“Wee-hello,” Jock answered the phone with his signature greeting.
“Good morning, sweetheart,” I responded with a mixture of drowsy excitement.
“Oh! Hey! Hey, how did everything go last night?” Jock asked with genuine curiosity.
It was just after 8:30 in the morning and I was standing in the backyard of the bed and breakfast project, sipping coffee while Hilda, the furry love light in dog form, ate breakfast. It is one of the happiest moments of my life.
Regular readers of encore are aware I have spent the last several years very slowly working on a restoration of “The Argus,” my ’67 VW camper van. The human mind is capable of many things; one is finding multiple justifications for a large ticket purchase—or in my case, a multi-year commitment to a project. Partly, I embarked upon this adventure as the fulfilment of a lifelong dream to own and drive a VW bus—to travel around the country and see a little bit of the world, preferably with Jock and the dogs.
I admit to being heavily influenced by nostalgia for my early childhood, when many of the images of VWs were firmly entrenched in my (sub)conscious mind. When my father passed, Jock actively got behind the VW project as an alternative to grief counseling, and rationalized it would be far more beneficial in the long term, with probably better results.
Then there is a writing project I have been gestating for several years that would benefit from a trip in the camper van. Of course, the entrepreneur’s mind I have immediately began spinning through ideas for using the camper for business purposes. (Surprise.)
So part of the plan all along was to get The Argus road worthy and use her at fairs, festivals and events as a mobile book booth of sorts. I bought a tent that attaches to the side of the vehicle (by the double doors on the passenger’s side) three years ago with this in mind. It has sat in the living room of the B&B (along with my VW’s interior) for years—just waiting for us to get this far.
At the end of this month, we are finally making our first public appearance with the VW booth—at the Handmade in NC event at the Brooklyn Arts Center. In April we are going to Earth Day at Hugh MacRae Park.
Elise and I agreed we needed to at least set up the tent once before we had to do it for real at events. So on Tuesday morning last week, with Hilda in the copilot’s seat, I drove The Argus into the backyard of the B&B, parked in front of the sundial and locked the gate. We were a full hour ahead of Elise’s scheduled arrival.
“Starting already?” Allison asked with a chuckle.
“It was worse than Christmas Eve last night. I couldn’t sleep at all I was so excited! So I gave up, got up, and we are here now.”
Hilda ran the perimeter to make sure everything was shipshape. I got her a bowl of water and started bringing tent pieces out to the yard.
Four hours later, Elise and I declared lunch in lieu of victory.
It was the flexible rods for the awnings that finally did us in.
After almost another hour, we decided the awnings would just have to wait (possibly indefinitely) and what we had managed thus far was going to suffice for Handmade in NC, Earth Day and possibly eternity. The tent would provide a wonderful space for a booth and the next time we set it up we should be able to manage it in less than half a day (gods willing). We also would not make the mistake of relying on instructions clearly written with the purpose of confusing the enemy in a time of war, should the tent fall into the wrong hands.
We ran an extension cord and plugged in some heat to start warming up the van and picked up working on the renovation of the B&B for the rest of the afternoon (with Hilda’s supervision, of course.)
If the wait night before was difficult, that afternoon was 10 times worse. Every time I looked outside, my heart leaped with excitement. But a lingering doubt floated around me: What if this didn’t go well? What if Hilda wouldn’t settle down and sleep? What if she barked all night long and kept the neighbors up? It was part of the plan with our trial run in the backyard of the B&B: If things went really badly, we were not too far away from resources or (if gods forbid) an evacuation was necessary, we could manage it quickly. But the only times Hilda had spent the night away from home since she came to live with us were when she was hospitalized. Camping? In the bus? Completely beyond her experience.
“She’s going to love it,” Jock assured in the days leading up to our trial run. “Your neighbors might not. But she will have a great time.”
When I called her she trotted into the van with no reticence at all. However, she would not settle down. I snuggled into the covers and read with a flashlight while she stood guard over the engine compartment, so she could look out all the windows. I must have drifted off to sleep when she let out one of her serious alert barks. They are deafening, and it is hard to believe such a decibel-shattering sound can come from a 45-pound creature. In a metal box, the noise reverberated off the walls and made it worse.
“What? What is it?” I pulled myself up to look out the windows. “Oh, someone is walking a dog in the alley.”
Looking at the clock, I noted it was midnight. That’s kind of a weird time to walk your dog, especially in an alley instead of on a sidewalk, I thought. Unless you work third shift. Stop being-self centered, Gwenyfar, I admonished myself. It took Hilda about two more hours to calm down from the alert. I rubbed her ears and tried to reassure her, but she was on watch and nothing was getting past her.
Then, shortly after 2 a.m., she very gently and gingerly curled up on the covers, put her head in my lap and went to sleep.
Silently tears began to trickle out of my eyes. I had wanted this for so long. Every moment was worth it then: the hours and hours of sanding paint down to bare metal; the frustration at the body shop that ended in me and my cousin, Austin, taking the bus and departing without the agreed-upon work even beginning; the years of staring at parts in the living room, wondering how old I would be when I finally got to enjoy The Argus in a mobile state, rather than on blocks in the garage. But here we were, together in the VW, warm and happy and safe. We cuddled together and dozed under the stars, and I dreamed of all the places we will go camping together and our big trip across the country.
“So I would say it was a success,” I answered Jock during our morning phone call.
“Hilda seems happy.”
“How about you?”
“I am beside myself with delight.”
“But now Elise and I have to figure out how to take the tent down and get ready for our booth—easier said than done.”