She entered our lives in 1972, all shiny “Sea Blue” and white plastic interior. As I recall, this was the first and, indeed, the only new vehicle our mom ever bought. Though seatbelt laws were not yet enacted and we had spent many happy road trips drifting around the back seat and “way back” of the purple metallic “high-viz” station wagon she had bought off the local mailman back in the late ’60s, Mom, saddled at this point with a divorce, a second husband and 5 kids, was in serious need of wheels that would transport the lot of us in reliable style.
I still recall the day we collected her. Though I was not quite 7, I recall that we had endured some serious rainfall that week, and the banks of the Mascoma River were spilling into our neighborhood, causing us all quite a fright. We braved the rains and swollen river to collect our blue beauty in Lebanon, NH the day the floodwaters crested, and the excitement amongst all of us was palpable. Flooding AND a new car. Oh, the drama! The excitement!
But, as with all new things, the shiny soon wore off.
Within the year, the black rubber floor mats were littered with gum wrappers and forgotten homework assignments, root beer stains and empty hot dog wrappers, glitter, stray socks, not-quite-empty soda cans, used tissues, crayons, bits of linty liquorice and dead pens.
In other words, it looked pretty much like a vehicle used to transport 5 children.
Our blue VW van made its first cross-country journey in the mid 70s, followed closely by an enormous U-Haul loaded with all our worldly goods. We were intrepid travellers heading westward in search of greener pastures that turned out to be the golden wheatfields of Kansas. It was at this point that, in the infancy of the CB radio heyday, our VW earned her “handle”. In order to communicate with the U-Haul, mom had a CB radio installed, and The Blue Gypsy was born.
She handled her maiden trans-continental journey with ease.
Over the years, our Blue Gypsy made the Kansas/New Hampshire round trip time and time again. After all, she had 5 kids with a dad, cousins and grandparents “back east.” It was the least she could do.
Sure, she broke down a time or 2. Or 10. We learned the back streets of exotic places like Wheeling, West Virginia and Utica, New York, where we spent a night sleeping in a campground under the stars awaiting a part to be shipped in and Gypsy’s rubber band to be rewound to continue her trip.
We were that overloaded van going 20 mph uphill through the Allegheny mountains of Pennsylvania, which stretch pretty much the entire length, corner to corner, of that state. (Pennsylvania was always the longest day. The l o n g e s t.)
The Blue Gypsy was that van advised by the truckers of “smokey alerts” and traffic warnings, thanks to our CB radio. She was the same van that the truck drivers formed a ring around for protection one rainy night we all slept in a truck stop parking lot. I don’t remember where we were, but I remember vividly the kindness of the truckers and the concern they took with my mom, divorced again and alone on the road, now with 6 children in tow, aged infant to 15.
Gypsy was still alive and kicking when I myself learned to drive, and though she may have lost some of the gloss of her early years, she was a reliable teacher of both the stick shift and the mechanics of maneuvering a billboard sized windbreak on the road. To this day, I automatically correct in traffic for crosswinds and passing lorries (18-wheelers) thanks to her.
Sure… at 16, I was embarrassed sometimes by what I perceived to be her classlessness. Her boxiness. The sheer “mom-mobile” appearance and her rusty, white bumpers. Her white plastic seating had, over the years, been rendered gray from spilled sodas, greasy little fingers and one too many road trips. Her sliding door didn’t slide like it used to. Her gearshift was half-mile long and got testier with each journey.
The Blue Gypsy was dying.
Somewhere along the line, when I was off at college and mom, now happily remarried for many years to the man I call “Dad,” Gypsy was put out to pasture. Perhaps she was traded in or sold for scrap. I never asked, and in my youth scarcely cared.
But, as the years have passed, I am pleased to see that there are many VW enthusiasts out there who are itching for a project… a refurb… an update on the classic, and a reloving of the once loved. To buy The Blue Gypsy today, you would pay a fair few pennies.
To think of her languishing with her sad, vacant eyes in some scrapyard makes me so sad. We shared so many, many moments, good and bad, over the years. In my heart, I hope – I truly hope – she was snapped up by some enthusiast who did not care that she was past the split-screen years. He looked at her rust and thought, “We can fix this, old girl…” He saw her character, and lovingly polished her new as a shiny penny again.
I like to think that The Blue Gypsy is this very day sporting a fresh lick of paint and transporting some suntanned lad to the beach, surfboard strapped to her restored top, and loaded down with friends and camping gear. The CB may be out, but I figure she’s got a sweet sound system going on, Bluetooth and all… maybe a sub built in. She’s Pearl Jamming at the top of some sand dune, watching the sun set in Malibu…
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