Thursday, August 16, 2007


I've written in the past about our RV projects and the persona they take on as our "children." In the last month, I've noticed another role that they -- well, at least mine -- have assumed.

My goal for this year was to get the canopy "done," to have everything come together so that when the prairie heat of July and August arrived, I'd be ready to make the big cut. I really wanted to have the cut made before Oshkosh.

And, sure enough, it was. The canopy frame, which I started in the cold of February, had a canopy on it -- sort of -- by July. On July 8, I made the large cut, cleaned up the edges and put it on the airplane. I took the usual pictures, marvelled at how far ahead of schedule I was, and left it to sit... and sit... and sit. So much for the schedule.

But, truth be told, getting the RV BBQ organized pretty much demands full-time attention in the three weeks leading up to Oshkosh. Then there's the week of Oshkosh itself. Then there's the week after Oshkosh, a return to work, and a usually listless Bob trying to get reinvigorated in life when there's not the sound of someone's radial engine capturing my attention and lighting my fire.

And this year, on August 1, we lost the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis. I was at work that night, almost ready to leave, when I saw the first images. I worked most of the night on the Web site, handled a few interview requests from the BBC and CBC early the next morning, and was gone by 8 a.m. That's a 22-hour day. Not much room for building.

A day later, my youngest son was hurt, apparently, when he, his brother, and their roommate were mugged while walking home from dinner. Now, I'm guessing there was a little more than random violence involved here, but at 9 p.m., my oldest son called to tell me that he'd taken Patrick, my youngest, to the emergency room in St. Paul.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because he can't remember anything of the last year," he said.

Let me just point out here that it's amazing how irrelevant things that you thought seconds before were important become when you get these sorts of phone calls.

When we arrived at the hospital, we found a tragic version of "Ten Second Tom" from "50 First Dates." Patrick could remember no more than, perhaps, the last 40 seconds, only a few more than your average guppy.

Every 40 seconds, approximately, we'd have the same conversation.

"Why I am I here?"

"You were mugged?"

"By who?"

"Four guys"

"How come I still have my wallet."

"They weren't interested in your wallet."

And this would go on, until finally he got into a room at about midnight and CNN was on, showing non-stop photos of the bridge collapse. Patrick is an EMT and was on call at his "house" to respond to the bridge if there were more victims. But he wasn't needed so when his shift was over, he left and went home, had dinner, and got himself mugged.

But, of course, he didn't know any of that so when he saw the bridge collapse, he'd get up and want to get to the bridge, sure that his crew was there.

"I've got to get there," he'd say every 40 seconds.

"You were there," I'd say.

"What am I doing here?"

It was a couple of days before his memory came back, but not before Mom and Dad spent hours answering questions and then, when we left to get some sleep, picking up the phone every 40 seconds to hear a crying son, frustrated because he couldn't remember anything. I'd talk him down, and he'd hang up to get some sleep. Then call again a minute later, not knowing he'd just called.

It's amazing, really, how marvelous the brain is. It determines what data needs to be dumped when, figures out how far back it should dump, and then -- when the coast is clear -- brings its systems (if you're lucky) back on in stages. Fascinating, really.

Anyway add all this together, a 22-hour day, the post-Oshkosh letdown, a son getting the garbage kicked out of him, the general absence of routine, and you have an RV builder without focus. Even after things had calmed down and I'd gotten some sleep, I found it hard to pay attention to much of anything. Even driving the car felt strange to me.

And then, last week, I dragged myself out to the garage, dusted off the canopy, cleaned up the workbench and rolled up my sleeves, only to be shocked by the note on my instructions that the last time I'd touched the project, was exactly one month ago.

My project was kind to me. It didn't make me feel guilty for abandoning her for the glitz of Oshkosh or the duties of a father with a kid in the hospital. It seemed to know that I'd be back, and when I did return, she'd be ready.

I rolled out the plans, made up a couple of workbenches and picked up where I left off. Only I didn't do it for minutes; I did it for hours. After weeks without focus, my project gave me a good slap upside the head, and I was able to shake the cobwebs of life and refocus my own brain again, which in this case happened to be building an airplane.

An EAA technical counselor at EAA Chapter 54 in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, Bill Schanks, always refers to flying as "therapy." I picked that up, too, referring to the time I spend with my RV "therapy." I think it's one of the reasons I'm in no particular hurry to finish. I like spending time building. I like being around something that's patient, and knows that no matter what else goes on, I'll be back, embracing the sameness and consistency of a part of my life for the last six years.

It's comfy, it's home, it's like an old shoe, or returning home from college for the first time to find out your mom hasn't changed your room, and the old dog still is excited to see you.

It's therapy. And before it becomes your airplane, it's your therapist.

And there's no co-pay.


  1. To a much smaller scale (in both scope of project and life challenges), that's the way I am with the kayak project. It's good to have diversions at times.

    My thoughts are with your son, and I hope for a full recovery.

  2. Hi Bob,

    Gosh, you have had a challenging time! I hope and pray your son will recover OK with no permanent issues. I can imagine how scary it has been for you and your wife.

    Best wishes,

    Doug Weiler