Alfonso Martinez's final ride in his beloved 1946 Mercury Sedan came July 1, 2013.
It was four days after his death.
The 82-year-old Martinez died June 27 -- following, as his obituary put it, "a long, challenging battle with dementia." He'd grown up in New Mexico, but joined the Army shortly after his family moved to Ogden. He fought in the Korean War, then worked at Hill Air Force Base for more than 30 years.
Things started going downhill after Martinez's wife, Antonia Valdez, died in 2006. Their two daughters, Jackie Martinez and Jancie Ulibarri, took over the care of their father.
"I believe we were in denial at first," Jackie Martinez, of Pleasant View, says. "He started doing strange things, and became very forgetful."
By 2008, he'd even lost all interest in gardening -- a red flag for the family, since he'd always been so proud of his garden and frequently donated fruits and vegetables to local churches and shelters.
The Martinez family is a small but tight-knit group; they rallied around their patriarch.
"We'd all take turns making sure he was never alone," Jackie said.
There was a reason for that. He'd started to wander off.
"We'd do things like tie a bell on the door, so anytime he tried to go out we'd hear it and go, 'Uh-oh, Dad's trying to sneak out again,' " Jackie said. "But he was so sneaky; every once in awhile he'd get hold of one of our little tricks and move the bell so it wouldn't ring when he opened the door."
The last time it happened, Martinez wandered off and became lost for two hours -- family, friends and neighbors were out scouring Pleasant View, looking for him. When they finally found him, he'd fallen and hurt his head, according to Jackie. Even more heart-wrenching, the elderly man was found in a farmer's field at the end of a fence line, attempting to find a way out of the enclosure.
"He was trying to dig a hole to go under the fence," Jackie says.
They knew it was time for help. Last July, the sisters moved their father to the George E. Wahlen Ogden Veterans Home, where he spent his final year.
After the move, Jackie and Janice, who lives in North Ogden, began cleaning and organizing their parents' Pleasant View home. That's when the issue of the car came up.
"The car" was their father's rusting 1946 Mercury Sedan, which had sat for decades in the family's garage in Ogden, and then sat another couple of decades under a makeshift tin roof in the back yard after the family relocated to Pleasant View in 1986.
Martinez had inherited the vehicle from his younger brother, Arthur Martinez, who was killed in an accident while serving in the military in the late 1950s. Jackie and Janice say their "feisty" mother, Antonia, would rev the engine at stoplights, challenging motorists to race, and then take off "like a bat out of hell," to quote their mother.
She received any number of speeding tickets and warnings from police in that car. Janice explains that after a fourth or fifth speeding ticket, her mother told her father, "Sorry, it won't happen again," and he told her, "No, it won't. Because I'm putting it away."
And away it went. The '46 Mercury was garaged, and would remain so for more than 50 years. Over the decades, Martinez would get plenty of car enthusiasts dropping by the house, offering him plenty of money for that car.
He'd say, "Nope, the car isn't for sale."
But last July, with their father in a veterans home and slowly losing his battle with dementia, the sisters had one final dream: Fix up the old car, and take Dad for a ride in it.
They found an "angel" in Danny Wright of Eden, a car-restoration guy who needed a winter project and agreed to do some work on it -- nothing fancy, just get it back to good working condition.
The week before Alfonso Martinez died, Wright brought the car back to the sisters.
"I'll be darned if the car wasn't ready the day before Dad got really, really sick," Janice says. "We didn't realize he was in the last days and hours of living with his sickness. We'd tell him, 'Dad, you've got to get better so we can go get some licorice ice cream at Farr's.' He loved Farr's."
They never got that chance. As Jackie so eloquently writes: "My father passed away peacefully Thursday morning, June 27. When I opened the blinds to let the bright, brilliant sunshine in, he took his last breath and I felt my mother come, wrap her wings around him and take him away. ... We know there was a big party going on in Heaven."
The two sisters decided to take their father for that last ride anyway. And so, on July 1, following a Mass and Rosary at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Ogden, the sisters climbed into that 1946 Mercury Sedan and accompanied their father's ashes to Evergreen Memorial Park.
There was a worry that the vehicle, which had been having some engine problems, might not run that day, so right after the service -- even before mourners could offer condolences to the family -- Jackie and Janice jumped in the car and took off.
"Like my mom would've said, we took off like a bat out of hell from the church," Janice said.
The pair plan on keeping the car in the family. Oh, they've had plenty of offers for the vehicle -- from family, friends, strangers. But they simply tell everyone the same thing their father said all those years.
"Nope, the car isn't for sale."
Contact Mark Saal at
801-625-4272, email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter at @Saalman.