually, I insult pigs. Pigs have better manners!

When it came time for Graham to receive chemotherapy I insisted that he move south to Tamborine Mountain (where I live now, as a matter of fact).

He would receive his chemo treatment at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane, a little over an hour’s drive away from Eagle Heights, an area on the northern end of this ridge.  At the time, his daughter and her future husband lived at Eagle Heights.  I believed it would be better for Graham to have close family around him because he would need the emotional and physical support that was impossible for me to give because of my work situation.

Eventually, when Graham was released from Townsville Hospital he flew south to take up residence at his daughter’s home for the duration of his treatment.

Stuck in Mackay, I was at my wits end.  I knew I couldn’t remain there.  It was time for me to move back south to be closer to my brother; to be there for him if and when he needed me during his most difficult time.

I didn’t want to move back to the city.  I’d left Brisbane in March, 1979.  After 19 years away from city life, with some of those years spent on islands, I had no desire to return to the hustle and bustle of city living. 

I rang a girlfriend of mine in Gympie.  We’d known each other since our primary school days; and as teenagers we spent our weekends surfing the waves at Noosa Heads and other beaches on the Sunshine Coast. We’ve been friends forever, it seems.

Both of our brothers had been lifesavers together in the Noosa Heads Surf Lifesaving Club in the early Sixties. Joy, my friend, and I remained good friends throughout the years, no matter how far I roamed.  She's spent her whole life in Gympie.  She wasn't a gypsy like I was. That we’d not seen each other in a long time made no difference; distances and absence matter not at all in good, strong friendships; our friendship remains to this day.

Bringing Joy up to date with what was going on in Graham’s life and my own, I told her I intended returning to Gympie as soon as possible; that I needed to be closer to where he was rather than be stuck up in the middle of nowhere feeling totally useless.  

Having been raised and schooled in Gympie; the town in which I'd also spent the first five years of my working life, I knew the area well. I still had good friends of longstanding there.

Gympie is only 168kms (105 miles) driving distance north of the city of Brisbane. Moving from Mackay to Gympie was the most logical decision for me to make, in my mind.  Joy leapt at the opportunity to be of assistance.  Within three weeks, I was on my way.  She’d found a house for me to rent, having painted my prospective landlords a rosy picture of me (as it turned out, they were related to another good friend of mine of longstanding). Joy also recommended my services to the owners of a restaurant-function house at the South Side of Gympie, which turned out to be “Gunabul Restaurant-Function House” as pictured above.  I rang the owners immediately; and on the healthy references Joy had given, I was hired as their chef/cook, sight unseen.

Every piece of the jigsaw puzzle was falling into its rightful place.

The 38 acres (15.3 hectares) property upon which Gunabul sits also boasts a 3-par, 18-hole golf course. In past years before the golf course was constructed, cattle grazed on the lush river pastures. The property runs down to the banks of the Mary River.  The home was originally built around 1885 for a local solicitor, Francis Power and his family.  Some of the features of the original home still exist in the present incarnation. Its high ceilings and a marble fireplace are examples, as are the original windows that are still in good working order.  In its early days the home was called “Kitiwah”.  The old home, now restaurant, is in immaculate condition. It has been known as “Gunabul” for only the past couple of decades or so.

I felt overwhelming feelings of elation as I pulled out of the driveway of Sun Plaza Motel and turned left into Nebo Road at 7 pm Saturday 25th April, 1998…Anzac Day.   Without a backward glance, I directed “Bessie”, my little Ford Festiva’s nose southwards; and off we went. Gympie drew closer with each turn of her tyres. 

In a strange way I felt like I was going home, even though I’d left Gympie 33 years previously in late July 1965.

Pushkin, my beloved ginger cat was comfortably settled into his cat box on the rear seat. He’d already travelled far and wide with me. He’d become used to my roaming over the years.  Pushkin had lived on Newry Island with me; he wasn’t unfamiliar with adventures. He wasn’t at all concerned about the latest undertaking. He knew he was in safe hands. 

