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A LOVE LETTER TO AN OLD FRIEND
Story by Lois Grace


Dear Vern,

You were 8 years old when Dad brought you home. Only 8 years old and you looked as if you'd seen the worst the world had to offer. At the time, you weren't old enough to qualify as vintage, and you were so beat up that attempts at making you look better seemed a waste of time. Your beautification would come later, although none of us realized it then.

Dad had always wanted one like you, but we figured that once he actually got down to the business of buying, he'd end up with one of what everyone else had - an old Chevy, or maybe even a Ford. We were all amazed that you were what he ended up choosing. Why he picked you remains a mystery - I don't remember ever asking him that. All I know is one evening in 1967, when I was 12 years old, we set out on a short drive after dinner to bring you home. For these past 30 years, you have woven yourself into the fabric of this family's life - you have shared the fun and the pain and the difficult growing-up-times with all 6 of us.

My family thinks it's nutty to feel as strongly as I do about a vehicle - to them, you are a Machine. Sure, they named you and brought you closer to all of us by doing so, but they still regard you as not much more than a giant collection of nuts, bolts, and painted metal. Don't worry about that too much, OK? In their own way, they are fond of you. You have been with us so long that I think even they would hate to think of your leaving. Everyone but Bruce still calls you by name, still thinks of you as the 5th child.

It's hard for me to remember that you had a life (of sorts) before you came to us. You were built in Germany on February 9, 1959, (I think it was fate that made you born on my mother's birthday) and shipped to San Francisco on February 18, 1959. You didn't stay in Germany long, you had probably been built for export and your destination was determined before your first bolt was ever tightened. Just where you spent the first 8 years of your life and who ordered you from the factory isn't known to me yet. I wish you could talk, and tell me where you were and who had you and what you did. Who was the person that bought you when you were new, and why? I know now that whoever it was ordered you from the factory with the canvas bed cover so sought after by collectors now. Who was it that mistreated you so badly and left you such a wreck? Who owned you for those 8 years before we got you? See? There's so much left unsaid and unknown. When you were first rolled off the ship in San Francisco, Eisenhower was president, Alaska and Hawaii became states, and the minimum wage was $1.00 an hour. A new house had an average price tag of $12,400, a gallon of gas cost 25 cents, and Ben Hur won Best Picture of the year. Ford officially declared its Edsel a flop. I was 5 years old, and my baby brother (who is a chef now, lives in Chicago and has 3 children) was a toddler at 2 years old. My mom and dad had only been married for 15 years, and would go on to spend a happy total of 47 years together. Volkswagen was certainly not an unknown in the States at that time, but it was not the presence it would later grow to be. Our family had a TV - a roll-around version - but we rarely watched it. In 1959, we were living in Sudbury, Massachusetts, I was in the first grade and my thoughts were far from driving old trucks like you. It would be another 8 years before I met you, and another 4 years after that before I'd be allowed to legally drive you (although I drove you several times before it was legal!).

Much has happened since Dad and I brought you home that evening in 1967. Once you arrived at our house, I knew you were important to me. I remember taking one look at that broad, blue face of yours and knowing I was in love. I knew then that I would never let you leave, I would never let someone else have the fun that you were and still are. I remember many happy trips spent with you ticking off the miles. Do you remember that rainy Saturday when you, Dad, Jill and I traveled up to the ranch, 200 miles away? It rained so hard your poor leaky windshields couldn't take it any more and the water ran down the dash until Jill and I stuffed Kleenex in the disintegrating rubber to stop it. Do you remember that horrible, hot July at the same ranch, hauling all of us (except Mom, who refused to ride in your bed) to the ballpark to watch the fireworks? I thought we had the best seats around, sitting on lawn chairs in your bed, high above those sitting on blankets on the ground. I also recall a certain wild-goose chase that Dad made, piloting you up some narrow, unknown dirt road in the rain. Why? Just because you'd never been up there before. The rain got heavier, the road got muddier, and before we knew it, your rump had slipped off one side and your back tires were mired in a ditch. Of course, you had no intention of staying there in that ditch, so with Dad carefully driving and the rest of us easing your hiney out, you crawled out of that muddy ditch on your own and we headed back to safety. You never let us down. OH! And how about that time in San Francisco when your BRAKES went out? That was exciting! Your poor mechanical parts could never seem to keep up with your brave heart. You always had the gumption, it was just sometimes hard for your old parts and pieces to keep pace. So many times you limped home with us inside, and I don't recall ever worrying too much that you might not make it. You always did.

