The Old Van


When I was growing up, my dad had a van. A really old van. And not old in the classic-vintage-any-kind-of-cool-way van.

Just old.

And dirty.

Not dirty old man.

But dirty old van.

Although, I hope to one day be called both.


I have spent my adult life searching for a van with the insides that could match that one. The one from my memories. With the interior so covered in dog hair and dust that when you slid the door open, it appeared as though my father was throwing magic confetti into the air.

If magic confetti was made out of dog hair.

Which I am quite positive it is.

I am thinking I will never find a van quite like it.

My dad’s favorite color is blue. Every year he would paint his van a different shade of blue. Inevitably, it would chip or fade, so the van always had patches of different shades of blue peeking through it. It was like a blueberry jelly bean. Before they made blueberry jelly beans. It actually looked quite pretty paired with the rust. It had a special ombre effect decades before ombre would become fashionable.

When we were little we loved riding in the van. It had no unnecessary items. Such as seatbelts.

My sister and I would argue over who would get to ride in the front.

Looking back, I cannot quite figure out why this was. The front seat sat precariously balanced. Another unnecessary item in this van was the bolt that would have held the front seat in place. This meant that if you leaned back in the chair, it would topple over backwards.

We were a no frills family.

Seatbelts? Pfffft.

A seat that would stay in place? What are we? The Rockefellers?

Doors that stayed shut? Please. Those are for amateurs. Just don’t lean on the door and you’ll be fine. As in, you won’t tumble out onto the moving road. Or rather onto the road from the moving vehicle. I use the word “vehicle” loosely. It was more like the blue ride of terror.

I will never forget when my little sister was two.

I was pouting in the back of the van. Sitting as close to the console as I could get, away from the back. I was scared of the depths of the van. In fact, I never went back there. It was where all of the magic confetti was made. Too much of that stuff and I was sure I would drift into the dust motes that clung to the carpet as they unsuccessfully avoided being made into illustrious scraps of crap.

I was glowering at my sister who had once again scored the fun seat. The seat up front. She was busy spinning and trying as hard as she could to keep her balance so the seat would not topple into the back where I would surely hold her for ransom in an attempt to claim her throne.

It happened so quickly.

One moment we were being jostled down the dirt road that led to our house from my grandparent’s home. And the next moment, the front door had swung open.

And my little sister. My two year old little sister was holding on to the open door by the window frame. Dangling there like an unfortunate mountain climber in an action movie.

Or an unfortunate child of the eighties before there were laws concerning the safety of automobiles.

I will admit to laughing. I had no idea how dangerous the situation was. I thought she was just up to her old tricks. She was the dare devil. I seriously thought she was purposefully hanging onto an open door.

It was awesome.

And then she let go.

And my mom freaked the freak out.

She stopped the van.

She was terrified that she had run my sister over.

But she had merely fallen out. There was not a scratch on her.

It had to be all of that magical confetti.

We were always covered in the stuff.

You would think it was at this point that something in or on the van would change. Such as, I don’t know, adding a little fancy somethin’ like a bolt to a seat or a screw to the door.

Or a seatbelt for a toddler.


The only thing changing on that van was which color blue it would be from one day to the next.

If you got black and blue from riding in the van. Well, you just matched it better.

We are going to fast forward this story to when I was thirteen. Seven years had passed since my sister’s little incident. The van had not changed. Or rather, I am sure it was still being painted yearly and the magical confetti had now had seven years to grow bigger. Thicker. Fuller. As we acquired more and more dogs to ride in the van (a story for another day).

We had a bus lane at our school. For buses. Let me repeat. For BUSES!

But my dad, well, my dad would pull up in the bus lane whenever he would pick me up. From Junior High School. It would go yellow. Yellow. Yellow. Yellow. Blue. Yellow.

No one ever told him to move. They were much too in awe of his van.

I would, as quickly as I could manage, run up to the van. Yank it open, pause to admire the magic confetti as it swarmed into the sunlight intent on infecting delighting anyone who passed by, and then jump into the back as fast I could. Why the back? You ask.

I think maybe I was humbled by how amazing my ride was and maybe I did not want anyone seeing who was in the blue van. I did not want to be hounded with autographs. Did I mention the back seat had no windows? Yea. I was incognito in my coolness.

Years later I would learn that my little sister would make my dad park a block away from that junior high school so that she would not have to be bombarded by fans. You know. The fans that would swarm that awesome van.

Or at least, that is what I assumed.

My dad always fondly tells the story of how I was not embarrassed of his method of transportation. Of how my sister was so mean to make him park so far away. Of how I was the good daughter that allowed the van to truly shine. Where it did not belonged.

In the bus lane.

Of course.

I did not have the heart to tell him it just never occurred to me to ask him to park elsewhere.

The thought just never came.

You can blame it on my immaturity. My true love for the van. My desire for fame.

But we all know the truth.

The real culprit was the magic confetti.

I snorted too much of it.

I became an addict.

And then it was taken away. Sold. Never to be seen again. It went to a dealer. And I’m not talking cars.

I’m speaking of nostalgic shrapnel. Flakes of time. Decades. Of. Laughter. And screams.

That must be the reason that whenever I see a van the color of the sky, I grin widely and rush forward to peer inside.

To get a whiff.

Of blue painted dust mote magical memories.

“Just Kidding”


When I was four, I found out something wonderful. Something beautiful. It was…


With words, you could tell a whole new story. Put together a sentence that could change someone’s day. Alter the universe. Or at least my universe.

And what if?… Oh my gosh. What a thrill. Well, what if I could invent a new truth? Form words about a scenario that had not occurred. Would never occur. But with words, I could make it happen. Imagine it happened.

And then I discovered two words that would change my little world forever.