After a couple of brief stops en route I arrived in Gympie, 803kms (499 miles) down the track a bit from Mackay around 4.30 am Sunday, 26th April.  I found a cosy spot overlooking the river to wait for the sun to make its appearance. I let Pushkin out of his cat box to roam free throughout the car to stretch his legs.  I didn’t want to arrive at Joy’s home too early. She reprimanded me when I did pull into their yard at 6.15 am because they’d been up before the birds expecting me to arrive at any minute.

A few hours later, having indulged in lengthy conversations and gallons of coffee; we had a lot of catching up to do; although feeling a little jet lagged after a sleepless night on the road, I paid a visit to Gunabul around 11 am to introduce myself to my new bosses.

I commenced working at Gunabul on Tuesday, 28th April.  I stayed with Joy and her husband in their home for a couple of days after my return to Gympie; and then I moved into my new abode.

The weekend of the 30th April included a public holiday on Monday, 4th May. It was the Labour Day long weekend. 
 
At the start of the long weekend somehow Graham found the strength, and/or determination to drive from Tamborine Mountain to Gympie to spend a couple of days with me; a trip that takes about three hours to conquer; sometimes more, depending on traffic conditions.

My Saturday – day and night - was taken up working as I had a wedding to cater for at the restaurant, but the rest of my time was free. Graham and I shared special, precious hours together just relaxing and chatting.  He was not well. He was very weary, it was clear to see; Blind Freddy could have seen his frailty; but his spirits were high and his intent, positive; far more positive than my own thoughts; thoughts I kept private within myself.

Graham showed strength of purpose during that weekend in May, 1998.  A good friend of his from when he was a young man working for the railway in Gympie took him out for the day on the Saturday of his visit. Bernice, his friend of many years (and mine, too), fulfilled a dream of Graham’s, one that he’d held for quite a while. 

Graham left Gympie to live in Mackay in the mid-Sixties.  Ever since he was a kid, for whatever reasons the lure of working on the cane fields had grabbed hold of him; and that’s what he did when he was about 22-23 years of age.  He married a Mackay girl and they had three children.  He remained living in Mackay until 1997.

When The Mary Valley Heritage Railway began conducting steam train trips/tours from Gympie through the lush Mary Valley, Graham’s interest was alerted.  Often he told me of his keenness to “Ride the Rattler”. The old steam engine departed from the historic Gympie Railway Station; the place where he first started working.  Many times as young fellow he rode the trains out through the Mary Valley.  The fully-restored, heritage steam train, “The Rattler” pulls restored wooden carriages filled with interested, excited tourists. The 40km journey traverses curves, gradients, bridges and lush countryside through the tiny country villages of Dagun, Amamoor, Kandanga and Imbil dotted along the way throughout the Mary Valley; and then returns to Gympie.

Graham returned from his day out, exhausted, but elated.  He had had a wonderful day.  I am, and will be forever grateful to Bernice for her generosity of spirit and friendship - for giving him that day.

Hugging me as we said our farewells before he departed on his return trip to Tamborine Mountain in the early hours of Monday morning; he preferred to drive in the night/early morning, Graham said to me:

 “As soon as I beat this thing, I think I’ll move back here to Gympie, too. Could I stay with you for a little while until I find something of my own?  I might even find a little place down at Tin Can Bay and do lots of fishing and crabbing.”

Naturally, I agreed with him that it sounded like a wonderful idea.

However, even if I was able to lie to him without remorse at doing so, I couldn’t lie to myself.  I knew his dream would not become reality.  

Within, I’d already acknowledged what was staring me in the face – the truth; a truth I couldn’t run away from no matter how much I wished it to be otherwise.

The next day; the Tuesday - Graham was admitted to the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane. He never came out of hospital again.

After a couple of weeks he fell into a coma; and there he remained comatose. During my visits I talked to him in the faint hope that somehow; somewhere; in someway he could hear me; His time on earth was drawing to an end. I wanted to be at his side as often as I could.

On reflection, I don’t know how I fitted in those hours driving to and from the hospital as well as cooking in the restaurant, but I did; I had to; of that there were no questions; no doubts.  If any road blocks had been erected in my path, I would have given up work.  My time with my brother was far more important to me than cooking for strangers.  I’d always find another job…but I’d never find another Graham. 

