Volkswagon Van

by Aine Greaney

The Volkswagen van was sapphire blue with a line of dirty windows under a white vinyl roof. When we kids raced across the farmyard to investigate, the VW’s interior stank of old vinyl.

Our house and farm sat at the end of a bóithrín or dirt road, behind our country village in south County Mayo. Except for school and Sunday church, days went by without seeing anyone outside the family.

Days also went by without seeing our father, who worked two jobs as a farmer and a truck driver.
The VW arrived because a farm neighbor had asked my father to keep an eye out for a roadside deal on something that could be converted to a backyard chicken coop.

I have no idea where my father found his van deal or how much it cost or how far he had to haul it home. I just know that the vendor offered a two-van deal or nothing. So our neighbors got the red and we got the blue, and there was some chat about how we, too, could use our vehicle to raise fluffy new chicks.

Then my father went on the road again, so our hatchlings never got bought and our VW sat there, immobile and unused. Set there among our ancient trees and stone sheds, the VW looked as bizarre, as wrong, as a just-landed spaceship.

Three generations of us lived in that tiny thatch-roof house, where, to my young mind, there were far too many rules and after-school chores and adult secrets.

With the chicken plan abandoned, I saw and seized my chance. I stacked the back of the VW (it had no rear seats) with my library books and paperback novels. From the house I stole women’s magazines and a disused commode and a tartan blanket. Now I spent my afternoons lying on that blanket, blissfully kicking my legs and reading.

My reading transported me across the Irish sea to the British moors and the misty Cornish coast where my novels’ fictional characters spoke in plummy English accents. They held gourmet picnics and outfoxed the local constabulary to solve grown-up crimes.

Two years later, we moved to a much larger village house that sat within walking distance of the farm. When or how did my VW reading room get dismantled and hauled away? I cannot remember.

Two decades later, in a noisy American bar, a hippie-haired man bragged that he had learned all about sex in the back of a Volkswagen van.

I recalled my British-published magazines and their women’s problem pages full of letters about pre-marital sex and marital infidelities.

“Oh, me, too,” I told my hippie man and let him think whatever he was thinking.

For years that VW van stood for everything I had abandoned or risen above.

But now, in middle age, I find myself time-traveling back there to reclaim that place and that girl who loved and trusted all those words on the page.

""Aine Greaney is an Irish-born writer who lives on Boston’s North Shore. She has written five books and published and broadcast many essays, short stories, and features in publications such as Creative Nonfiction, The Boston Globe Magazine, Salon, and WBUR Cognoscenti. Her personal essay collection, GREEN CARD & OTHER ESSAYS, has just been released (Wishing Up Press, 2019), and her website is at ainegreaney.com.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *