Thursday, August 1, 2013

Big Yellow Van

My childhood is an array of awesome memories. My pink bedroom, my brothers, our crazy dog, all played a major role in shaping me.

I would be remiss to overlook the Big Yellow Van, by far one of the most colorful characters in my life. We were a family that traveled, far and wide, and some point my folks decided that we needed a Chevy van.

A yellow Chevy.

Dad and the Big Yellow Van

It had a University of Kentucky wheel cover over the spare on the back doors. I loved the feel of it's cracked vinyl, and the crazed look in the wildcat's eyes.

Oh, but the interior of our van! I am certain that I have built the visuals into mythic proportions, but I'm telling you this van was, hands down, amazingly cool.  Mom and Dad bought it in 1976, when I was three. Dad worked on the interior until it was perfected for our Christmas trip to Michigan. First there was a layer of foam, and on top of that blue shag carpet. Oh, yes. Then a hand made couch for the back, that had hinges so that it could fold out into a bed. There were outlets added so that there would be fans while camping. The ceiling, the creme de la creme, was finally carpeted. The Big Yellow Van also had an awesome 8-track player. Elton John (Benny and the Jets was my favorite!) and the Star Wars sound tracks were regularly playing on any given trip. On Sundays, when we visited grandparents, or just went for a drive, Lake Wobegon played on NPR.  Between the driver's and passenger's seat there was a space just perfect for our huge, red cooler.

This van was like a second mother to me, no lie.

Her bucket seats cradled me in carsickness, and sheltered us during storms.  My brother, Todd, and I would climb into the back seat to play with our toys, while Mom and Dad packed, for what seemed like days.  The carpeted floor was perfect for napping, or just spreading out our loot. My youngest brother, until he was too old, was happily strapped in his car seat, accepting food and drink whenever it was offered. When I laid on the floorboard, the Big Yellow Van's rumbly engine lulled me to sleep.

The Big Yellow Van became our world for the hours, or days, that we traveled. 

I truly cherish those memories, a time when my family was whole and together, and carried along to new places. On a trip through the Smoky Mountains the doors were opened as we slowly trekked along, and I remember feeling like pioneers when we glimpsed bear cubs. I loved laying in back seat with Todd, our heads on opposite walls, our feet touching affectionately. Our little brother slept soundly in his seat. The sound of my parent's voices, low and secretive in adult conversation, made me feel the world was perfect just as it was.

I loved traveling at night. During the day, the sun was bright, heated the un-airconditioned van, making my legs stick to the seats and all of us kids generally cranky. At night, though, the world became soft, the seats cooled down, and we were cloaked in the velvet of night time travel. Occasionally  other cars would pass and I could glimpse another family in their own traveling world. The dark never made me feel frightened; instead I felt cloistered. The world may have been big, but my family was bigger in the Big Yellow Van. It was the Millennium Falcon, it was the U.S.S. Enterprise. It was amazing.

A distinct memory I have is laying down, my head against the wall, tilted upwards so that I could see out the window even on my back. I was very little, and I remember being fascinated that wherever we went the moon was also there. I imagined the moon was following us. The thought that no matter where in the world we were, the moon was also there gave me great comfort.

We, my family, were traveling at light speed, and we were together, and the moon was following along, guiding us to our destination, lighting our way in the dark.

Driving home at night last week, at night,  the kids and I were keeping our eye out for deer, and any other animal that might jump in front of our van (our van is gray, not nearly as exciting as yellow, but still wonderful).  It was so dark I had to use my brights, until we rounded a corner with an open cornfield on our right, the river just beyond it. The moon was suspended above the field like a magnificent flashlight, and suddenly we knew where we were, and that home was not far.

"Look, mama, the moon is with us. It's following us home,"  three year old Liam said, and I know we all sighed a little bit with how right he was.

The moon was there, just like always, guiding us home. 

1 comment:

  1. Such great memories Kara! My parents got a big blue van just after I graduated high school and it even had a sink inside. My sister and cousin spent a lot of time traveling with them in it. I was "too cool" and grown up. Now I wish I had went along a few times...