And with me all the way down the Bruce Highway; into the city; battling the city traffic and back out again was Bessie, my little Ford Festiva.  She never missed a beat; not once during all those miles we covered did she complain.

Another long weekend was on the doorstep in celebration of the Queen’s birthday.  Monday 8th June was the public holiday.  The restaurant would be closed on the Sunday and Monday.  We didn’t have a wedding booked for the weekend, which was odd because hardly a weekend went by that there wasn’t a wedding to cater for; and/or a function of some description.  Perhaps because it was the last long weekend of the year, people decided to grab the opportunity to travel to the coast or elsewhere, but whatever the reason the lack of bookings and the promise of a fairly quiet weekend ahead in the restaurant played right into my hands.

On the Thursday before the long weekend I prepared all that was necessary to cover the requirements for hot and cold buffets on the Friday and Saturday evenings, leaving detailed instructions for my kitchen-hand and my boss (the wife of the duo who owned Gunabul) who used to also be my off-sider in the kitchen to follow.

However, prior to Thursday, on the Wednesday afternoon, I drove to Brisbane to spend a couple of hours at Graham’s bedside. Driving back to Gympie later that evening, I was cruising along on a four-lane section of the highway just inland of Cooroy, a small country town a little north-west of Noosa Heads when I came upon a loaded prime mover just ahead of me.  It was the last, long straight stretch of highway for a while; so I decided I should take the opportunity to pass the truck. I could see no lights of oncoming traffic heading south towards me so I accelerated and swung out into the right lane to pass the huge truck and its long load.  
The prime mover seemed to go on forever. Forging my way forth, I made progress, albeit it gradual. Suddenly out of the blue the highway started to narrow from four lanes back into two lanes.  To my right was a slightly raised island separating the north and southbound lanes. I was in trouble!  Up ahead, I could see the bright headlights of another prime mover rapidly descending upon me southwards!   I was running out of room to move. There was no space for negotiation.

My heart pounded. It felt like it was going to burst out of my chest; but I knew I had to keep my wits about me and just survive - somehow.  With a grip of steel, I held onto the steering wheel, as I planted my foot to the floor.

 “Come on, Bessie!  We can do this!  We have to do this!” I said through gritted teeth.

There were no other options; no other choices.  Somehow, but I’m unsure how, we did make it.  I’m not a very religious person, but I felt at that precise moment it was Graham’s spirit that lifted Bessie and I up into safety, while telling me it was not my time; it was his.  Those few seconds in time were eerie; unexplainable.

Bessie and I cleared the island without any damage to either my little trustworthy vehicle or to me.  It felt as if we’d floated through the air; it was as if my car had grown wings.  It was the strangest of experiences. My nerves were shattered, though; but I decided to pigeon-hole them until I’d reached the safety of my home; my own four walls.

So there I was on the southbound lane, heading north with, no doubt, a stunned prime mover driver, cursing vehemently, behind me at my rear left heading north; and an equally stunned, cursing (or maybe speechless) truck driver heading south on the same lane that I found myself on. Still holding the breath I’d inhaled when I first noticed the dire situation in which I’d found myself, I swung smoothly back into the left lane, just ahead of the north-bound prime mover, keeping my foot heavy on the accelerator, not losing momentum or speed until I knew I was clear of all impediments. 

I’m sure I didn’t exhale until I parked the car in my home garage; entered my house; poured myself a stiff Scotch and collapsed on the sofa with Pushkin at my side. That was when the realisation, not only of my close shave on the highway, but, also of everything else that was going on around me set in. It hit like a bomb.  I started to sob uncontrollably.

Still in a state of shock on the Thursday, the day after my nerve-wracking return trip from Brisbane, I knew I was in no fit mental and emotional state to hit the highway again so soon.  I needed a day to regroup; to gather myself together.  Within, I was a jangled mess; outside no one would have known any difference. No one needed to know the depth of my emotions.  

