Some friends dragged me to British Car Week’s National Meet. Thank God for friends. The highlight of the trip was meeting a car named Grace and her driver, John Nikas.
Grace, a 1953 Austin Healey 100-4, was traveling the United States in an effort to offer love, encouragement and hope for people affected by cancer. Grace’s gentle, lovely curves were engulfed with thousands of signatures. All week long, even as people were signing her body, men huddled around her open bonnet working on a myriad of problems she was having. Grace vibrated so badly and was in such poor shape that she would shear bolts, shred belts and wiggle her generator right off. Fortunately, this being a British car event, she was in good hands.
Seeing Grace, my mind was flooded with thoughts of my daughter, Chynna, and how I had lost her 19 years ago. I still carried such deep emotions over her loss. I wanted so badly to ask John’s permission to sign her name on Grace, but Chynna didn’t pass away from cancer; a heart defect took her from me when she was only a few weeks old. I talked with John a lot that week and eventually I told him about Chynna. He asked if she was on Grace. When he found out she was not, without hesitation John handed me a Sharpie and said, “Grace is not leaving Arkansas without Chynna. Go add her name.”
John stood quietly with his arm around me while I sobbed. When I finally signed my daughter’s name I felt at that moment an overwhelming sense of peace come over me.
I promised to keep in touch with John and Grace. I want to help Drive Away Cancer. I emailed them pictures of the sassy orange 1977 Triumph Spitfire I bought a couple years ago. Her name is Ginger.
It was while attending the Cure Search Walk for Childhood Cancer that my eyes were opened and I watched Ginger decide her own fate. She brought smiles and laughter to children fighting cancer and a little peace to families who had lost loved ones. Ginger’s first little warrior, a three-year-old named Easton sat on her bonnet with trembling hands trying to hold a marker. At that moment I realized Ginger wanted to follow in Grace’s tire treads. There was a decal on the bonnet for kids to write on, but I told Easton’s dad to let him write anywhere he liked. Even though Easton wore a mask, I saw an ear-to-ear grin in his eyes. Emmalee, Sydney, Bit, Cody and many others followed Easton’s pen strokes and each one smiled his or her biggest smile. Heartbroken parents wrote messages to their little angels, sweet children who had earned their wings. A grandmother wrote to her granddaughter, Morgan Anderson. Another wrote, ‘Spread MO Love’ in a memorial to Morgan. In an instant my little Ginger became a priceless symbol of hope, peace and happiness. In a moment, a simple pen stroke, Ginger and Grace became sisters.
There are no words to express the emotions we feel when we meet new people or receive updates on the cherished little hearts we have met. Nothing can describe fully why we do this. Ginger chose her mission without question. She urged me along and when at first I didn’t go her way, she dug her tires in and made me. I didn’t want to follow her lead, not because I didn’t really want to, but because I was afraid. I was afraid of old feelings cropping up. I was afraid of the return of grief I felt for nearly two decades before I met Grace. Most of all, I was afraid I would fail; afraid we would let everyone down. Now, after two months of driving Ginger I understand. I didn’t rescue Ginger from a lifetime of sitting in the weather, she rescued me from the cold.
I am so much more than thankful for the people who have helped us stay moving and helped us continue the Drive Away Cancer mission. I am filled with gratitude for our growing family. Ginger and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
We’ve mentioned before that Ginger loves to follow in her sister Grace’s tire tracks and she did just that yesterday. True to their form, Ginger performed great en route to Harrison, Arkansas, with one minor exception. On one uphill climb I pushed Ginger just a little bit more than usual to get around a frustrating vehicle. We made it but then I noticed Ginger was spiking a little bit of a fever. After we got over the mountain her fever came back down and we made it to Harrison without any major glitches. However, the route home was a different story. Ginger began having some problems with her choke again and the carb leaked fuel. We did make it home but we took frequent stops to check on her and let her rest a little before we continued. She will be undergoing more surgery this week to put yet another carburetor on, fix a vacuum hose and install the new choke. Thankfully though, Ginger knows how important her missions are and always gets us to our friends. This car has a heart of gold and anyone who ever said a car doesn’t have a soul has never met Grace or Ginger—they would certainly change their minds!
Eleven years ago today I got a phone call that would change my life. My brother Sean was gone. Today I honor him and my Daddy by working on Ginger. It is the little bit of knowledge I sponged up from Sean and Daddy that keeps Ginger going. Thank you both for being patient with me and please help me as I try to sort out Ginger’s continuing carb problems. I love you both so very much and miss you terribly every day.
I first planned to attend one event, but that soon led to another and another. Now it seems everywhere we go is an event—gas stations, restaurants, traffic lights … all over the place people flag us down while we are driving. The best times are when we take wrong turns and end up meeting some really cool people. On our trip to Wisconsin some time ago after a breakdown and rebuild in Iowa, it was late in the evening and I was on some back roads. My GPS quit and I had no cell service. I ran into sleet, snow and heavy fog. After taking some wrong turns, I ended up in Cuba City. It was there that I met Kenny. He offered to cook a meal and I gladly accepted. He was alone after losing his wife and brother. His friend was also dying of cancer. He enjoyed the company, but I think I enjoyed it more. I feel enriched for meeting such wonderful people along the way. Sometimes I don’t know where to go, but it seems Ginger always does. When I think we are off course, it always turns out that we are exactly where we needed to be at that moment.
This road with Ginger is a lot of lonely hours followed by sharing a few moments of relief and happiness. Sorrow and pain are inevitably around the corner. I ask myself if those brief moments of happiness and laughter will be enough to carry grief-stricken family members through their darkest times. I may never know the answer and I’m not sure I want to know. What I do know is that signing my child’s name to Grace brought me peace after 19 years of grief, and I hope Ginger can provide similar comfort to others.
By Synnova Henthorne
Special thanks to Candy Ferris for her help with this story.