Lucy Jensen

When you are crawling toward 24 years of marriage and over 26 together, the fireworks are not always going off, unless the neighbor decides that the Fourth of July cannot come soon enough. You are mostly like two comfortable-ish chairs, grumbling about the thing the other didn’t do and why is there never enough milk.

You can — sort of — remember the days from years ago, when you would go to lunch together and be so starry-eyed you couldn’t eat. You can recall exciting trips with kids fighting in the back of the van, looking at each other knowingly and holding hands along the way. You definitely remember your wedding day and how glorious it still is to look at all those happy faces photographed for eternity, many no longer on the planet.

But marriage is a work in progress for sure; no matter how many turns of the sun you have experienced under the same roof. I’m a great believer in taking mostly separate trips, mostly because I have family abroad and need to go fairly often, but also because the separation breeds more kindly feelings. It gives both the time to breathe and reflect and be a single person again, hours of peace to remember what it was that kept you together all those years.

When my husband got ill, I told him we needed to get the van back on the road. Vandura — as we call her — is an old 1970s VW van with a lot of rust spots and now a missing hub cap. I have always enjoyed chugging along in her, never mind the noise or sometimes incidents that happen along the way. Some of our very favorite family memories occurred in or around that van — from trips to the beach, camping in Big Sur, Lucia, Oregon and more. Lots of kids could get loaded up in that thing — and even the odd-aged doggie, plus a couple of calves.

She is a real character in our family, featured in most of husband’s comedic drawings over the years. Husband has tried many times to give her away, but she always comes back. (It does take a skilled VW owner to be able to manage her. Rather like a wayward ship, she can take a bit of maneuvering!) Even our two boys were offered the Dura — pet name when she’s behaving herself — and they had a good laugh at the time and opted for a more regular vehicle that might pull the chicks rather more swiftly.

As of the last memo I received in that regard, our girl will be inheriting her, if she doesn’t turn into a rust pile before then — Vandura, not my girl. Everywhere you go in her, people smile and wave — VW camper vans are one of the most iconic vehicles on the road in their own humorous way. I love that about them. Many folk you encounter have their VW story they want to share with you. Even my father recalls husband driving along in Dura with a seat belt wrapped around the gear stick to keep her in gear. My youngest sister even got her foot ran over yonks ago when the brakes failed on a slope. She lived to tell the story.

In short, we were tired of seeing poor old Dura sleeping in the driveway, so she got moved to a VDub shop in Northern Cal for several months and we wondered if we would ever see her again. She needed a new engine, brakes and more. What could be taking so long? But these VW peeps are a rare breed, and they do things in their own time. (Never give my husband a to-do list. He won’t even read it.)

Finally, it was time to bring her home. Naturally she had to warm up to her new engine — 300 miles and then some sort of adjustment — but she was home at least and purring like a kitten. Husband drove her up to see his people in Oregon and we decided it was past time that us two old married folk try and plan a nice fun-filled trip in the one and only Dura.

I’ve always wanted to go to Mendocino and so an adventure was planned. A house/animal sitter was hired — priorities, check — and I began the gleeful journey of exploring where would we go and what would we do for a whole week in Dura. Husband said he wasn’t quite ready for aged van-camping yet, since the bed hasn’t yet been ordered and so on, but that will apparently be on the menu for the next time.

This time, we are going to chug along and find somewhere nice for the night. Except I can never leave that stuff to chance. I love to plan the stops and relish seeing new places. Purchasing an old McNalley map on Ebay because I couldn’t find my own made me even more gleeful. Who wants to try and figure this stuff out with Google Maps? No fun at all.

The first thing that hit me on the head was that I had forgotten how enormous Cali is. We weren’t going to make it up to the border this time, unless we had little rest and relaxation along the way, so I decided to just make our goal Mendocino this time (a mere five-plus driving hours away in a normal vehicle, making it more like seven in Dura). And where would we stay on the way? So many options.

Honeydew, California? Has a certain ring to it! Years ago, we stayed in Petaluma when we were exploring tasting rooms in Napa for a build down here — long story that didn’t work out. We enjoyed our time in that quaint little town and hope the lovely French restaurant is still there. Where else shall we go, what else shall we do? Since we are not going until October — nothing impulsive with these old folks — we have time to enjoy the planning and pouring over our McNalley, that I shall position in the old glove box once this trip is over. So many lovely things to see, places to go.

I’m hoping that by the time I retire from work I shall still want to explore the world beyond my front door and enjoy the planning along the way. I’m hoping that we will make it up to the Oregon border another time and do a little car camping on cliffs that have been calling my name for too long. Life flies by doing too many regular things like working and domestics that don’t fill the memory banks.

Happy 24, dear, two months ahead of time, lest I forget on the actual day. Hoping we still have a lot of fun stuff left beneath our old wings for years to come and the enduring will to make it happen.

Lucy and Mike Jensen were married on a cliff overlooking the Capitola Bay on Aug. 22, 1998.

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Soledad columnist Lucy Jensen may be reached at [email protected].


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