LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: When great neighbors save the day

Dec 26 • FEATURE SIDEBAR, Live Local, NEWS & VIEWSNo Comments on LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: When great neighbors save the day

“My mother used to hang an image of the sun up on the Winter Solstice,” Jock comments almost every year on the shortest day, “I guess to coax it into coming back.”

LOVE AND FRUSTRATION: Gwenyfar  Rohler poses with her prized VW bus as she checks off this this restoration project before 2018. Photo by Stephen Kienbaum

LOVE AND FRUSTRATION: Gwenyfar Rohler poses with her prized VW bus as she checks off this this restoration project before 2018. Photo by Stephen Kienbaum

For many people, this time of year focuses on warmth and light of family and friends, but I have a habit of dwelling in the darkness of my own shortcomings. My ongoing struggle at 37 still looks like something out of a coming-of-age novel: learning gratitude, patience, forbearance, good manners, and to think before I speak.

A couple of months ago I was incredibly rude to friends who stopped by the bookstore to chat about VWs. Poor Dave, especially, who is a lovely person and just wanted to talk shop got the brunt end of all my frustration with my bus project. After I apologized (and, here again, Dave if you are reading this, I am very sorry for my behavior), I had a heart to heart with myself that went along the lines of:

“Don’t just act like this and then apologize—that’s not the way you want to treat your friends or go through the world. Clearly if you are this upset about something, you need to fix the thing you are upset about.”

So, I needed to move the VW bus restoration project forward.

But how?

Progress came to a halt in early spring with the expenses of renovating the bed and breakfast. By fall I had less money, and less time (if that’s even possible). Maybe I would devote one day a week to trying to get enough of the interior installed to drive. The middle section of the ceiling had to be attached in order to put in the tie-downs to keep the camper top from popping up in traffic.

John Wolfe had begun the project with me, so I thought, Maybe we could finish it together? We embarked on a couple of attempts at getting interior pieces installed—some were more successful than others.

“That, my friend, is what rick-rack trim is for,” I commented to Elise and pointed at a seam gap. “Hot glue, trim and no one will ever know it is there.”

She laughed at me and nodded. But of course that might be a few years off.

“So is there an interior panel that is going to go on this door?” Steve Gallian reasonably inquired.

The locksmith extraordinaire had come over to make the doors work.

“Right now we are aiming for driving,” I explained. “In a few years, yes, there will be door panels, and I will ask you to come back and help me reinstall the lock then. But, for now, we just have to be able to drive safely, and closing the door is an essential piece.”

Steve grinned at me and turned back to the door. He has been restoring his own pick-up truck for years, so he understands the desire to drive. I had all the pieces for the door locks but they just would not go together in any comprehensible way (for me, at least). Whereas when locks see Steve Gallian, they just melt into his hands and start purring like kittens. In less time than it takes to boil water, Steve had all the doors opening, closing, and the keys working.

Still, there was an incredibly long way to go. I was far from the light at the end of the tunnel. Jock got serious about spending Sunday afternoons with me and the van—which thrilled me. It was exactly why I wanted to undertake the van project in the first place: to spend time in the garage with Jock and work on it together.

One day he looked at me and offered a combined birthday and Christmas present of asking Darrell of Silverlake VW to get the van going. To finish up the last steps, and check our work, as it were.

Now, if I have a guru in life, it is Darrell. The man has forgotten more about VW’s than I will ever know. But I embarked on the project to learn—not have someone else do it.

“Are you going to have Darrell check over the van before you drive across country?” Jock asked.

Obviously, the answer was yes.

“Then, let’s start now with having Darrell look at things, and do a few things correctly the first time rather than have your learning curve become an issue in Death Valley,” he offered. “Besides, don’t you want to drive? Isn’t that the point?”

Among my legion of failings, I have a hell of a time unbending my prideful spine to accept help from the wonderful group of people surrounding me. But I wanted to drive. I wanted to drive so badly. I wanted to set out in the van, with the dogs and Jock, and have adventures. Watching him crawl around on the floor of the garage one morning, as he fought with the drill and a shock absorber bolt that had bonded with the metal, I asked myself if I wanted to have adventures with Jock while we can, or if this project was going to die in the garage with me?

I was a blithering mess the day Darrell came to pick up the bus on the roll back to take to his shop. He stared at me in total confusion as I babbled on about how every bolt or screw or part he could need was in the bucket in the back. I had spent the morning filling it with everything I could think of from our garage. Now, I know Darrell has the most carefully sorted collection of bolts, washers, nuts, pins, and screws ever imagined. There are hardware stores with less actual hardware than he has. But there I was, and I couldn’t breathe. I could barely form words that were English. The ones I did form were insane.

“This looks a lot like the way you feel when you drop your kid off at college,” Jock observed, “very proud but also very emotional.”

A week later when Jock fell through the floor, I knew he had been right about calling Darrell. If we ever wanted to actually go anywhere (with Jock’s leg situation), there wasn’t going to be any crawling around under the bus on the cold garage floor anytime soon. But enjoying it together, with the dogs, that was more important.

The week after Jock returned home from the hospital, one of the Full Belly Project volunteers dropped off a trash can of fire wood on the front porch.

“Your presence is requested at Full Belly,” he told me. “The office staff have a Christmas present for you.”

“OK, let me put on a bra and I’ll come over,” I had been trying to catch up on writing deadlines that morning and wasn’t dressed to impress. (But am I ever?)

At the corner of 12th and Princess, I met Jock coming out of Folks Café with a coffee in one hand and leaning on his walker. “Hey, you want to walk slowly with me?” he invited. I started babbling on about the work I had been doing when we rounded the corner to 11th and Princess. There, parked in front of Full Belly Project, was my bus.

“Just hold me and don’t move.” I buried my face in Jock’s back. “You knew! How did you do it?”

“It’s called a setup, my dear.”

“I can’t breathe.”

“I know. But don’t you want to go get in?”

“Don’t move. I can’t breathe.”

“Darrell had some stuff to do in town today and he dropped it off.”

Slowly, we made our way down the street and I could barely focus my vision. Three years of work. Three years I had waited to drive this bus. But the thing I have had to realize over and over again with the Volkswagen is that it was aptly named. Originally part of the “Strength Through Joy” program in Germany (VW has a complex and checkered history), every aspect of working with a VW requires another person and a second set of hands (for me, at least). The strength and joy is the necessity of other people: their expertise, their generosity, their joy. Darrell is a smart man and he left me some pieces to work on so I wouldn’t feel totally left out of the project (even though he fixed the mess that John Wolfe and I made of the new wiring harness), and the interior is still in pieces in the living room. So there are still plenty of opportunities to learn lots about reassembling the van.

Hopefully, I have learned the hardest lesson, though: to accept the help and say “thank you.”

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