I buried myself in the restaurant’s kitchen; threw all my energy into preparing the dishes which were needed to cover the weekend buffets.  It was clear to me that I couldn’t remain in Gympie on the weekend.  I knew I had to be in Brisbane on the Friday.  I couldn’t spend two complete days away from my brother’s side.

In my heart and mind I knew Graham’s days were numbered. I believed he wouldn’t last the weekend. His time on earth was rapidly drawing to an end. My instincts were strong. 

Filling Bessie’s fuel tank in readiness for another trip to Brisbane, I patted her on the rump and promised we wouldn’t find ourselves in a similar situation to the one we’d confronted and had miraculously come through on Wednesday evening. She’d never let me down, and I knew she wouldn’t again.  I wasn't going to let her down, either!

Friday morning I left Gympie shortly before the crack of dawn. Drama lay ahead later in the day, but what transpired was my fault not Bessie’s. Having settled her into the car park opposite the hospital around 6.45 am, I bade her farewell. My intention was to spend the day in the hospital room at my brother’s bedside. 

Clasped in my hand was “Take Me Home”, John Denver’s autobiography.  I’d already read the book a year or so previously, but I felt it fitting that I read it again on that day. Sitting at Graham’s bedside I wanted to lose myself in the story and in the memories of the music and lyrics of a unique singer-songwriter.  It was something I felt I had to do. It was a means of comfort, I guess. Graham had told me for years and years that he didn’t want any hymns played after he died.  He made me promise sincerely I would play “Annie’s Song” at his funeral.

Graham idolised Denver. I think he had every CD, LP and cassette of Denver’s in his possession. I, too, was a fan of Denver. I still am; probably even more so these days.

In 1994 Graham and I were in the audience at the Townville Entertainment Centre watching Denver perform.  It’s a night I will never forget; and one I’ll always cherish.  We even managed to meet and talk with Denver; a wonderful night to remember - in so many ways. I was living and working in Townsville at the time.  Graham drove up from Mackay to stay with me for a couple of days so we could go to Denver’s concert together.  It was one of the best times we’d ever shared. So reading John Denver’s autobiography, sitting alone at my dying brother’s bed seemed to me to be an appropriate thing to do. I felt Graham knew I was there beside him. If that wasn’t so, I chose to believe it, anyway.  He would have been at peace knowing I was there with him…with Denver, as well!

Later in the afternoon I returned to the car park around 4 pm. As it was the start of a long weekend, I wanted to beat the peak hour traffic; be ahead of those intending to holiday on the coast for the three-day weekend.  I wasn’t driving back to Gympie, but down to the Gold Coast to spend the night, and perhaps a couple of nights, at my ex-husband’s home, at his invitation, because I intended spending Saturday at the hospital; and doing the same on the Sunday; and similar on the Monday, if necessary.  Graham’s time was running out. As I’ve written above, I believed with my heart and soul that he only had a couple of days left. I needed to be close at hand.

I tried to start my car, but poor little Bessie’s battery was as flat as a tack!  I had left the car lights on all day! I’d left home in the dark; and by the time I’d reached the hospital car park, the sun was up, shining its bright morning illumination.  My car lights were the further most things from my mind at time of my arrival! 

However, luck was smiling on me that afternoon.  A police car pulled in a few cars up from where I’d parked.  Noticing my dilemma, the two wonderful young cops raced off to their police station, and shortly thereafter returned with jumper leads to assist two ladies in distress – Bessie and me!  Within moments, we were on the road again; not a country road taking us home, but down to the coast a few paces ahead of peak hour traffic. 

Graham passed away around noon on Saturday, 6th of June, 1998, shortly before Bessie delivered me to the hospital.  The following Wednesday, Bessie helped me transport my brother’s ashes back to Gympie. I placed the urn containing Graham's ashes on the passenger seat, safely secured by the seat belt.  A John Denver cassette with "Annie's Song" in its song list played softly in the background.  Denver and I were taking my brother home.

Hardly ever in her 20 years up until this past year or so, did Bessie miss a beat. On Thursday last, exhausted, she said: "No more...."

