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Legend of the Volkswagen van

    It’s been a good tour of duty, these years with my little jumpers. Oh, the adventures we’ve had! They’re grown now, but I’m not forgotten. They see me on the old movies (transferred to video) and the stories take on a new dimension; and I take on elevated grandeur. A hero-type, I am!

It all began for us back in 1964. I was hangin’ out in a used car lot in Memphis, Tenn. I wouldn’t be there long, the dealer said. My kind was the most popular foreign car in the U.S. I hear tell that just prior to World War II, Germany constructed and implemented the renowned Autobahn system. Needing an inexpensive means of travel, the government challenged the manufacturer to design one. In 1933, Ferdinand Porsche showcased the first Volkswagen Beetle, and it was love at first sight. Later, the micro-bus (me) would race off the assembly lines to fill the ever-increasing demand. I’ve been proven dependable and economical. That’s why I’d be perfect for this young family that seems to have taken me over.

“Chelle, look what daddy’s going to buy for us!” said Danny. “We’ll have room to play Barbies and GI Joe!” Chelle exclaimed. “Ricky, grab my hand, and I’ll pull you up.” Danny tugged as chubby Ricky slithered in through my side door, toddling immediately through the aisle to check out the knobs on my dash. Danny was in the driver’s seat, mimicking dad. Chelle was inquisitively digging through my glove box.

“Troops! At attention!” boomed a big, but loving voice. They scrambled out and lined up, feet together tightly, stretching tall, with ear-to-ear grins. They loved it when he called them “Troops.”

What’s this? A Navy man! This could be a challenge! I shifted and tried to straighten my rectangular body.

$1,500? Too much! It’s a used car!” “Barely,” I thought. My first owner didn’t drive me much—said I didn’t have enough power.

“Okay, 1,100 dollars and my old car.” Finally, after checking me over thoroughly, they made a deal. “Yippee!” Danny led the cheering and jumping section.

Everyone hopped in and soon we were cruising down the highway. My new master thought I should have more power, but the mechanics would insist there was nothing wrong. I knew this family would be mine when they began to plan their trips. “There’ll be more room if we remove the middle seat, and mom, you can stretch out on the back seat when you get tired.”

The very next Sunday they loaded me with swimming and picnic gear and headed for Lake Sardis (the only lake for a radius of 100 miles from Memphis.) I thought we’d turn right around and go home when I heard “a protest—a civil rights march!!” But, my brave and sometimes naïve young family stayed and enjoyed playing in the water and sand a bit apart from the demonstrators. On the way home my radio blared news of shootings and arrests that had taken place at Sardis and that blacks had integrated the beach. (I couldn’t figure out why they couldn’t be there in the first place.)

My family thanked God that we were all safe (I wouldn’t want my body riddled with holes, either.) The year was 1964, and my radio would talk incessantly about civil rights and Martin Luther King.

We’re moving, they say, and made our way north, through the slush of Chicago and the snow-packed fields of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Finally, I come to a stop. These people must be special! The little jumpers are at it again.

“If we kiss grandma and grandpa, they’ll give us a quarter, and we can buy candy at Ryan’s store.” There were hugs all around, a few tears and a lot of jumping up and down. I didn’t see any quarters, but the kids didn’t mind—maybe later. I thought I’d be praised, at least a little. “Hmmff!” a gruff voice barked. “Looks like a cracker box.” I soon realized that every time I pulled into that driveway, I could expect the cracker box insult.

Ooooh, the cousins, uncles and aunts who had to check me out! Dozens!!!

“Let’s see who smells grandpa’s bakery first!” Loud sniffing prevailed for the next few miles, and soon “SEBEKA BAKERY” blinked at us. They all smelled it first—typical of my little jumpers. They had fun, and we drove away with donut crumbs littering the floor!

My radio barked news of a war in Vietnam and Johnson’s re-election. Minnesota was hit hard that spring by tornados and a rising Mississippi. A big, hairy German shepherd joined our family that summer.

