Friday, April 25, 2008

The Van

Category: Issue 10

The Van
By Sonja Herbert

It was love at first sight. I glanced up, saw the van and knew I had found what I was looking for. It sat atop a small platform in the car lot of Farmington Motors, gleaming in the relentless desert sunshine, in white with maroon stripes. It was large, maybe a bit too large, but I didn’t care.

Grandma Towne turned into the lot. I pointed to the van on its little platform.

“That’s it. That’s the car I want,” I said.

Grandma parked in front of the showroom, and Daniel burst from her Buick, followed by eight-year-old Marit, six-year-old Liesel and little Meagan.

My ex-husband’s mother and I walked the children into the showroom. A salesman came up to us, with a big smile and bright, eager eyes. His nametag announced his name as Jerry.

“I need a new car,” I said.

“Do you have a trade-in?”

“I don’t. The block cracked, and I gave it to my ex for towing it. He can use the parts. It wouldn’t have been worth much, anyway.”

“I have several nice cars that might be just right for your family,” Jerry said.

“Mom wants to have that van over there,” Daniel said. He pointed.

“That one is expensive,” Jerry said. “Let me show you some other great deals.”

He took a ledger from his desk and flipped through it. “Here is one,” he declared. “It’s a very nice mini van.” He took a set of keys from a board, and checked the label.

“Could you get the keys for that van, too?” I asked.

“Okay. We can look it over.”

“I want to see the new car,” Marit declared.

“With a TV in it,” decided Liesel.

“Okay. Let’s go,” The salesman said and smiled at my girls.

I made a beeline to the platform. The car of my dreams stood above the rest, glinting in the New Mexico sunshine. It looked brand new. How different it was from the old Chrysler diesel I had driven since my divorce.

The salesman hurried after me. “How about I show you this mini van first?” he asked. “It’s only three years old and it’s quite roomy.

I kept admiring the van. “Could you take this one down for me first?” I asked.

“Okay.” Jerry climbed on the platform.

I herded my children to the side and took hold of Meagan’s hand.

Grandma Towne smiled. “That’s a lovely vehicle,” she said. “You’ll have lots of room and the kids will behave a lot better on the long drives.”

Jerry backed it down the ramp and opened the hood.

The engine gleamed in the sun, sparkling clean. I pulled out the dipstick. Daniel watched, his brown eyes wide. The oil was on level, and I was surprised to see it was yellow, not black, as I had expected. Somebody had been taking good care of this engine.

I replaced the dipstick and turned to look inside. The odometer showed 36,000 miles, hardly used.

The dashboard had a radio with a CD player. A wooden table with four holes for drink containers nestled between the front seats, and automatic door and window locks on the driver’s side would keep my kids safe.

The carpet and the seats were a soft, velvety maroon. How lovely it was!

Jerry unlocked the side doors, and all four of my children clambered into the back. I climbed in after them.

Meagan squealed, “A TV, a TV,” and pointed to the space between the front seats. The girls crowded around her. Under the wooden table in the front, a TV/VCR combination glinted at my daughters. Nice. Just what I needed to keep them happy on our long rides.

Daniel, in the meantime, clambered around behind the girls, checking out the large back seat.

“It turns into a sofa,” Jerry said, watching him.

“Cool,” Daniel said. But he wasn’t looking at the sofa seat. In front of the sofa a small table stood on a strong metal column. Like the one in the front, it had four holes for drinks.

“Isn’t that dangerous?” I turned to Jerry. “What if the children fall against that? It also takes up a lot of room.”

“No problem,” Jerry said. He seemed to have warmed up to the idea that I wanted this particular van and none other. “It’s easy to take down. Look.”

He squeezed past the girls, who were still admiring the TV, and popped off the table top, slipped the metal column from its hole and flipped a piece of carpet into the hole. He stashed the table and the column under the sofa seat. The floor looked as if it had never held a table.

“How nice,” I said. “How old is the van?”

“Just a year. It’s had only one owner, and they just had a baby and wanted something a little more suitable for a family.” Jerry grinned. “This one is a tailgate party van, you know. Let me show you.”

He took me to the rear, and opened the doors. In the back, a cooler fit snugly into a holder, made from the same lovely blond wood. Two more drink holders were recessed into the doors.

I smiled. I had known it the moment I saw it, this was the right vehicle for me and my family.

After the divorce, I had accepted a teaching position on the Navajo reservation, and the closest city was 150 miles away. Luckily, it was also where my dear mother-in-law lived. The children and I went to see her every other weekend. This van, with the cooler for snacks, the drink holders, and the TV/VCR, would make that trip so much easier.