That terrible night in 1973 taught me that you were a real friend - if I doubted it before, I didn't after that. I can remember my surprise at seeing that Toronado come out of nowhere and smash into your side, narrowing missing me in the driver's seat. It was late, around 1AM, and I must have been sleepy to pull out in front of that speeding behemoth. The impact really hurt you, I could tell that immediately. Your side was ripped open, your engine case and battery smashed, your gas tank ruptured. I only remember this in a haze, I was too hysterical at the time. You sat at a crazy angle up against the curb, axle broken, engine destroyed, and driver's door ripped off its hinges. How I hated to go home with Mom and Dad that night, leaving you there. I was sure I had killed you, sure that you would not be able to recover from this last, final insult. After all you'd endured in your life I couldn't believe that I was going to be the one that finally ended that life that was so precious to me. You were so hurt, so mangled, so destroyed, I didn't see any way that you could survive something like this.

But you did. And we both went on, a bit battered and more the worse for wear, but a lot wiser too. That wreck made me a better driver, and made me more determined than ever not to lose you. Cars that arrived in our driveway since you came to live with us came and went, but you remained. Remember that '68 7-passenger VW Bus Dad bought right after you came home? Barnabus was his name.....he was sold also. Why, I'm not sure. The '63 Jeep Wagoneer you lived with left long ago, traded in with the travel trailer it towed for an Explorer motor home. The Explorer, being a domestic-built vehicle (to say nothing of the fact that it hauled an entire apartment around on its back) had problems and was sold to buy a mercifully-nameless Peugeot 504 wagon. The Peugeot didn't last long (several years, but in our house that was nothing) and I suspect it was due to the fact that its French genes just clashed too much with the overwhelming German-ness of our household. Dad ended up with a 1982 diesel Rabbit pickup named Biff, and my mother happily drove her '71 Datsun 240Z. The unthinkable happened in 1974 and still you persevered: I brought home a usurper to your affections, my '69 VW Bug. Of course, by this time you were getting on in years and needing a lot more than I could comfortably afford. Once I got a real job I needed reliable transportation (and, I thought, a real stereo) and the most logical conclusion was to buy a 'real' car. Dad kept you after this, mostly because I could not bear the thought of you going to someone else after all that time. But, the very sad truth of the matter was that Dad had no need for you then, I appeared to have no need for you then, younger brother David had his '65 Chevy pickup and didn't want an 'imitation pickup' (his words) like you. Dad decided to sell you. I'm not sure I ever told you this, but I was shocked and depressed by this. Could you tell?

Even that horrific event was softened some by the fact that when you were sold, you went to someone I knew: my boyfriend. Rob thought you were cool and needed something to haul his dirt bike around in - the thought of an old ancient VW truck to do it appealed to his sense of the bizarre. Even though I knew I would not see you every day like I had for the past 8 years, I would still get to see you. And, since you were now Rob's truck, I might even get to drive you now and then. Rob took good care of you and was kind to you. You helped him move into his first and second apartments. You helped his brother move. Then, when Rob and I got married, you helped move ME into my new home. Once again, you and I were linked. We had a mostly uneventful life after this, unless you want to count the time that I tried to sell you. I'm sure you remember this because I knew you were against it right from the start. I had that guy with the Hebmueller wanting to buy you but he must have sensed my hesitation because he didn't give me a deposit right away. He asked me to call him back after we'd made the deal because he wanted to be sure I was OK with selling you. After a week or so of agony - nightmares about you leaving and the like - I called him back. Remember that conversation? I just couldn't do it, you were too important. The dents and the rust and the decay didn't matter to me, YOU mattered to me. I'm glad the guy understood (perhaps he had an old beat up VW at home too) as I felt badly for backing out of our deal.

We won't even talk about your restoration - by the time I borrowed the money to make this happen, you were such a part of me that I couldn't have stopped this if I'd tried. You had waited so long for this! You deserved it! I'm sure I don't need to remind you how it felt to see you sitting there, in Garland's shop, with all your new paint and chrome and that big smile! Did you ever look like a happy truck! I'm sure you hadn't felt that good since you left Germany, all those long years ago. I hope you also felt how much you meant to me, surely you realize that was why I did what I did. Dad died in 1991, but he got to see the fun I had restoring you, and he also got to see the finished result. He saw his old beat-up work truck turned into a glorious work of art. That summer evening he first saw you, he took one look and then looked at me, his pride obvious. I think Dad was about the only one besides Rob that really knew what you mean to me.

I cried a bit when I wrote this, happy tears some, but mostly just from the nostalgia of remembering you. Don't worry, I'm not sad. Vern, the last 30 years have really been a kick - I sure am looking forward to the next 30. Stick around, I guarantee you'll enjoy our ride. And please don't think I'm a sap. No, I'm not a sap, I'm just in love - in love with an old blue truck.

Love Always,

Lois

VolksWoman

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