Fatherhood and the VW Bus

So, as some of you might remember, I have a passing interest in writing about being a dad. Even though my kids are now grown, and two out of three of them will be married by the week’s end, said interest remains. Often in my musings on fatherhood and “dad energy,” I tend to turn nostalgic. So please indulge me as I make my way through this blog while indulging in some of my favorite memories of fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and the immortal VW bus.

My father died when I was very young, so most of my memories consisted of the lore told me by my mother and grandparents. What is clear to me is that my dad, Charles Leonard Keith, loved a few things; camping, VW buses, and his family. So, my mom would often regale me with the harrowing tales of driving through the streets of San Francisco to get to the coast to camp under the “Big Trees” in my dad’s 1971 VW high-top camper. I wish pictures remained of this legendary Type II, but alas, I seem to have lost the last one. Nonetheless, the stories always created in me wanderlust for the “Big Trees” and for the VDub that supposedly safely got us there.

My grandfather and Uncle Rick only enhanced my bus fascination. After my dad died, my mother moved us (me and my brother) to Palmdale, California, where her parents and two sisters already lived. I guess she concluded that if she were to raise two boys independently, she might need an extended family to help. She was correct!

My grandfather, who lived five blocks from me, owned a Chevy pickup truck, a small camping trailer, and a 1975 VW Bus. While I spent many a good day in the Chevy and loved when he’d take us to Ventura’s Faria State Beach to go camping in the camp trailer, the VW Bus was the magical piece of the puzzle that was my grandpa. More days than I can remember, he’d drive up to my house in that bus, look at me and say, “Scooter, get in the van,” and we’d head out for a drive. Most days, we’d go out into the desert at the end of the Lockheed runway and sit in the bus with its wide picture window of a windshield and watch the jets he used to service while he worked at Lockheed, take off and land. One day he even got me into a cockpit of an A10 Tank Killer. I am thrilled about that enchanting few hours to this very day. As a result of my love for my grandpa, I still love airplanes, and I love VW buses.

My Uncle rick was no help in this VW Bus obsession of mine either. Without fail, he would pick me up every Sunday for Sunday School driving his 1976 VW blue and white VW bus. Jim Nestingen has told me that he memorized catechism to his grandpa’s International tractor’s rhythm. To some extent, it’s safe to say that I learned the catechism to the rhythm of my Uncle’s air-cooled horizontally opposed four-cylinder VW clatter. He, too, would take us camping in his bus. He would drive us to school in his bus. And after my grandpa died when I was 10, driving home after grandma had told me grandpa was gone, it was in his bus that he put his hand on my knee and told me he loved me and that, with tears streaming down his face, he missed grandpa too.

So, when I could afford to have a car that always needed some work, I bought a VW Bus of my own. She was a 1971 weekender deluxe. She was orange and white, and I loved her. I took my kids to skate parks in that bus. I took my kids to church, Sunday school, and catechism classes in that bus. We went camping in Lake Tahoe, and we broke down (more than once) on the back roads of Northern Nevada. She was intertwined with my kid’s life as they grew up from children to teenagers and young adults, the same way my dad’s high-top camper, grandpa’s “van,” and Uncle Rick’s daily driver were with mine. She was eventually replaced with a Sprinter Van that was bigger for all of us, safer for sure, and much faster, but never quite as memorable.

So now, the time has gone by, and I live five blocks from my grandkids. I own a great Chevy truck, a small camping trailer, and now a VW Double Cab (think bus but with a truck bed). The circle seems complete. The magic my grandpa created for me with his bus, I will try to repeat with trips with my grandkids to the end of the runway here in Big Bear. The picture window of a windshield is the same in my 1968 as it was in my grandpa’s 1975. So, I will see if I can pull it off. I will take them camping in the trailer, get firewood on backroads in the Chevy, and watch airplanes in the ol’ VDub.

I wouldn’t say I know much, but I know this; children need magical moments in their lives to help convince them that the miraculous really might come true. The more grace we can show them, the more magic we can give them, the more open they are to make the truth of the magic that is the Gospel of Christ Jesus part of their everyday reality. To believe and to live the love of Christ for them is magical. I hope to make some magic in my failing, overly dramatized, sappily nostalgic way with my grandkiddos. Wish me luck!