Once every 15 years or so Dave allows himself to toy with the prospect of getting a new car. My family has been trying to get him to rise above that old RAV 4 he’s been driving for 240,000 miles, but he’s a die-hard.
“That car is gutless, Dave!” I regularly tell him. “Seriously, don’t you think you should have a car that will actually approach a canyon fishing stream with any gumption?”
“It works fine,” he’ll say, and he’ll go back to unloading his wet waders from the back.
Well…miracle of miracles…Dave finally allowed himself to consider a new car this weekend, since I sort of insisted on it as part of my birthday present to him. And…miracle upon miracle…,he bought a new RAV 4 that actually zips up the mountainside. It’s not brand spankin’ new. Someone else broke it in. But that’s perfect for him, cuz some guys will pay a lot to break a car in and he’d rather not be that guy.
So now we have two silver vehicles nesting in our garage. His new beauty, and my old dependable Odyssey van. Mine only has 160,000 miles on it and I’m happy if she has miles to go before she sleeps. She suits me just fine.
People may wonder why an old Gummy would want a van in her days of solitude. So let me explain.
First, these are not days of solitude. They just are not days of hauling ball teams around. Instead, we haul around The Harem. The Harem consists of Dave and his girls: Gram, Libby, Sherry, sometimes my sisters Ann Marie and Sue, and me. And sometimes his daughters and granddaughters. Dave has travelled the world with his Harem and he’s perfectly fine with it. When we went to Germany years ago we rented an Econoline van, extra long with extra seats. Dave drove, Sherry took shotgun and chief sandwich making duties. Gram and Sue took the middle row and Libby and I took the way back, like the old days when we traversed the continent in our big blue Pontiac Rocket. Sometimes we play with people and tell them we are from Utah and start talking in gas station convenience stores like we are sister wives. It’s all in good fun. Dave is such a trooper about it, as long as he only has to go to bed with me. And I’m fine with it, too. When we are driving around town with any portion of the harem it’s really good to have a van. It’s easier to get mom in and out of, and the natural anxiety we all get with closed in spaces is less prominent with the large windows of the mini-van.
Secondly, we need a van to lug my equipment. Speakers, and mixers, and stands and stools, not to mention guitars…they all feel much happier in the back of my van. I don’t think I’ve ever had to load my equipment into a trunk, and for that I feel abundantly blessed.
Thirdly, that silver van is affectionately known as the Chuck Wagon. Since we live one house away from each other, and my sisters care for our mother 24/7, I have elected to do my part to help by cooking when I can for the crew of us. So many nights of many weeks I cook for the crowd. I almost never cook for the two of us. And, in general, that makes me happy.
Wherever Gram lives is central in our lives, so the object is to go to Gram rather than making her come to us. I call our house the West Wing, since we are really just a few yards down the street from them. I call the cul-de-sac The Compound. Craig and Karen Madsen live in the house between us, and we consider them family, too. It’s easier for me to cook in my own kitchen. I can stir a simmering pot with one hand while the other reaches into the utensil drawer for a whisk; my knee naturally kicks the rolling drawer with the sugar and flour bins, in perfect syncopated time with my hands dumping a cup of flour into a mixing bowl. I know my ovens, and I understand the flames on my stove top. So, more often than not, this is what the back of the van looks like on any given evening:
Tonight we loaded a cake into the back of the chuck wagon. A yummy chocolate garbage cake with birthday candles. The car smelled of tender pork roast, marinara sauce simmered for two days on my stove top, raspberry salad with cream cheese and pretzel crust, fresh asparagus steamed in my favorite steaming pot. Hot bread and tender pasta awaited at the East Wing. We drove the 200 yards to Gram’s driveway and called out the forces to help lug it all in. The middle generation streamed out of the house, down the wheel chair ramp in the garage. They scooped up the goods and trudged back in, their conversation mingling with the rising steam and fragrant aromas of our Sunday dinner. We sat together around Libby’s massive table, set tonight with an Easter lily and palm fronds in honor of Palm Sunday. Sarah thanked the Lord on behalf of all of us, asking him to bless Kate in her far away place, thanking Him for her good father, beckoning a blessing on our feast and our family. Ann Marie stood at the stove as Sarah prayed, one arm tucked into her belly in a reverent fashion, the other gently stirring a lovely pan of Alfredo sauce. The night rolled out in typical fashion, conversations weaving in and out of each other, babies laughing, then crying, children squealing; knives and forks clanking against plates: someone asked for the butter, someone else poured a musical flow of ice water into glasses. Hours later, when conversation had waned and the little one’s were showing signs of waring down, we loaded up the pots and pans and serving dishes into the trusty chuck wagon and coasted back down the hill and into our driveway.
Tonight Calvin was tired, and a little sad about the teeth trying to break through his 8 month old gums. I scooped him up and took him to the recliner in the family room, part of the Great Room of Grams grand house. I sat there, across from my octogenarian mother and my sister, next to the kid’s table laden with little plates and cheerful children. I sat there and listened as I cuddled my boy. I knew then, as I know now, that this is the sweet spot of my life. All is well. All is not perfect…but it is blessedly well.
The interesting thing is that it seems my life has been perpetually filled with sweet spots. I am surrounded by people who will accept my love and who love me back, in spite of my foibles. I am filled with a faith that makes even difficult times seem sweet somehow. And I am blessed to live one short chuck wagon drive away from the people who mean more than the world to me.