Eye Vandy

Dear Marlin,

After my last blog post, I had everyone thinking, including myself, that we were going to buy a van from you. Luke had called you back last week about one, but you had rented it out and it wouldn’t be back until Luke had gone on his backpacking trip. As it turns out, waiting another week was a good idea.

A van came up for sale on Craigslist Sunday night, in Circleville, with make, model, miles, and money asked all aligned as the stars. Only trouble was it was an hour and a half away, we didn’t have two drivers to go down there, and the owner was leaving for vacation Tuesday. What a scramble we made, asking my mom to drive with Luke and hurrying down there before the kids had Running Club Monday evening.


And, we pulled it off! Luke got home at 5:30, and we all piled in the new van at 6:00 to head south again. I think you can appreciate, Marlin, the excitement we felt as we made that maiden voyage in this new (to us), beautiful, spacious van, after spending weeks at home opting out of many activities. Our son, Elijah, when someone is leaving the house, runs for his shoes and asks, “I go?” Most of the time the answer is no, but we could say yes on Monday night.

I don’t know if you have experience working on cars as well as selling them, Marlin. The man we bought this van from had a very sobering story to tell Luke about his experiences with it. He had bought this van in 2005, and was doing some work on it one day. While he was under the van, he asked his wife to do something with the key or the gearshift, and she reached in while standing outside the vehicle to do it. When she put it in neutral, the van began to roll. Since she wasn’t in the van, she couldn’t reach the brake, and the van rolled over her husband. He had many bones broken including his neck, and fractured his skull. It took a long time to recover from his injuries, and he went on disability because he couldn’t keep his job. He sued GM, but that became null when GM went bankrupt. He also sued the hospital, because they missed his broken neck (?!) That lawsuit had only just been settled, so he could now sell the van. So, this vehicle stayed in storage for a long time. Can you imagine, Marlin? I wouldn’t be able to even look at that van for quite some time after something like that. I bet he couldn’t, either.

Luke tells me you are Mennonite, Marlin, and that you are pretty strict in your lifestyle. You might think, as we do, that God was in this all along. I know He has given us more than we could have asked or imagined! But there is this surreal piece, that takes into account what tragedy has struck at the wheels of this van. I don’t want to think of it as ‘cursed’, of course. You and I know there is no such thing and we are not to be superstitious as followers of Jesus. But it does make me cautious, sober, thoughtful. May I be a grace-filled steward of this great gift.

Marlin, it’s been real. Maybe we’ll call you up in a few years when our family’s need dials back to a minivan or SUV.

Your Friend,

Valerie Burton

Can’t Find A Better Van

Luke and I are still dating. At least, we try. Right now Julia occupies the position of third wheel, but a chance to get away is still a great deal, so we go.

After we had test-driven the old Dodge van with back-up beeping, Luke said he’d like to go see a van over in Mt. Eaton, in Amish Country. They were asking more than he wanted to pay, but it couldn’t hurt to look. We buckled Julia in the car, and off we went to Holmes County.

We arrived at the place the van was parked, and waited for the seller. He drove up quite a bit later, with a six month old baby boy in his lap, a la Brittney Spears! Needless to say, this did not give me a great first impression of him, or this van.

Luke, Julia, and I climbed aboard and buckled up (Julia in her carseat and me in mine), then headed for the highway. My husband knows all of these things to try while driving a vehicle to check its maneuverablility and alignment. Things were appearing to work ok for a while. But when he would brake hard, the van would pull really far to the right. It was so freaky! Then Luke asked if I wanted to drive it. Um, no! Not with it pulling like that. He turned around in a cemetery, and one hard right almost landed us on someone’s grave.

When we met back up with the seller, Luke described what the van was doing and made a low offer. The man was actually selling the van for someone else, so he wouldn’t budge from the asking price. We thanked him for his time, and were back on the road.

People who don’t live near Amish Country think it is charming, hence the explosion of commerce there. As we drove along, I thought of how there is nothing about the Amish I find charming. Except maybe the way they stack their wheat and oats with little straw hats to shed water. A whole field of these mounds is quite picturesque. Luke was unhappy that we had driven all the way out to this quilt-buggy-barn mecca for nothing…

Wait. What were we passing every few minutes as we headed to Millersburg? Yes, there was another 15 passenger van, shuttling Amish people from one place to another. Though most have rules against owning a vehicle, many Amish may pay to ride in one, and ‘hauling Amish’ is a lucrative business. We have a neighbor on our road that does this in a van he won’t sell to us.

Maybe we weren’t wasting a trip after all. Just then we saw a van for sale on the side of the highway, and quickly pulled over to look. The vehicle looked good, the price looked even better, and the owner came to meet us right away. Luke said to me, “This is our van!” It did look like a great buy, but as he and the owner opened it up and tried out the a/c, they found it didn’t work. Augh. Always something. This man was really nice, though, and told Luke he would have it looked at the next day. It was suppertime by now, and Luke asked the man where a good place was to eat in Millersburg. He directed us to a pub that had good burgers. It also had a great bleu cheese salad, awakening my interest in bleu cheese. On another date to Delaware last year, we went to a place that had a phenomenal bleu cheese salad, and ever since I have been on and off bleu cheese kicks.

We talked over dinner how as we get older, we get comfortable in our skin and don’t care as much what people think. I said that is mostly true for me, only I have been so many different clothing sizes that it has been hard to keep to a ‘style’ of dress. So that aspect of my personality is still largely changeable. Still, I like nice things, and all through this van search I find myself turning off whenever the candidate is old, dirty, rusty, crumbly, etc. At first, I thought I was being a snob. But the more I think about it, there needs to be a balance. We have the money to not have to buy the dumpiest vehicle on the lot. Yes, the more we spend on the van, the less we spend on the House, but many things about this House-building project have been Providentially delayed, and the need for a bigger van is one of those Providential delays, to my way of thinking. Who could have known we would have 12 children needing vehicle space as well as House space? Only the Lord knew this. And, He knows we need to have a van where we all can go somewhere, together. We have been missing that lately, bigtime. The activities we have had to turn down in the past few weeks only fuel my desire for a better van. Not too old, not too broken; something that will cost us more, but also bring us more joy hopefully, as we are able to venture forth as a family again.

As Luke drove home from taking the kids to camp last month, he passed a used car lot that had some vans for sale. He met and spoke with the owner, and even had him over to our house (he was on his way back from Columbus) to look at our van. His name is Marlin Zimmerman and I really like him. (Mennonite, not Amish.) Marlin has called Luke back repeatedly, thinking of new ways he can use our van for parts and knock the price down on one of his. This kind of keeping in touch has certainly impressed Luke, and now, after weeks of clown car antics when we go to church or anywhere, I think he is ready to deal with Marlin. No, it is not the cheapest van we could go with, but it seems to Luke and me to be the better choice.