Four years ago, on Thanksgiving weekend…
I recorded one of the many holiday events I have experienced. When Thanksgiving rolls back around each year it ushers in the holiday season. I often think upon select times of past holidays. From Wednesday to Sunday Thanksgiving week was always, in years past filled with excitement. Friends and family, events like the Autorama car show and swap meet in Houston Texas. The Impromptu camp outs on the beach, dragging home a recently unearthed old car, sleeping in the back of a truck and nearly freezing to death in Ovilla, Texas… I suppose those stories will have to wait for another day or book.
I invite you to read my short account that occurred Thanksgiving week in 1991.
Please keep in mind the title.
Each year as the holiday season comes around, it is a time for me to reflect upon past memories of friends, family and great “picking” finds.
Years before there was a proper name for it, or a popular TV show featuring it… I was a “picker”. Back then, my friends and I were young and full of “vim and vigor” and would often rise early and hit the roads in search of our next big “find”. However, just as often, we would leave late at night after having met up for dinner and discussions on a new lead or just head out on a gut feeling. Being the instigator of most expeditions, I was often the navigator so I rode shotgun. I would get out the map, find a point 1 to 2 hours away and plot the route. Our departures from Houston took us into Louisiana, deep east Texas, the Texas gulf coast and the Texas hill country. Truly, some of the best times and stories of my life are centered around or on these picking trips. We would travel down the road and someone would spot a car in a field or behind a house and “bam”, it was on. It was just as you see in the show, American Pickers, stopping, knocking on doors, making deals and friends along the way.
It’s not the destination, but the journey that counts…
On one such trip, that began late one Friday night, I told my buddy, “Let’s drive out to Fredericksburg, Texas”. He looked at me strangely and asked, “Why”. At that time, 25 years ago, Fredericksburg was a “in the middle of nowhere town” and not the tourist destination of today. “Well” I said, “I have a gut feeling there is a VW out there that may need rescuing”. (I also had $1,400.00 burning a hole in my pocket after the sale of a recent project.)
He said, “Ok, if you buy the gas”.
We gathered up some tools and rolled out. Gassed up on Taco Bell, cup cakes and fresh coffee… through the night we drove. We arrived in Fredericksburg at sunrise, stopped for breakfast and to pick up the local papers. No leads were found in the papers so we started to canvas the back streets. On the second street we drove down, behind the fourth house on the left, “bam”, there set an old VW bus, a 1967 Kombi, mostly hidden from view behind a tall fence.
My friend exclaimed, “No way, did you know about this?”. “Nope” I said with a smile…
We turned around and drove up to the driveway. I jumped out, walked to the door, and knocked. A lady holding a baby opened the door. I said, “Is the VW bus in your back yard for sale?” (Remember, it was mostly hidden behind a tall fence, with only the front top of the roof being visible from the road recognizable only to someone knowing what they were looking at)
Her face went blank, unreadable… At this moment I thought, “Oh crap”, for you never know about people.
She was quiet for a second, and then she exclaimed, “Yes, YES, did you see the advertisement on TV, or were you sent from the church?”
“Ad on TV?” I asked, puzzled … (and to myself I thought… “church”?) She replied, “Yes, we have advertised the bus on TV; it has been for sale for a year.” She then called her husband to the door, I met him and he began to fill me in on the history of the bus. I did a test drive around the block with him and we made a deal for $1,200.00 for the bus.
After the cash exchanged hands, the husband and wife came out to give me the title.
Written upon the envelope were the words “Our Memory machine”
They both had tears in their eyes… “Oh no ” I thought, here we go; they have changed their minds…
Instead, they began to tell me their story, of the hardships they had experienced the past year since the lady had given birth to their daughter. “Remember this is before Fredericksburg, Texas began to boom” and before jobs were plentiful.
The lady had become very ill shortly after the birth of their daughter, then the man had become unemployed, and 2 months later, he had been injured in a car accident. Their house was about to be foreclosed on and they were in desperate need of $1,200.00 to save it. They had requested prayer at their last church service for the VW bus to sell.
There we three stood in the driveway, as my friend stared at us with his mouth wide open in total disbelief and amazement.
Long story short… We drove the bus back to Houston and my friend never looked at me the same again.
The bus had only one old bumper sticker on it that read,
“It’s not the destination, but the journey that counts…”
20 years later I had occasion to be in Fredericksburg so I took a chance and dropped by the house, hoping the same people would still be living there. There was a red VW camper in the driveway. I knocked on the door and a lady answered. I immediately recognized her as the same woman from years earlier, although the passage of “time” was evident on her as it undoubtedly was on me also.
I told her who I was… the blank look came once more as it had 20 years earlier, but his time it was followed by a large smile as she recognized me. She gave me a big hug and invited me in. She began to tell me the story of what happened after they sold the bus and how selling it had changed their lives.
They saved the house, and then the husband’s business began to take off. He was an extraordinarily gifted carpenter and artesian. He helped restore most of Fredericksburg’s historic buildings and then later had sold his construction company. As she was talking with me a man walked into the room. She turned and said to him, “This is the gentleman we sold the bus to”. I rose to shake his hand and said, “It’s great to see you again”. They both looked at each other then she said, “This is my late husband’s brother”.
As both their eyes began to dampen she continued, “My husband passed a year ago”. “My brother in-law just stopped by for a visit and we were on our way to visit the cemetery… it was a year ago today”. The lump in my throat was quiet large by this time.
As I quickly made my way to the door, I told them how sorry I was for their loss, doing my best to contain my own emotions. I cut the visit short by saying that my family was in the car and I had just wanted to stop for a minute, say Hi, and tell her about the bus.
She gave me a hung with tears in her eyes, and told me to come back and tell her more about the adventures that had been had with the old VW bus.
After I got back into my vehicle and began to drive away the tears began to roll down my face from under my sunglasses.
A year to the day…how ironic…what were the chances of that happening, perhaps about the same as me finding the bus, at just the time I did, some 20 years earlier.
I relayed the story to my family … We all began to leak from our eyes.
If the after-life is spent reliving the best moments of the present. I hope to be spending a good portion of it traveling with my friends and family talking about old “picks”, old times, philosophy and old cars and living in the moment.
While hunting for the past down the next road…
The most important element within the holidays is individuals. The persons that have touched our lives, their actions have molded us and have left an indelible mark upon us forevermore… The times we remember and hope eternity is comprised of.