Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Tribute to the Family Truckster


As we approach the one year anniversary this Saturday of moving to this old, abandoned farm I am amazed by God's goodness in not only providing for us, but also helping us to like it - actually LOVE it here.

When I look around the farm and observe the ways things have changed, I realize that the biggest changes haven't been in the way things look but rather in how we view them. The old house still has only one tiny bathroom and no air conditioning but we seldom ever talk about it.

Instead, we talk about the cool breeze that often blows in the windows as night falls. We comment on how nice it is when the wind shifts and the flies aren't as omnipresent. And we get way too excited when we're able to eat supper before 8pm and have an hour or two to enjoy the evening before going to bed. We eagerly await evidence each month that the older boys have been successful in their newly acquired skill of artificially inseminating the cows and we cheer when one of the younger boys invents a way to mount a basket on his bike to transport bottles to the calf pen.

Probably one of the most obvious differences in the way we view things would be in regard to our material possessions - especially vehicles.

About five years ago I met, for the first time in my life, someone who drove a vehicle over 100,000 miles. She told me their minivan actually had 200,000 miles on it and I remember how I tried to hide my shock and disbelief. Trying to use the new friendship as a chance to broaden my horizons, I asked her how she knew when it was time to sell it if not at what I considered the drop-dead number of 100,000 miles. Can you believe she had a well-thought out formula?! She said that when a vehicle costs half as much to repair each month as it would to make payments on another vehicle, it was time to replace it. I couldn't have been any more amazed by her incredible wealth of knowledge.

All my married life, when a car hit the 100K mile marker, it was quickly off-loaded. Although we stopped getting loans for cars about 15 years ago when we went through Larry Burkett's budgeting series, we held fast to the rule of unloading cars before they reached the milestone of what we assumed would be certain and complete disaster.

But as farming has changed what we consider acceptable housing accommodations, we have entered a new era with our vehicles as well. With the exception of regular oil changes, we've thrown caution to the wind as we watched the odometer turn endlessly. Well, we had hoped it would turn endlessly.

Yesterday, our faithful family van of nearly 10 years left on a flatbed amidst the memory-filled send-off for which it was so deserving. Having brought babies home from the hospital, taking us on family vacations, and teaching some of the older kids to drive, our beloved van served us for more than 250,000 miles.
When we originally bought the van, I felt we MUST have a 12 passenger vehicle to carry our then, 5 children comfortably. There was positively not enough room for our party of 7 in a minivan - or so we thought. The dealer told us that the van had been traded in from the government and had been in service in the D.C. area. Because the van was completely black with privacy-blackened windows and the only sign of wear was on the floor and frame of the back doors, we wondered if it had been used in the coroner's office where caskets may have made the excessive wear marks.

As excited as I was to have a big, family van, it bothered me when in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, people looked suspicious or even frightened as we drove by in the sinister-looking vehicle.

I asked Timmy if we could please paint the bottom quarter of the body with an alternating, complementary color so it wouldn't look so ominous. He flatly refused, reminding me that it would be a complete waste of money. In the mean time, he put a sad, noticeable "ding" (graciously described) near the passenger's side front tire on the once-perfect body.

This only further compounded my desire to have the semi-paint job (along with the now necessary body work). One day, in an insane moment of babbling, I told Timmy that what we needed was someone to lightly tap that passenger side so their insurance would pay for the repair and we could chip in for the difference of the two-tone paint job. Timmy, understandably, scolded me for even thinking such a fool thought.

Not long after that, we were making a right turn, properly signaled, and the man behind us was answering a call on his cell phone and glided right into the passenger side right tire area of our van. Please don't judge too harshly, but after I thanked the Lord profusely for his divine protection, I chose my new paint color.

As the years wore on, and we used the van for our tractor service, hauling gas cans, weed blades, and the like, along with farm use that became part of our new life, the van degenerated into a work van instead of a nice family van. When we'd load up for a family excursion, the girls would often have to sit on a towel to keep their clothes from getting dirty from the animals that had also been recently transported.

One memory that came to mind yesterday as the van was being hauled away was when Meredith and I left for the day to celebrate her 21st birthday. As always, the day included plenty of shopping and a meal at a girl-friendly restaurant. Not able to finish all of our lunch, we wrapped it up and put it in the van to store safely during the cold December day. However, we noticed something unusual at some point in regard to our left-overs. There was a nibbling, crunchy sound coming from our bags. The boys had forewarned us although we thought it was just brotherly teasing. There was a mouse, who somehow had gained entry during a routine pick up of animal feed, that was comfortably living in the van and on this day was eating our left-overs nonchalantly situated between Meredith and me as if he were one of the girls!

Fearing what we'd do if he jumped on us while we were driving, we opted to run the remainder of our shopping errands while leaving the van doors wide open in the parking lot - hoping he'd jump out and preferring to be robbed rather than attacked by a mouse. The picture in my mind's eye of the van sitting in the parking lot unaccompanied with doors wide open will forever be part of my van memories.

Poor Elliott, our mildest, most cautious driver was at the wheel when the van breathed its last. With a gurgle and some steam, it gave up the fight. Once we realized the extent of the damage, I remembered my seasoned, clunker-wise church friend's advice and tailoring it just a bit, we decided it wasn't worth repairing a vehicle when the expenses exceeded three times the value. So we bid our van farewell.

Offering the brightest ray of sunshine in our sorrow is the perky Dodge Durango that reluctantly became the family vehicle about two years ago when gas prices were high, causing us to leave our trusty van home most of the time. Boasting a whopping 256,000 miles, this car has been a most unusual vehicle for a family of eight. Because it only seats seven, the last 3 people sitting on a small bench seat have to "double-buckle" as we call it. Our years with the Durango are indelibly imprinted on our minds. (Whether for good or bad depends on which seat one has spent the last two years occupying.)

Because it is so small and really not intended to carry passengers of which 3 are at least six feet tall and one is in a large, clunky carseat, we feel the stares of passersby boring into our backs when we unload and unload and unload the passengers contained in the tiny SUV. To combat the recurrence of this uncomfortable incident, we instituted a command upon arrival at our destination: "Dismount and STEP AWAY from the vehicle!" That way, people don't know where we've all come from. It works well.

For one and a half years we all piled into the little Durango to attend church in Wake Forest - 2 hours away. Amazingly, there was very little discussion about discomfort. We had each other, we had our health, and we made many memories as we'd stop on the way home for 2 half gallons of ice cream each week and dish it out using our standard auto inventory of bowls and spoons that are in any Alexander-occupied vehicle.

I look back at that girl who just HAD to have a 12 passenger van and wonder what her problem was! The good life is lived in small cars just as easily as big ones. Cars with a bit of hay and animal feed ride just as well as those that don't. What matters is making the most of these fleeting days I have with these dear friends I call my husband and children. Any vehicle is suitable for memory-making and as long as it doesn't include any fury little creatures who nibble on my left-overs, I hope to find contentment in whatever the Lord provides.