Bessie may have hardly ever missed a beat, but I certainly will miss Bessie..."Farewell, My Lovely - you will always hold a special place in my heart!"

As of Friday last, 4th October, 2013 I've my new little white car - a Toyota Echo....little Lady Echo - "Lady" to her best friends...not "Little Sir Echo".

Thank you, Bess - you were the best!

24 comments:

  1. Tears - and hugs. Sorry, I cannot muster better words, but I wept at both your losses as I read this very moving post.

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  2. Thanks, EC...

    I'm the biggest sook in the world...I know one shouldn't become emotional about cars or similar...but too bad...I am who I am!

    Or as Popeye would say: "I yam what I yam!"

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  3. I view tears as a way of cleansing the toxins. And sometimes they are necessary. Well, that's my story anyway.

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  4. If that is the case, EC...I must have very few toxins in my body! :)

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  5. animate or otherwise, the things we take into our lives become a part of us and when they move on without us we feel a part of us falling away too.
    Writing about it helps us refresh our memories for posterity.
    Lady Echo will love her new friend.
    rel

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  6. Hi Bob...thanks for coming by; it's always nice to see you.

    What you say is so true. I'm glad I'm not Robinson Crusoe in my way of thinking!

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  7. Sad to lose a car that's long been a vital part of your life.
    I still feel a few pangs for cars I used to have. Because, as you show so clearly, they're a participant in the events of your life, they transport more than bodies, they transport hope, love, happiness, and sometimes grief. After a while,you look not at a steel box on wheels, but at a box full of memories. I was sad to part with my old landrover discovery, because I'd had good times travelling with my future wife, because of days out with good friends, days alone on ancient tracks over the heather moorlands of north yorkshire, days when I'd take my mother out for a mystery drive, and see her face light up in happiness when we'd arrive in some unplanned destination. Rust killed that car. Uneconomical repair.

    But I'm taking my older rattletrap with me to texas, to have new memories implanted. We'll hope all my old cars can get together and share their stories, in old car heaven.
    Maybe they'll meet Bessie.

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  8. Oh, Soub...what a wonderful response to my story. You brought tears to my eyes as I was reading it. I'm so glad you empathise; maybe, after all, I'm not as weird as I sometimes think I am! ;)

    We are strange cattle, we humans!

    I, too, felt it was uneconomical to get Bessie fixed...a difficult decision had to be made. It would have been putting good money after bad.

    Safe trip across to your future. :)

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  9. Thanks, Jerry. :)

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  10. I think our own intuitions are usually pretty accurate. I'm sorry you lost your brother way too soon!

    I like John Denver too.

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  11. G'day, RC...yes...it was way too soon. It was certainly not foreseen that he would have been taken from me that way. He was too young.

    Thanks for coming by. :)

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  12. I get attached to my cars, too. When you think of all you went through in them sometimes...

    So sorry for the loss of your brother - I can't imagine the sorrow.

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  13. Hey there Lynn...from all the responses I've received, I've discovered I'm not alone in my attachments. :)

    That's kind of comforting to know, actually! I can stop dodging those guys in the white jackets now, knowing that!! Hehehehehe!

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  14. You know - what ever it is - when we lose something we love - it's real. So sorry.

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  15. Yes, it is, Sandie. Good to see you. :)

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  16. Lee
    When we name our transportation well they become our metal friends that others do not feel the closeness we have for them. Lady will enjoy her rides with you at the helm. Your brother was loved very much as shown by the written words in this post. I was there with you- windows rolled down and the gentle breeze wiping the tears from my eyes on the road home. Peace

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  17. That particular ride home was certainly one I'll never forget, Lady Di. I think I was in a vacuum all the way.

    Thank you. :)

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  18. There is nothing to say, sad tale.

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  19. G'day there Adullamite.

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  20. (((hugs))) I have no words.

    Janice~

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  21. Thanks for coming by, Janice. :)

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  22. Reminds me a lot of Neil Young's "Long May You Run." Well done. St. Pauli Girl loves John Denver too!

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  23. Hi Dexter...you snuck in when I wasn't looking! ;)

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