Granddaddy’s Van

By Haven Lindsey  in  blog  on  08.07.2013

Granddaddy’s Van doesn’t have air-conditioning.  Technically it’s not a van.  Since he died many years ago he no longer owns it. But the green Volkswagen Westfalia Bus with the pop-up camper he bought new in 1976, and now belongs to me, will always be Granddaddy’s Van.

We recently experienced one of those 90-degrees-in-the-shade days. I was driving Granddaddy’s Van home in slow-moving summer traffic after having played tennis with Dave (world’s best hitting partner). I was sweating as much in the van as I had been on the court because the air emitted from 1976-era vents is dependent upon the relative speed of the vehicle. And the vehicle, on that hot, tourist-heavy day, wasn’t moving very fast. The tripartite effect of no air-conditioning, no tinted windshield and slow moving traffic resulted in me pulling into a local sandwich shop for a cold drink. I sought out a shady parking spot knowing I would sit and enjoy my soda before I continued on. Without a cup holder it’s virtually impossible to drive a stick-shift VW bus with a large, yet incredibly skinny steering wheel, and hold onto a drink at the same time.

As I stood inside the store waiting to pay, I noticed I was not the only customer who had chosen to purchase a retro-bottle of soda. I thought it was apropos for me given my antique vehicle to purchase a soda that required an old-time opener. The store was busy with people who had come in from the beach seeking cold drinks and sandwiches. When it was my turn to pay I asked for a bottle-opener in order to open my soda and the cashier gave me a blank look. They sold the retro-bottles of soda but didn’t have a bottle opener; she explained that no one had ever asked her for one. I commented that I have one in my car and it wasn’t a problem.  As I walked out I noticed other people in line with the retro-bottle soda’s and briefly wondered how they planned to open their bottles; I figured they were headed back to their beach houses. But they weren’t.
It turns out they would be headed out to Granddaddy’s Van but none of us knew that at the time.

When I inherited Granddaddy’s Van I knew I was receiving a big green box of my childhood memories. I had grown up with the van and my fondest childhood memories come from camping in the van with my Grand and Granddaddy. We traveled all over Virginia and camped in state parks, public campgrounds and the Blue Ridge Parkway. I remember the feeling of awe watching from inside the van as a bear unscrewed the lid and ate our peanut butter that had been sitting (and covered) on our picnic table. I remember peeing in a Maxwell House coffee can in the middle of the night, being awakened at what seemed to me as a god-awful hour by my Granddaddy and Earl talking as they enjoyed their morning coffee and the excitement of the discovery that my Grand, after a week of camping, could repeatedly pull out a brand new bag of Cheese Doodles from one of the many strategically placed compartments.

She stocked that van like nobody’s business. It’s still stocked today. Sometimes I’ll open the drawers and compartments just to go through and look at the cups I drank from, the towels I dried off with, the jacket my Granddaddy wore that still hangs in the closet compartment and the utensils we used. The van has everything I need; including on that sweltering summer day a few weeks ago, a bottle opener.

After purchasing the retro-bottle soda, I returned to the van, slid open the side door and used one of two (!) bottle openers to open my soda. As I sat in the doorway of the van in my sweat-soaked tennis clothes enjoying my cold drink four pre-teen boys approached. They had bought sandwiches and the retro-bottles of soda but couldn’t figure out how to open them; they sheepishly asked if I would show them how to open the “new bottles”. I explained the bottle required an opener of which I had two and I showed them how and laughed as they enjoyed opening their bottles. Since I was parked in a shady spot, they sat near me and we proceeded to sit and drink our old-fashion soda’s – the boys seeming to inhale their sandwiches – the same age I was when I used to camp in the van.

In a matter of minutes a couple walked over to us. They noticed we were drinking from the retro-bottles and asked if we had an opener. The boys with their newly-learned skills jumped at the chance to open the bottles as the couple peered inside the van. Within a minute a man on a motorbike pulled up, cut his overly souped-up engine and said he had to stop because he used to have a VW Westfalia. Two other couples, vacationing from Massachusetts, walked over and asked if they could use my bottle opener (the cashier had told them a woman wearing tennis clothes had one in her car and if they hurry they might catch me).

The man on the motorbike ended up being from the same town as the Massachusetts couples and the pre-teen boys had run back into the store to announce if anyone needed a bottle opener to come out to the parking lot that they could open them; they each bought another bottle (ahh…youth!).  In less than ten minutes, Granddaddy’s Van had gifted me with a group of strangers who had bonded over retro-bottles of soda and a retro van.

My experience that hot afternoon was not uncommon. When I received Granddaddy’s Van from my mother, I knew I was getting back some history and fond memories, but it never occurred to me that the van itself would continue to provide me with new memories. The van attracts people – for some it evokes memories of a simpler time, for others, like the boys who didn’t know how to open the “new bottle”, it’s a way for them to connect to a past of which they aren’t yet aware. Not long ago I had far too many kids for modern day regulations in the back and three adults sharing the two bucket seats in the front as we drove to a friends house for a visit; part nostalgia, part impulse.

Almost every time I drive the van I receive a wave, a honk or a two-fingered peace sign. I’ve had people offer to purchase it from me on the spot, invite me to attend antique car shows and someone bought me a slice of pie in a restaurant just because I pulled up in a “piece of history”. I’ve had hikers offer me weed if they’d let me look inside and strangers ask if they can take a picture from the driver’s seat.  It has been posted on Facebook by people I don’t know and Andy, my mechanic, refers to it as ‘Granddaddy’s Van’ on his invoices for servicing.

Whether I’m stopped in traffic, parked at the grocery store or camping in the woods, Granddaddy’s Van affords me the opportunities to enjoy the love perpetually stocked inside; but most importantly,

                                   Granddaddy’s Van allows me to connect with people.

As I put the van into gear and pulled out of the sandwich shop parking lot that hot afternoon, the pre-teen boys waved goodbye as I laughed knowing they had learned to open a “new bottle” of soda with Grand’s 30-year old opener.

My Granddaddy left me a way to experience people coming together and bonding over old memories and the creation of new ones and that is a rich, merit-filled legacy. I think that is the best gift of all.

Thanks for reading,
~ Haven

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