- Associated Press - Saturday, October 4, 2014

RICE, Minn. (AP) - You can tell the anecdotes have been passed from parent to child, told and retold again. They have the ring of family stories that have become folktales.

Al Medeck, his wife, Patty, and daughter Enid Archer look to each other for details and dates. They’re discussing the ‘57 Chevy Al recently finished restoring. It was a vehicle he has owned since high school - and one he drove on dates with Patty.

It shines a brilliant red and white - an expensive paint job, Al will tell you - and hums loudly, even when just in park.

The stories the family trades are told with a laugh, but stronger emotions sometimes prevail. The family is facing Al’s declining health as a degenerative brain disorder threatens to take his motor functions and more, so soon after he entered retirement.

“October 2012 was when I started to feel something was wrong, and it just got worse from there,” he said. He kept losing his balance and was getting worse.

“The first couple years, I didn’t know what it was. So I worked on that thing (the car) and kept going,” he said.

In July, he was diagnosed with olivopontocerebellar atrophy. It’s a disease that hits areas deep in the brain, just above the spinal cord, and causes those areas to shrink, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“My brain is dying off,” he said. “I can’t talk very well, because that’s part of what’s dying. It just gets progressively worse.”

It’s a rare disease and doctors don’t know how it’s going to progress, the St. Cloud Times (http://on.sctimes.com/1vr7Q4L ) reported.

“I’ll lose control of my motor skills - all the things that are automatic right now, like my voice and balance,” he said. Al and Patty, who have known each other since they were 12, are selling their home and moving to a one-level home for that reason.

He knows that eventually he likely won’t be able to get out of bed. His mind will stay clear, however. So restoring the car while he still could became his mission.

“It’s kind of a now-or-never deal,” he said. “Retirement, that’s all up in smoke. These are the golden years. So they tell me.”

Patty said she was devastated when Al got the diagnosis.

“It’s not what you expect to retire to,” she said.

“It kind of was, only it had this sense of urgency,” he said.

So he started working on the car in earnest. It took him two and a half years to complete. It has a new engine, the exterior was sanded down and repainted, among other repairs.

He was able to enter the car into some car shows this summer, in Little Falls and Richmond, and it even took home a best-in-show trophy at a Holdingford car show.

“There’s something about a ‘57, it’s very photogenic,” he said.

Al said he was inspired to hold on to the car he bought for $500 in 1964 by his dad, who had always said he wished he had kept his first car.

“So I decided, what the hell, I’d keep my first car,” he said. “So I didn’t have to say that.”

It cost $17,000 to restore, mainly because he did all the work himself.

___

“I had a heavy foot in high school,” he said.

In those years, he went through five engines, four transmissions and five rear-ends.

“I didn’t have a car a lot, because it was always getting fixed,” he said. So he bought a ‘59 Cadillac, too.

“I wish I would have kept that one, too,” he said.

The couple dated in the Chevy, but Patty can’t recall exactly how it all began.

“I don’t know when and how and why we started dating. I set him up with every one of my girlfriends. Every one. Because they all wanted to date him. And he’d always go, ‘Don’t do that again,’ “she said.

Eventually, it stuck.

The last time the Chevy was on the road before the restoration was in 1972, when Patty was pregnant with Archer.

He just parked the car after that, covering it with a tarp until he added a garage onto their house for it.

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Al worked as a contractor on heavy commercial buildings and for the Sartell paper mill. The car waited for him

“I left it sit, until I retired. That was also going to be my retirement project, to get that back on the road again,” he said. “And it kind of was.”

One of the stories the family tells about its old cars is about Chess, the Chesapeake Bay retriever who loved to hunt (though he’d scare game away) and spent a lot of time in the car with Al.

He always sat in the passenger side, front seat and sat on the seat.

“Every time I get in that car, I remember that dog, even though he’s gone,” Al said.

Chess knew how to get out of the car by the handles, chewing them up. So Al had to replace them.

Archer remembers the Chevy out of commission in the garage.

“My first memory is it being in (the garage). ‘When are you going to fix it, Dad, when are you going to fix it? I want a ride!’ “Archer said. “I’d go in there and sit in the seat. I’d smell the smells, the old car … Just looking at it, waiting for it to get done.”

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The restored car hit the road again for the first time in decades this summer.

“Alan and I have been together for a long time. It just made me cry. Here’s the five-seven, and there’s this guy, gunning it - he’s known as a speedster. It was like the old times,” Patty said. “It was back like we were dating. It was so crazy.”

Al is at the end of his driving days. The car has no power steering or power brakes, which makes it more difficult for Al to drive these days. Still, he was able to get it to shows this summer.

“It’s super-exciting,” Archer said. “I remember the first time riding in it was to the Holdingford Days. … And I couldn’t stop laughing and smiling, because it was just so awesome.”

“People are truly impressed,” Patty said. “They know the car, he had it when he was 16.”

“Whenever we did go to car shows with him, people always come up and ask about the car,” Archer said. “They love the car initially, but then when they hear the story, with how long he’s owned it and everything, then people gather around the car and listen to the story.”

Archer hopes to plan a benefit for the family at a later date, to help with medical and other expenses.

Al hopes the car will serve as a lasting memory.

“It will stay in the family, go to the kids.”

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Information from: St. Cloud Times, http://www.sctimes.com

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