Old Red – retired, but not forgotten

Categorized as 05/11/09 Goshen News column

Sixteen years, two jiggly mirrors, and 201,000 miles. Throw in one anemic engine, 0.3 cup holders per person, and an air conditioner that went clunk, and the numbers added up to one thing. In cowboy vernacular, we had ridden the hair off that horse, and it was time for a new ride.

When my resourceful husband did the research, he found that the nearest one that met all his specifications was one state over. Thus, on a recent spring evening we piled into Old Red – two adults, four boys, one stroller, three suitcases, and one portable crib.

Oh, yeah. And a pack of howler monkeys, judging by the shrieks that erupted when someone’s sibling dribbled cold pop on his leg.

“Can you throw some napkins back there?” The Chief asked.

“I would, but I’ve got a suitcase in my back, a stroller across my legs, and your soda on my lap,” I said. “Need a drink?”

“Forget it,” he said, looking tired.

I could tell he was counting the miles.

Upon returning, I was surprised by a twinge of nostalgia as I watched Old Red being wheeled into the barn. To the ordinary eye, it looked like an old, tired van, but to me, it looked like the answer to our long-ago prayers.

Far from being just a piece of junk destined for the scrap heap, it was a museum of family history, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many times our merry band had spilled in and out of its doors.

A lot of character had been developed using that humble van. Week after week, we packed in four boys who had (theoretically, anyway) been freshly scrubbed the night before, and hauled them to church. Out they would tumble afterward in a flurry of Sunday School papers, shirts untucked and shoelaces untied, looking for lunch.

Further character was developed when the teenagers started driving. For the oldest one especially, it was the bane of his existence, thanks to its unique shape and the fact that it was clearly the only van to come over on the ark.

Being dropped off at school was particularly stressful for him. We would pull up to the sidewalk with only a pair of eyebrows, two eyes, and a tuft of hair showing on the passenger’s side. I would pause, sighing with impatience, as he waited for all upper classmen and cheerleaders to pass by before slinking out and bolting into the school.

Over the years, Old Red faithfully carried us to and from many sporting events. We’d load up the stroller and toss in the equipment, followed by the players and the baby. After whooping and hollering per “The Good Parent’s Handbook,” we’d return home and unload the whole caboodle, this time in reverse.

Old Red also served as my counseling office. For some reason, boys open up when you get out on the open road. Maybe it’s the locked doors, I don’t know, but I did discover that if you keep it above 35, they can’t jump. When they get tired of circling the block, they’ll lean back and sing like canaries, giving you an opportunity to speak wisdom into their lives.

I’m sure I don’t need to mention the countless scuffles that took place in the back half of that van. You will not be surprised to hear that on a recent drive with three of them, I happened to look in the rear view mirror and noted the silhouette of a shoe. Above the seats. Obviously, there were some limbs seriously out of place.

This is why you pack some heat. Firing a few blanks in the air settles the dust in a hurry. So does a brief, impassioned sermon delivered from behind the steering wheel. I don’t mean that “I have a dream” one, either. I’m thinking more along the lines of “Little sinners in the hands of an angry driver who is being distracted.” I’ll bet you have the notes for that one, too.

And how can I forget the wild ride we took the night Baby Schrock was born? With three brothers eager to welcome him and a mama in labor, The Chief chucked everyone in, throwing in a suitcase and pillows, and gunned it.

With every jolt and bump in the road triggering a fresh contraction, I think I screeched something like, “Do you want me to deliver this child in the glove box?!” while hanging on for dear life. I’m pretty sure we slewed into the parking lot sidewise in a hail of gravel and dust, but that’s not what The Chief says. He claims it was far more dignified than that, but I’m awfully suspicious of his supposed memory.

Yes, Old Red served us well. I’m pretty sure the pain will fade when it sinks in that wet thighs are a thing of the past, thanks to all the new cup holders. The boys will feel out of place in a vehicle that has a built-in DVD player, but I think they’ll feel right at home once they’ve had a tussle or two just to break it in.

It’s the heated seats that may cause a problem. Come winter, I may never get out. Hot cross buns? Bring it on.

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