Put them together and my new truth wasn’t a new truth. It wasn’t a lie. It wasn’t an elaborate tale. It was a glorious little thing called a “joke.” And everyone seemed to love a joke.

I reveled in this new manipulative (of course, I didn’t know that word back then) technique.

I could change words. Change the day. And make everybody laugh in the process.

I saw nothing that could go wrong with my new found power.

“Just kidding,” was golden. It was genius.

“Did you finish your green beans?”

“Yes, Mommy. They were delicious.”

Mommy looks at the plate. “You didn’t eat them! You didn’t even touch them!”

I put on my best smile. “I was just kidding Mommy.”

Mommy’s heart turns to butter that coats the green beans and turns them to mush. And I skip away from the table as an adorable vegetable-free little darling.

I turned the adorable up a notch (another power that was fading with age and the arrival of a pudgy toothless baby sister).

“Did you know that our dog is from the moon?

And he only eats rubber bands?

And at night he turns into my dresser and watches me sleep?”

Then I would grin. Wait an appropriate amount of time.

And burst forth with my delicious skill, “Just kidding!”

And everyone would laugh and laugh.

This went on for awhile. These innocent nonsenses. Fun little tales.

But the tales began to become bolder.

At first, it was just little things. Pretending the dog got out. Or there was a train in the road. The laughter I had used to receive began to dwindle.

My few short days as a comedian were coming to an end.

I was not ready to retire yet.

I needed the laughter. I needed the words.

I kept the “Just kidding” game going for as long as I could.

That is until it took a sinister turn.

I decided my little tales needed a bit more drama in them. Keep it exciting. Turn the power up a notch.

“Mommy! Mommy! There’s a stranger in our yard!”

Mom looks around in a panic. Grabs us. Rushes to hide. To protect.

After frantically searching, she comes back and there is me. Her manic four year old grinning ear to ear over how well my little joke worked.

“Just kidding!”

Mommy did not laugh that time. Oh no. In fact she looked downright mad.

She sat me down.

“You can’t say ‘just kidding’ like that anymore. It is lying.”

I was not giving up my power that easily.

“But it’s just a joke.”

“No. It’s lying.”

“But it’s not lying, because I say ‘just kidding,’ at the end.” She obviously didn’t get it. It was like I was saying, “Knock Knock,” and instead of responding ,”Who’s there?” in a sing song Mommy voice, she was instead hiding in the dark from a stranger at the door.

“Just because you say, ‘Just kidding’ at the end, does not make it a joke. It is still a lie. If you keep lying, you are going to get in trouble.”

The words sunk in. The power in them. I had been lying. That was bad, right?

I was a perfect angel after that talk.

I completely understood that I had been lying. That I had abused my power.

I was not stubborn then and I am not stubborn now.

I never lied again. Or got in trouble. I stopped telling people stories about my dog. Even when the dresser slobbered on me when I pulled my pajamas out of the drawer.

And I ate all of my green beans.


Just kidding.

“Hokey Pokey”


I am a klutz. I was a klutz growing up. I am a klutz now.

Enter my worst nightmare: growing up during the roller skating era. This was before rollerblades. Before rollerblades became replaced with scooters. Before scooters became replaced with electric scooters. And this whole time, the bicycle was laughing. This was old school. This was terrifying.

Every single birthday party I went to in my youth was held at the local roller rink.

I would linger in the sitting area while tying my roller skates onto my shaky legs. I would act like staying on the carpet was the most exciting thing to do. It never worked. Some grown up would grow weary of me eavesdropping on their conversation.

“Go out there,” I would be told.

I would make my shuffling way to the rink. Dread settling in my stomach like a day old biscuit that I didn’t want to eat. Each step, a bite scraping on my teeth. A slanted chew. The crumbs of panic sliding down my spine. I would grip the edge of the rink with my fingertips. The walls were made of carpet. Or carpet covered the walls. It mattered not. It provided enough of a texture for the end of my fingertips to grip into the edge. And around I would go.

It never failed.

“Let’s hear it for the birthday girl!” I would be halfway around the rink. My fingernails aching.

“Everyone in the middle!”

I would flatten myself against the carpeted wall. Strobes flashing to the fast beat of my heart.

“EVERYONE in the middle. You! On the wall! Get to the middle!”

One time, I didn’t move. I figured, “What could they do?” Let me tell you what they could do. They will turn on all of the lights. Everyone in the rink will stare at you. Some bored teenager will be sent to pry your fingers from the wall and skate with you to the center of the rink, where they will deposit you into a glaring circle of children. And without fail, “The Hokey Pokey” will begin.

It was easier and less dramatic to just let the inevitable happen. To let go.

And so the festivities would be put on hold as I creeped my way to the circle. Every eye upon me. Cold sweat clinging to my back.

I would finally make it there. And it would begin.

“Put your right foot in.”

My nightmare would pause and I could manage to fumble my way through the familiar song. A beat I could finally follow. A song that told me what to do.

But then it would be over. And just like that, I was in the middle of a tornado of children. Swirling by me. It was no wonder I was a prodigy at “Frogger.” I lived that game from the time I was eight to the time I was twelve.

As soon as I would make my way across the round room of pulsating horror, the party would be over.

Until the next weekend.

I never did get over my terror of the roller rink. But I did grow up. I realized that not loving to roller skate is not a flaw. It is not a social stigma anymore. In fact, if I showed my children a pair today, they would probably laugh. The roller skates to them being silly shoes with old fashioned wheels and nothing more. Not an object of failure. Just shoes. With wheels.

I know that now.

“And that’s what it’s all about.”


* I wrote this in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge. . The challenge this week is “moved by music.”

* Pictures of roller skates are from Target’s website. They are very cute…for roller skates.