I strapped my kids in, and we took the van for a ride. It drove smooth and low, with a contended, purring sound.

Jerry helped the kids turn on the TV, and a delighted squeal from the back announced it had picked up a station.

We returned to the car lot.

“There’s no use in showing you any other vehicles?” Jerry asked.

I laughed. “No, there isn’t. This is the one I want.”

“Well. Then let’s see what we can do to finance it,” he said and our small horde returned to the showroom.

I spent more than an hour in Jerry’s office, filling out finance forms.

While Jerry made some phone calls, I glanced out the cubicle window. Daniel stood in front of a racy little two-seater, stroking its gleaming paint. Liesel hid behind a large plant and Meagan played with a red and blue brochure. Grandma and Marit sat at the table, talking.

Jerry dropped the receiver. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “But your application has been denied. Why don’t you look at some of the other cars we have available? A mini van would be so much cheaper.”

“No, thank you,” I said. My heart felt cold. I rose. “Just because I am a woman doesn’t mean I can’t have that van. I have always paid my bills, have no debts. Doesn’t that count for anything?”

“If it were my decision, I’d let you have it. But it isn’t. I’m working with two lenders, and neither one wants to lend you that much money. As the sole provider for four children, with the income of a beginning school teacher, you just don’t have the kind of money to afford this van.”

“If my ex would have come in and wanted to buy it, there wouldn’t have been any problem. I don’t want to look at your other cars.” I took a deep breath. “But thank you anyway for your efforts. I guess it isn’t your fault.”

I collected my kids, shook the salesman’s hand, and herded them back to Grandma Towne’s Buick.

“Do you want to keep looking?” Grandma said as she pulled the Pontiac out of the lot.

“No. I really wanted that van. Let’s go home.”

“I’m hungry,” Marit said from the back.

Liesel screamed, “Don’t hit me,” and Daniel snickered.

They really were too crowded in a small car. We needed a van.

A fellow teacher picked me up on Sunday to take me back to the reservation. As we entered our apartment, the phone rang.

Daniel picked it up and said, “Hi, Dad. We almost bought a cool van today.”

I carried the sleeping Meagan into her room and put her to bed. My friend brought in the rest of the luggage while Marit and Liesel talked to their dad.

When Liesel was finished, she held the phone out to me. “Dad wants to talk to you,” she said.

“I heard about your car search. Just as well you didn’t get that van,” he said. “You’re a lot better off getting a sedan, or maybe a mini van. You’ll pay it off faster, and it won’t guzzle gas, like a big van.”

I didn’t say anything. What did he know about hauling four children around, with no other adult in the car? If he recommended a small one, I’d buy a big one for sure.

In the days that followed, I searched the newspapers for vans for sale. I called several car dealers and asked about their vans, but nothing felt good enough for me to make the long trip to check it out.

I couldn’t get that white and maroon van out of my mind. Slowly an idea formed.

I called Farmington Motors the next weekend, and asked Jerry how ‘my’ van was doing.

“We have a couple that wants to buy it,” he said. “I know you really wanted it. I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”

On an impulse I said, “Why don’t you take my phone number. Just in case that couple doesn’t take it. I think I know a way to get the financing I need.”

“Okay,” Jerry said, and took down my number.

I thought that was the end of it, but nevertheless, I went ahead with my plans. Saturday morning, while my children were safe with their friends in the teacher’s compound, I checked my savings, and decided I didn’t need a new TV as badly as I needed a car. I borrowed my friend’s car, and made the three-hour drive to Blanding.

I had called ahead and the loan officer at Zion’s Bank, where I had banked ever since my divorce, was expecting me.

“Because I’m divorced and don’t have much of a credit history, the car dealership refuses to lend me the money,” I said. “I have always had an excellent record with your bank and wonder if you would be willing to lend me the money. I have $2,000 for a down payment.”

He checked my records, made some phone calls and had me fill out some papers.

Finally he smiled and said, “Your loan is approved. Have them contact me, and I’ll have a check made out to the car dealership of your choice.”

Suddenly the sun shone brighter and I knew my ‘love at first sight’ hadn’t been a mistake. That van would be mine.

Monday, after school was over, I had a message on my answering machine. Jerry had called. The couple considering the van decided to get a different car after all, and he wanted me to know.

I called him right away. Jerry promised to hold the van for me until Saturday, after I told him that I had secured financing from Zion’s Bank.

And so it was that my children and I once again showed up with Grandma at Farmington Motors. This time, however, we drove home in a large, roomy, white and maroon van with a TV inside.


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