A Woman and her Man ... I mean Van
The farmer walked out to meet me as I trundled down the long dirt driveway, kicking up dust. The farm was like something out of a movie, a big red barn behind a white clapboard house. Horses and cows roaming the pasture, and a dog barking in the distance. Fields of grain shone gold in the late day sun. Hydrangea and marigolds spilled out of the flowerbeds out front.
“You must be Miss Samantha. How ya doin’?”
The man tipped his ratty baseball cap. His belly pressed into the suspenders which held up his faded Levi’s. He seemed too old and spent to still be working the land surrounding, but I didn’t see anybody else around.
“Best day ever,” I smiled.
He let out a hearty laugh and spit in the dirt.
“Well, I hope she’s what your after,” he said.
As he swung the worn red barn door open, I saw my future. A 1982 Volkswagon Vanagon Camper with a pop-top. Her bright blue exterior bore no sign of the intervening years. We were the same age, but she showed it less.
“She’s beautiful,” I whispered. “May I?”
He gestured me forward and handed over the keys.
Unlocking the driver’s door, I climbed into the threadbare seat. I couldn’t imagine a better view. All I saw was the inside of the old barn, but through her windshield it was magnificent. With my hands on the steering wheel, something within me sparked. I had thought that part of me had been lost a long time ago.
“I’ll take her,” I said.
“The old lady named her Juniper, but I guess you can change it if ya like.”
“I wouldn’t dare,” I assured him.
“The engine and the outside are clean as a whistle,” he explained, “but the upholstery—that would have been Martha’s doin’ and she just didn’t have the energy to spare. You know.”
“Of course,” I said. “I don’t mind. It’s got history.”
I held out the stack of bills and the farmer tucked them into his pocket. After we filled out the transfer of title and arranged for me to pick up my car the next day, we smiled and shook hands.
When the key turned in the ignition, Juniper came to life. The engine rumbled in the seat and floorboard beneath me. We rumbled together back up the driveway to the road—and all the way to my sister’s place, where I’d been staying since the Big Bang.
Frankie stood with her arms crossed on the porch as Juniper and I approached. Always the picture of big sisterly skepticism—the realist of the family. My plan to run away from my problems and my grief had been a point of contention from the start.
“So, this is it?” She asked. “The big plan? That thing looks like a death trap! How long is it going to run for before it blows up on the side of the highway?”
I was prepared for this. Sort of. How does one prepare for their worst fears being reaffirmed so loudly?
“Shh! She’ll hear you,” I said. “I’ll have everything double and triple inspected before I leave. Promise.”
“I know. I know.” Frankie relented. “But the road is dangerous. Especially for a woman.”
A woman like me is what she meant to say.
“But I have to go,” I reminded her.
Buying this van was the first thing I’d done alone in a long time. And I needed that now. To make decisions. To venture forth. Take risks. Explore my own dreams.
The next few days were a blur. I drove Juniper to the fabric store to pick out blue and yellow paisley fabric for new curtains. I reupholstered the front seats, breathing new life into the cockpit. I dropped her off at the mechanic for a double and triple inspection.
“You don’t see ‘em like that often,” the mechanic said. “A 40-year-old vehicle with so much life left in it.”
I’d brought so little with me to Frankie’s house. It all fit neatly in the cabinets around the kitchen. One pot, one plate, one bowl, one cup, one fork, spoon and knife. A few changes of clothes, a few pairs of underwear, a towel, some soaps and a toothbrush. It felt tidy, everything put away in its proper place.
My antique sewing machine would be left behind in Frankie’s guest room. I couldn’t imagine being away from it, but it just didn’t make sense to drag it along. With my right foot on the steel pedal, I guided the paisleys under the steady treading of the needle. Up. Down. Up. Down. Everything else fell away as the fabric slithered across the table becoming curtains.
I wandered the aisles of the local thrift store, not sure what I was looking for. It had long been a way for me to soothe my spirit in times of uncertainty. I looked at the old cast-off belongings. Beautiful floral teapots and wicker baskets and tarnished candlesticks and a set of three napkin rings. I wondered where they had come from, what life they had lived before finding themselves on these shelves. Some were certain to find new homes, new lives, but some would probably live here in limbo a long while before being cast off yet again—sent to the dump to die the death of objects.
There on the shelves was a decorative pillow, twelve inches by twelve. It was cream with a red rope trim, and hand-stitched on the front was a barn. An old red barn just like the one Juniper had been stored in all those years. It was simply lovely and would be perfectly mismatched in the blue and yellow interior of the van. I paid $1 for it and placed it on the convertible bench seat before driving back to Frankie’s for the night.
“Where are you even planning to go, Sam?” Frankie’s interrogation had gotten off to an early start this morning. I’d barely had a chance to sit down with my oats.
“I’m not entirely sure,” I said. “I’ve always wanted to see the Grand Canyon.”
I stared into the middle distance, dragging my spoon across the surface of the oatmeal, creating a Grand Canyon of oats.
“Hmm.” Frankie was not impressed.
“I’m sure I’ll find a few things to see between here and there…”
“What about…” Frankie started. “You could always…” She tried again.
“No,” I said. I knew what she was going to say. I knew that she’d been talking to Ben. That he wanted me to come home. But I just couldn’t look at his sad, beautiful face. When Jade had been born, she’d looked so much like him, I never wanted to stop looking at her. Now he looked so much like her, I couldn’t stand it.
The oats were thick and pasty, too sweet, lukewarm. I spooned a bite into my mouth but couldn’t swallow. That’s how most things felt these days.
This is Part 1 of an 6 part story-- Click to PART 2
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About the Creator
Author of the award-winning debut memoir, Alone in Wonderland. Christine writes about outdoor adventure, familial relationships, friendship, grief and trauma. She's passionate about hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, & storytelling.
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