Our stay in Minneapolis and many visits with grandparents and cousins was short-lived—only six months, and we were on the road again. This time, we’re moving to South Weymouth, Mass. My master waxed me well, saying I’d have better wind resistance and maybe he could get more then 50 mph out of me. He still thought I was a little sluggish.

“Check ‘er over again! She should go faster!”  “Nothin’ wrong,” they tell him. Not having to be buckled up in those days, my little jumpers played and slept the whole way. My mistress resorted to bribery. She had a bag full of gift- wrapped toys, and if they were good and didn’t fight till lunch or dinner, they could choose one. Home looked pretty good to us all at 264 Thicket St. (My master had gone ahead and bought a house a few months earlier. He was always trying to make life easier for us!)

There was one problem—the movers lost the truck bringing the household goods.

They had nothing but what I carried for them for a whole month. Neighbors were kind enough to share a few things. Sleeping on the floor got mighty old, and three kids with no toys or TV?  I heard lots of complaining then. My mistress wanted to call the captain of the base where we had moved from—NAS Twin Cities. My master would not do it.

She’s a sly one, my mistress. When he went off to work, she called Captain Scott in the Twin Cities. He said, “I’ll get right on it!” Within an hour a call came from the moving company saying they would be at our house the very next day. Wow! Maybe I’ll get some peace now.

Shortly after things settled down and the furniture was in place, my mistress got very sick and had to stay in bed. Linda Smith, a college student and daughter of a fellow Navy man came to take care of my little jumpers. My master was a new, young chief now and had a whole squadron of men under him. He was also finishing the bedrooms upstairs for my little jumpers. What a busy family we were—-and we were about to get busier.

My mistress began to spread out a bit and then I heard the reason! “A baby in your tummy,” giggled Chelle. Danny got all worried about how that baby was going to get out and if it would hurt Mom. Ricky was too little—only  2 ½ – so he just jumped along with the others. My master would say, “Honey, are you feeling okay?” and showed lots of concern. Now I get it!!! Another little jumper will soon be sliding over my seats and twisting my knobs.

The big night finally arrived! “A baby sister! Yippee!!”

The little jumpers were all worried about mom and the baby, so we drove down Thicket St. to the elm-shaded pond and on to South Shore Hospital. Daddy said, “Look up at that window!” They squeal and jump!! There she is standing at the window, holding their baby sister. Mom is smiling and waving, so we knew that all was well.

On July 9, 1966, Ricky’s third birthday, we brought that precious bundle home. She didn’t jump like the others. “Jill’s my baby,” Ricky demanded. “She came home on my Birthday!”  “Mine,” Danny protested. With quiet assurance, Chelle said, “She’ll like me best! I’m her sister.” They all claimed and protected her, including Chief Boy—our big hairy German shepherd. He wouldn’t let anyone near her carriage when I took her outside for a walk. My little Jill is a born traveler. She’s so good, taking all the noise in stride. Of course, it’s me who rocks her to sleep.

We’re on the road again! Philadelphia and the mountains, they say. Paul and Margaret Royal and their “little jumpers” live there. Whoa! What’s this??? All of them were piling into my spacious hold. Eleven people and a big dog make our way up into the Pocono Mountains. Top speed—40 mph. I groan, reminding myself that maybe there is something wrong with me.

I’m feeling pretty gritty after three days of sand and sun and glad to be on the road for home again, when I chug-a-chug my last. My master pulled to the side of the turnpike when it appeared I was in trouble. Wasn’t it nice of me to collapse right by an emergency phone? Soon the tow truck was hooking up to me and away I was whisked, riding on my two rear wheels. Whew!!!! I get to relax a bit!

I had quite a chuckle watching my family, a big dog and baby paraphernalia crunch into a two-door hardtop, the only vehicle they could rent at this garage in New Jersey. My master came back for me in a few days.

“Sir, you’ve been driving this car on three cylinders,” the mechanic complained for me. I could’ve told them that, but nobody would listen to me. I’m just a chunk of metal to them! Ooohhh! It feels good to be well again!!

