It happens more often than I’d care to admit. And it’s pretty ridiculous, you’d think I’d know better by now, but habits are a hard thing to break.
Every time I see a large white van, the kind that’s typically used as a work vehicle, I want to take a second look. See, most of them look the same to me, until I start to look for the details. Extra windows on the back? Not it. Ford? Not it. Lumber rack on top? It might be…
It might just be my dad’s van.
And my heart skips a beat as I look closer, trying to see his face smiling at me from the window. Because that’s the way it’s always been. It was common to see him driving around town, and it would always make me smile. But it’s never him I see anymore.
And when I see it, when I see the actual van that was my dad’s, my heart aches.
And I see it daily…
In my own driveway.
Dad hadn’t worked much in the months before he was diagnosed with cancer, and not at all after the diagnosis. Some odd, smaller jobs, but nothing long-term. As a general contractor, he was able to choose what work he could do, but there came a point when he knew that he wouldn’t be doing much more work. Not soon, anyway. That was the plan. He’d not work for now, but get back to work eventually, and new transportation would be arranged then. Why should the van sit in the driveway, unused when it could be put to work? And how handy that my husband Todd was just thinking he’d like to have new-to-him transportation for work! Especially if it was anything other than his current, less-than-perfect truck. And extra cash never hurt for mom and dad to have, as they were facing medical expenses of unknown proportions. It looked to be a win for everyone involved. Almost.
It was only fitting that we should buy it. As a general contractor Todd had always thought it would be nice to have a work van, or to work out of a really nice, enclosed trailer. Something with shelving. A space for every tool, and every tool in its place. No more climbing over bins of tools to reach table saws, no more tools sliding around while driving. There would be order (or at least an option for it). At the thought of this purchase, he was looking forward to the change and improvements this would bring to his work life.
So we purchased the van.
Before it came home, my brother went through the van and its toolboxes, taking out any tools he knew he’d personally need or want, plus any tools dad thought would be handy to have around. I don’t think dad helped much with this, except verbal input and advice on what would still be needed. He just wasn’t up to really being out in the garage, out of the house. A fact that bothered me on so many levels, especially knowing it’d probably drive him crazy not knowing where stuff was being placed. Dad always knew where everything was (or was supposed to be, anyway).
And then the time came. The van was ready to leave their driveway, to drive the 3/4 of a mile to my house… To my driveway.
As Todd backed the van into our driveway, I choked. To see the van arrive, to not see my dad’s smile through the window. It was too much. I cried. And I told myself I was being ridiculous, and resolved to kick myself out of my funk. I washed my face, went outside and tried to be happy.
But I couldn’t.
On the contrary, my sons were excessively excited to share in the exploration of grandpa’s van, now their own dad’s van. They wanted to pillage and plunder, question and critique. They wanted to be in it, and on it, run around it and crawl through it. But I couldn’t go near it. No matter how much they wanted to show me things, no matter what they had to share, I tried to be excited with them, for them, but I had to keep my distance.
And I cried.
Seeing the remaining tools of dad’s, seeing his red toolbox still inside. I knew this was just another step in saying goodbye. I hate that. I hate that I couldn’t hope as much as other people, that I was so worried dad wasn’t going to recover. Or maybe an inability to hope is the wrong term… I did hope. I wanted to believe that this illness was temporary, God knows I prayed for miracles. Endlessly. Daily. As much as I hoped, prayed and pled, it couldn’t stop me from observing. From seeing. From noticing… I wanted to pretend that my dad wasn’t growing weaker. I wanted to act like I didn’t notice that, when I hugged him his embrace wasn’t so strong and assuring, with lean-muscled arms. That yes, his hugs were now more loving than ever, but I could also feel how boney his arms had become. I wanted to hope…
As Todd progressed towards moving his own tools into the van, some things needed to be removed. Some odds and ends, random brackets, used hardware, odd bits of unknown purpose, some of it just needed to be disposed of. “What do you think I should do with these?” Todd inquired, holding up the well-worn pair of white sneakers, with black something on them. Dad had kept the shoes in the van, their main use being only for when he had to use tar on a roof repair, or some other task that would ruin his everyday shoes. He was always that prepared.
Panic ensued with that basic inquiry, or at least panic is what I felt. Oxygen seemed in short supply, my heartbeat became erratic, waves of nausea washed over me. And I just wanted to embrace those shoes, and trace where they’d gone with my dad. What tasks had he accomplished in those shoes? What jobs had he conquered? What had been his thoughts while he was working? I can only imagine his mind had wandered to his family, and how, no matter the ugliness of the task to need those shoes, he had been thankful for an opportunity to support his family. He was just that amazing. That selfless. That caring.
With a last glance at the shoes, I tried to mumble that Todd could probably just toss them… and I dashed back into the house, tears streaming down my face. To the furthest corner of the house, the furthest spot away I could get, I fled. And I sobbed. I cried as the reality of this battle my dad was facing once again hit me in full force. I wept for all the times I hadn’t paid better attention to my dad, hadn’t listened closely to the stories about his everyday tasks. I cried for the minute details I’d glossed over, instead of absorbing. I cried for all the stories I would never get to hear.
I know where dad’s van is. It’s at my house. It’s not with a stranger, it’s not being uncared for. It’s here, it’s maintained, it’s in use. It’s loved (at least as much as an inanimate object can be loved). Just like the black trailer that was his. The van and trailer both are here at my house, in real life, white and black, black and white. I’m painfully thankful to have them nearby, to have reminders of him.
But it still doesn’t remedy the problem that is, every time I see a large white van, I look for him.
I look for my dad.
Are you sentimental like me, finding yourself linking random objects to precious memories?