Thursday, July 30, 2009
Minivan at 12
There is talk of replacing the minivan. I don't like such talk, not at all, not now. You would think I'd be eager to see it go. I drove this green minivan to the church on the night I was attacked in the parking lot. I made the mistake of getting out, ignoring the alarm bells in my head, the gut feeling that screamed, "Danger! This isn't right, something doesn't look right." In fact, not trusting my instincts at many points through that long dangerous summer and fall was in itself a cause for anguish and guilt, and self-blame afterward. "If only...." I didn't drive the van for a long time after that night. Can you blame me? In fact, I couldn't drive at all for months, not for more than a year. And it's only this summer that I've really enjoyed driving the green minivan again, as it's back to its role as a mom-mobile. Ten years ago today I loaded up the forest green Voyager with Talbots and Marshall Field's hanging bags holding new suits -- professional clothes -- clergy shirts with new linen collars, and go-to-meeting shoes. We left Naperville at dawn and made it to North Platte just as the night-flying miller moths were flocking to the hotel light. I had packed suitcases with brand-new clothes for both daughters, then 6 and 11, clothes they hated, clothes they would wear to meet-the-Call Committee events over the coming weekend. They had walkmans and tapes and books and games and nestled into their spots in the middle and back seats, pillows and blankets and beany babies at hand. I gave them 'trip presents,' to ward off boredom and to sweeten the deal. Kaia was a goner, hooked on the first Harry Potter book the day it came out. We had a cooler filled with apples and juices and veggies and a couple of Snickers. I had bottled water and a thermos of steaming hot coffee. A sleek leather notebook with notes for my interviews was open next to me on the other front seat, as if by osmosis, while driving, I could continue to focus on the challenges ahead. My mom-book, spiral bound, was checked twice, and then once more, before we left, lists of shoes, socks, jackets, frisbees, Barbies, soccer ball, Mr. Popper's Penguins, Frog and Toad for Annika, and Maroon Five for Kaia. Ready, set, off! We sang along to the Backstreet Boys, Shania Twain, Disney and Bewitched. I kept my promise: I got the girls to the hotel in time to swim. We hit the pool and then slept like fiends. I was up before dawn and we hit the road as the sun came up, racing it west all morning long until we pulled into the parking lot at Denver International Airport just as Dave's plane was landing. Spilled grape Juicy Juice and Capri Sun stained the car floor and leftover carrots were getting soggy but we made it. I remember so clearly that the radio just happened to play my favorite song, Dan Fogelberg's Netherlands, as we made the turnoff. Radio stations never played that song, ever. I took it as a sign: this was the right place, the right time, the right move. Dave had critical meetings on Thursday in Chicago so he flew out to meet us; we picked him up and found our hotel. I switched from mom-mode into pastor-gear, high gear, overdrive to tell the truth. I put on my starched and pressed formal clergy clothes, wrapping a stiff white color around my neck as the rest of my family set out in my brother's Jeep to enjoy an afternoon at Garden of the Gods. I drove the minivan to the church for job interviews. It was the end of something, that afternoon. And, a beginning. This same Voyager was the van I had driven through Naperville to soccer practice and piano lessons and tennis lessons and drama camp and Bible School, to Nadia's house for Battle of the Books and to Julia's house for afternoons of dress-up. This was the same van that made daily trips to Mill Street School and took children to Naper Nuts & Sweets and to Dairy Queen after early evening softball games. This van carried giggling girls to Centennial Beach and to Fun City and Navy Pier. This Voyager knew the carpool routes and could find its own way to Target. It carried bikes and trikes, Big Wheels and Barbie's Magical Motor Home. It sometimes had the sweet smell of grape juice and more often, that sweaty stink of six girls' played-in soccer cleats. Soon after we moved from downtown Chicago to Naperville -- once voted the most kid-friendly town in America -- we pulled into the school parking lot. Minivans lined up as far as the eye could see. A hundred? More? Could there be that many minivans in all the world? Before long we understood the draw and got one for our very own. It carried kids to birthday parties and Girl Scout camp. It brought Christmas trees home from the forest. It hauled skis and skates and sleds. There are milky white stains on the middle seat from the spilling-over, soupy scalloped potatoes that dripped all the way from our house to Urban Peak, the teen homeless shelter in Denver, where we prepared and served the Christmas Eve 2003 dinner. There are taco sauce and barbeque sauce stains on seats and floors and dirt ground in from forsythia and flats of flowers, but, overall, the thing is in very good condition. The floormats are worn out but, heck, those can be replaced. Easy. The '97 Voyager took us from Washington D.C. to San Diego, and back and forth from Chicago to Colorado more times than I can tell. One summer I drove it from here to St. Louis on I-70. A week later, across I-90 and back, from Denver to Duluth. And finally, from our new home here back to visit in Chicago on I-80. The poor thing has been up Trail Ridge Road many times and to the top of Mount Evans, at 14,264 feet, and below sea level through the Salton Sea. It brought our two beloved English Springer Spaniels home to join our family and it ferried my elderly parents to endless doctor appointments. It's been rear-ended and broadsided and totaled and resurrected, twice. We go way back, this van and me. We have seen glorious seasons and poignant times together, and it delivered me daily, for three years, into the very bowels of hell. Three transmissions, two-hundred thousand miles, and a hell of a lot of trauma later, we're still a team. Or rather, we are a team again. We are surivors. I avoided driving this van for the last six years. Too many terrible memories in Littleton attached. But, now, in a new season (it seems to be Fall already here this year!), I'm ready to reclaim my mom-mobile. My own kids don't much need me to drive them around anymore. But Kaia has students who need to get picked up at noon every day at schools from one end of Denver to the other. Maleek and Charlene and Josefyna and Lynea, Jocalo and Brenda need a ride to Breakthrough (more of this soon). The radio is set for hip-hop and I learn about their adventures and lives here and before, in Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Somalia and Mexico. It couldn't be better. So. The van is back in business. As a bus. And we are going to keep it. To fulfill the intention to write about Poland I will just say this, this time. There are very few minivans in Poland. But you can bet that every one of them is used as a bus. Like mine.