VW Bus, Blueberries, and my Grandpop

When I was a whippersnapper, I’d always spend some time in August at my grandparent’s blueberry farm in Hammonton, NJ. In the heart of the Pine Barrens, as you drive into town, a sign proclaims “Hammonton! Blueberry Capital of the World.” Not sure what the standards were for that statement, but whatever. It was very impressive as a child.

The farm was one of the many pies my Grandpop kept his finger in. He was an electrical engineer for the railroad, a taxidermist (now THAT’s some blog fodder), and an astute investor who saw some potential in a little outfit called Microsoft. He was also a child of the depression, and valued money and the security it could bring. He was very practical in that respect.

But he had a wanderlust. He loved Alaska, and would drive there in first, a red VW bug, and later, a VW camper. He mounted movie cameras on the side-view mirror, and would make my cousins and I watch his Alaska movies if we were bickering or being obnoxious. I’m naturally prone to carsickness, so usually displayed model behavior when visiting the farm.

Except the summer he taught me to drive. The Jersey Devil must have whispered in my ear (Oh, he could spin a good Jersey devil story…he had me convinced it had lived in the basement…I wouldn’t go down there for ANYTHING.)

But I digress. I’d had a few summers on the tractor, was learning my way around wheeled things. And I was eleven, making me ancient for driving by farm standards. So my Grandpop and I would sit in the Volkswagen bus, with him patiently explaining the intricacies of the mulish stick shift. For reverse, I had to jam it down with the flat of my hand, then yank it sharply to the right and back, keeping it depressed, all the while trying to maneuver the balky clutch and see over the steering wheel.

My Grandpop was not always known for his patience, but in this endeavor it knew no bounds. Never a raised voice, never flustered no matter how many times I choked and stalled the bus in the soft silt of the field road.

We had lessons every day for several weeks, and he played 8-tracks the whole time. It’s the first time I remember hearing Simon and Garfunkel. “Cecilia” was my favorite song…the funky percussion, the wailing chorus…”Wohohohoho…wohohohohohohoohouohoh…Jubilation…She loves me again…I fall on the floor and I like it…”

It was an odd choice for my Grandpop, who’d already celebrated his 50th Wedding anniversary with the most stalwart of mates. But he loved that one and “You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille…” by Kenny Rogers.

One fine day, I mastered the art of the stick. I was feeling pretty good, as you can imagine. I was eleven, and I was ready for the open road. My younger brother, who was 9, had taken to riding along on our drives, pouting because my Grandpop pronounced him “too short” to drive. Often, my brother’s male status bought him some closeness to our patriarch, but in this matter, my age and height trumped his Y chromosone. To show his displeasure, he’d slide the side door open and yell, “GERONIMO!” and leap out of the van as we jutted through the fields. Or, maybe he just thought it was fun.

My Grandpop decided I was ready for a solo drive. There was only one rule…I mustn’t venture off the farm, onto the main road. Easy enough, right? There were acres and acres, three fields to drive. Why would I need to sally forth onto the pavement?

Why, indeed. Why do people climb Mt. Everest? Why do people sail boats. Seriously. We could all fly, it’d be faster. Because we can, that’s why.

Although that’s not why I drove on the road. The driveway was shaped like a horseshoe, with two entrances. I drove to the end of one…with no intention of disobeying orders, you understand…I just wanted to LOOK at it. Just see it from a driving perspective. Riiiiiiight.

But then, it seemed like so much trouble to make a three point turn and just go back the way I came. I mean, why? When I could just go on the luscious asphalt, just for thirty feet, and then BAM. Right back in the driveway. My Grandpop would never even have to know…

So the Jersey Devil took the wheel, and, with Simon and Garfunkel cheering me on, I made the left hand turn onto the road. For a glorious, nerve-wracking thirty feet,  I cruised, envisioning all the places I could go if I just kept driving.

But my better nature, and the fact that I had no money and was, you know, eleven, took over. I made the immediate left back into the driveway. I cursed the crunch of the gravel, betraying my arrival.

When I parked, my Grandpop was waiting with his hand out, my little brother gleefully grinning beside him. Of course they’d been watching from the front room.

“Guess you’re not ready, Ingie,” was all he said as he took the keys. I sighed.

Relegated back to the tractor, the open road naught but a dream for years to come. Because if there was one thing my Grandpop did, it was live by a code. I’d broken it, so that was it. No second chances there. And I knew then, and I know now, that he was right.

But those thirty feet might have been worth it.

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Comments (5)

  1. Deb Tuesday - 19 / 08 / 2008 Reply
    Excellent post as always! Couple of things to share... First, I grew up in the city (or rather the city-like suburbs) so there were no tractors to drive, or open fields to learn stick in. Instead, I learned to drive stick on my highschool boyfriend's sister's car (my boyfriend was more in love with his car than he was with me, so I wasn't allowed near it as a novice stick-shift driver). My first car was a stick. Since that time, I have only had 2 automatic cars in my driving life, the rest (including my current vehicle) have all been stick. There is almost nothing that makes driving more fun and engaging than adjusting your car's engine yourself...and, I've been told, for some reason guys find it attractive when they hear a girl drives stick, although this skill has yet to bring me a man, but I am holding out hope! Sigh. Second, while I do not live in Jersey, I work in it and can attest to the Jersey Devil and its evil ways which do, at times, take over the unsuspecting. 11-year-olds I have heard are a favorite target. :)
  2. WPoFD Tuesday - 19 / 08 / 2008 Reply
    Oh, that's just a wonderful story. I've told you about my grandpop...consider yourself fortunate for not growing up in the 3rd Reich. So, for learning to drive sticks, my half-brother tried to teach me. You know Lake Whetstone in G'brug? well, that hill right there...yeah, that's steep. And here I am, in 4th grade, trying to drive my half-brother's Toyota pick up truck up this thing. I'm stalling like mad, and he is furious! He reaches across me, opens the driver side door, and pushes me out to the ground. Slamming the door, he leans out the opened window and says, "Maybe walking home will make you a better student," and then drove away. Well, I showed him -- turns out very little was capable of making me a better student. Ha! It was YEARS before I could drive a stick. It wasn't until a quasi-girlfriend named Sunny taught me that I mastered it. This was in 11th grade. She taught me a lot. Anyway, thanks for sharing yet another great post.
  3. Devilish Southern belle Tuesday - 19 / 08 / 2008 Reply
    What a great story! You MUST share some of his tales of the Jersey Devil with us one of these days, though. I love folklore & spooky stuff!
  4. Susan Tuesday - 19 / 08 / 2008 Reply
    Cecilia was probably the first pop song I ever heard. I was with my sister in her friend's basement, listening to records on one of those kids record players that folded up like a suitcase. I was the dorky little sister while they were awesome in their go-go boots. I still love that song. Oh Cecilia, I'm down on my knees I'm begging you please to come home Come on home
  5. double cab Friday - 03 / 10 / 2008 Reply
    great story. I learned to drive on a farm also. Such great memories, thanks for sharing.

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