My Aging Van

I bought my 1985 van in 1986 secondhand. My sister told me about the newspaper ad for a full size, lift equipped Chevy van with a raised roof. I had been thinking about buying a van since vocational rehabilitation purchased a power chair for me. But this van’s $17,400 price tag scared me to death. That was more than twice the price of my parents’ first house. Even so, I decided to go see it.

The van was a deep red and had a cream colored panel around it. It was not my favorite color but it would work for me. I took a mechanic along, the husband of a caregiver, to check out this potential purchase. The first time, I only looked and rode in the van, because I wanted to take some time to think about it.

The van’s owner was the wife of a successful attorney who had been disabled by a brain aneurysm. Her home had been adapted with the master bedroom moved downstairs. She told me her husband had recovered enough for them to purchase a minivan. I liked the van, thought it was a good purchase, and a few days later I went to see it again and offered her $16,000. I wanted to go lower but I also did not want to insult her. She accepted my offer.

I was able to put a down payment on the van and finance the rest at 11% interest on a 48-month loan. I was 36 years old and that was my first car loan. The only vehicle I had owned prior to that was my father’s four door sedan. But with working full-time, I needed to be able to transport myself in my power chair.

The one strange thing about the purchase was that during my three trips to the van owner’s home I never saw her husband. I secretly wondered if he had died and that was the reason the van was being sold.

The van needed new tires immediately and a tune up. I knew it possibly needed some other repairs. The previous owner gave me documentation on the lift and tips about running it safely. There were many repairs that first year which made me wonder about the van’s history. Brake repairs were more frequent because of a caregiver who drove with one foot on the accelerator and the other on the break. Though I tried to stop this behavior, I could not.

The first few years the van was used quite a bit. It took me to my part-time job in Columbus and to my breast cancer medical treatments. Though I never took a vacation trip in it, I did go to conferences in Ohio. I remember feeling guilty about the van’s stereo system with its now passé cassette player, which I loved. I had never heard a stereo cassette play in a vehicle before that. My father’s cars never had one; the radio was enough of a luxury for him.

When I came to this nursing home, my van was put in the parking lot. It was summer before I found someone to take me out. I remember how strange it felt. Over the years I have been able to hire people, or get them to voluntarily take me out. In my first few months here on many days I stared at the van and knew that my life would not be the same. I longed to go for a ride, to go shopping, or to go anywhere away from my world here. When I was private pay, the facility would charge me a fee for two aides to take me to a doctor’s appointment and have lunch out with me afterwards. These trips were a nice break, though they did not happen often, and when my private funds were gone, they stopped.

As my van got older, the air conditioning no longer worked properly, and my friends were reluctant to drive it. I could understand their feelings but I still wanted to get out occasionally. Then, my sister took me on what turned out to be an unforgettable Thanksgiving celebration outing. She picked me up here and we met her family and my friend for dinner at a restaurant 30 miles away. I warned my sister that the driver’s power window was not working because I could not afford to have it repaired. .

A few days before our outing I discovered I had a headlight out. I told my sister but she said that we would be out during the daylight hours. I was glad because there was not enough time to get it repaired. At the last minute my sister moved our outing to 4:45 p.m. but I never gave the headlight situation another thought.

On our way back to the nursing home, a highway patrolman began to follow us. Soon he turned on his flashing lights and pulled us over. My sister was nervous, with a mouth as dry as cotton, trying to figure out why we were being stopped. I reminded her that we had a headlight out. When the patrolmen appeared at her window, she discovered that the power window would not move. I offered that I had already told her about the situation. Flustered, she also discovered that neither the interior ceiling or door lights worked. My sister felt peculiar as she held the driver’s door open and peered out like a rat in a hole.

The highway patrolman was very nice. He noticed my handicapped license plate and with the headlight out, he wondered if we were having a problem. My sister explained that she had taken me to a family dinner and was taking me back to the nursing home. She told him my van was seldom driven at night. The patrolman wished us well and told us to get the headlight fixed. Both of us breathed a sigh of relief. The headlight was replaced a few days later and the window was fixed a few months later.

Over the years the air conditioning has been repaired several times. But it would not consistently run, so I have given up. We put the windows down and go in the summertime. Since I have had the van it has been painted twice and is a dark red all over. But the passenger sliding door is rusted and I am trying to find a budget friendly way to have it repaired. It is sad to watch my once noble ride turn into a sort of slum dog bucket of bolts. It has done well and the bottom part of the sliding door is the only rusted spot. But it is rusted through and I will have to do something soon. One side of my brain says it is not worth fixing something so old. But the other side says there is life in it and therefore it needs to be safe and as sound as possible. I bet the folks at General Motors would be surprised that the van is still running after so many years.

It just shows that some things well cared for will last. I hope I can get the door fixed. I have been trying to find a 1985 Chevy Beauville van sliding door on Craig’s list, but so far have not been able to locate one. I never see a van like mine anymore. So I wonder if there is one out there in a junkyard with a usable door.

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