War protests, shootings at Kent State, space shuttles, hippies, flower children—I’ve heard it all for days now. We’re on our way to California. It’s 1969, February—that means I’m in for some treacherous driving. I’ve heard about those mountain passes and am not thrilled. We’re in Wisconsin (not far from the Minnesota border) when I’m having major problems again.

“Can’t fix ‘er in an hour! She’ll need a complete overhaul.”

“Guys, we’ll have to buy a new van,” my master says. “No! No! We can’t leave her here! Noooo!” whined my little jumpers. Jill is 2 ½, so she’s joined the jumping.

They did buy a new van – a big, blue Ford Club Wagon. My mistress didn’t like it right off. It was cold way back there. When Jill spilled water, it froze to her blanket. This would never fly, I thought! So, they towed me, and what a sight we were!

A visit with grandparents and cousins in Minnesota before our long grind over mountain passes was a lot of fun. Grandpa Ament said, “Do you have chains?” My master said, “Chains, why would I need chains?” Grandpa just grumbled and retrieved a set of chains from his garage. “You’re not leaving here without these,” he said.

Those chains came in mighty handy! A stop in Big Sandy, Mont. at uncle George’s family gave us a little more insight into our next leg of the trip. My master said, “What’s a mountain pass?” “It’s a good thing you have chains,” uncle George said, “You’re going to need them! How right he was!

Chugging up the steep, snow-packed inclines of the Rockies, my mistress had to get out, start me up and give that big Ford a boost. Even with the chains grandpa made us take, we had trouble. That trip’s another whole story!! I groan every time I’m reminded.

I was glad to pull into the garage at our new home in San Leandro, Calif. The rain came down in buckets to greet us. My radio told of mud slides, houses breaking apart and sliding down the mountain with people left standing in what remained, and some losing their life in the slide. Boy, am I glad to be on flat ground, though the wind whistles through me with the San Francisco Bay right down the street.

My master pulled my engine and tinkered for days before the ad went in the paper. A prospective buyer arrived. I cringed! To my utter delight, they walked right past me to that big, blue Ford. That was a close one!! They drove off with the Ford!! The kids chanted a verse grandpa Ament taught them: “Buy a Ford, buy the best! Shove it a mile and walk the rest!” I agree!

I must’ve served them well, because soon a Beetle was parking next to me. My little Jill called it her baby car. Cousins came out by the dozens to visit, and they’d all pile in, and we would head for San Francisco’s Chinatown, the zoo, Fisherman’s Wharf, the cable cars and the Japanese Tea Gardens. My master soon wearied of this and said, “Just take the car. I’ll stay home.” One uncle said he’d never been colder than when visiting San Francisco. My mistress reminded them of what Mark Twain said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” The year-round average temperature in San Francisco is 49 degrees.

The hills and winding streets of San Francisco were quite a challenge for me, with so much weight in my spacious hold, but we always made it back home. On the way home, my master liked to drive through the slums of Oakland to show the kids how some people live, hoping they would appreciate what they had and feel compassion for kids not so blessed.

…Another note about San Francisco…. I see my relatives painted brightly and loaded to the gills with long-haired, bearded folks. It’s 1970. “Peace, not war,” they chant. We drive down the famed Haight-Ashbury streets at the height of the hippie movement. My mistress told the kids to cover their eyes at times. I didn’t want my little jumpers to witness some of the things going on right on the sidewalks, either, along with their stands selling jewelry, homemade bread and anything else to make a dollar.

Home always looks so good to all of us, and the kids sing their “Home again—Home again” song.

What’s this?? A newer red version of me in the driveway? They could’ve talked to me about it, or at least hinted that I was ready for the chopping block. They still don’t know that I have feelings.

     The ad goes in the paper again, and this time it is me that drives away. The kids are bigger now. They don’t jump anymore, but they’re still mine. It’s been a good tour.

     My new owner (hippie-type) pats me tenderly and says, “Girl, we’re going to spruce you up a bit.”

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