Virginia and the Van


Nancy Young’s rug with a pretty 9-strand multistrand border.


Christine here.  When I was in college, I had brief aspirations of being an English major. I loved courses like, “Women of Talents,” in which we read works by Doris Lessing, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Margaret Atwood, Mary Shelley, Toni Morrison, Iris Murdoch, and Virginia Woolf. (We jumped around in centuries a bit).  I could have continued with the major if it had involved only fiction….unfortunately there’s a thing called poetry that is also considered important.  After almost failing a course in 19th Century American Poetry, I called it quits with that major.

One of my favorite books from that time was Virginia Woolf’s, “A Room of One’s Own.” The author is famously quoted as saying, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” In my own (non-poetic) way I have been thinking about the minimum requirements for other creative activities lately… such as rug braiding. Money always helps; money helps in just about every situation, especially since Dorr’s prices just went up. A room of my own is certainly nice, although I don’t think it’s necessary; I tend to braid in the living room on the couch, where I can quickly respond to incessant interruptions and demands from my family.

However, a recent loss has helped me to understand one of my other minimum requirements for rug braiding: my minivan. I inherited the van from my father-in-law, who had toured the country in it one summer while my mother-in-law hadn’t yet quite fully descended into dementia. They travelled the country’s national parks, took a million photos that they made into a million slides, and stayed in hotels at night. Upon their return, he developed a bone infection that kept him hospitalized for two months, then rehab for another 3 months, while his wife went into assisted care and eventually the Alzheimer’s unit. My husband flew down to their home in South Carolina every Friday late afternoon and came back Monday mornings, and I took a leave of absence from work, because I simply couldn’t maintain my overnight “call” responsibilities, with little kids and a spouse home only Mon-Thurs.


A pattern for this continuous, double corner, tapered heart is in the recent newsletter.

In the meantime, the poor van sat lonely and unused in my father-in-law’s garage. We finally moved both in-laws up to Pittsburgh so that I could go back to work (still had over $100,000 in med school debt at that point) and my husband could visit them only 20 minutes’ drive away, rather than a plane ride. We had to bring the van up to Pittsburgh,too. At that point I was driving a 13-year old used Taurus station wagon that was on its last legs/wheels, so getting a 2003 van for free was very helpful.

I didn’t like the van at first. I wasn’t used to being so high up off the road. I didn’t like how huge the van was – I felt as if I were driving a truck. It was white and I wouldn’t have chosen white. It was a pain to put the back seats up and down for extra kids and all the inevitable kid birthday parties and interminable Chuck-E-Cheese play-dates. The van just wasn’t my style.

Now, at 55, I don’t have any style to worry about, and I have come to treasure the van. It is absolutely perfect for warehousing several bags of wool fabric that I have bought until my husband isn’t home and I can sneak them into the house without explaining to him why I just bought more wool. My van is great for trips to and from braid-ins, where I can load up the back with everything I need… given my indecisiveness about exactly which braided project I’m going to work on at any one moment, that can mean a lot of projects to bring with me. And when I have teaching jobs, I always have a lot of stuff that I have to bring, so the dear old van is perfect.

I have an old GPS that I bought years ago, and have taped onto the dash with clear packing tape in what my daughter tells me is particularly unattractive (although very useful). To complement the look, my central column has a short and I can no longer see the numbers of the digital clock nor get my CD player to work. I now have an extension cord that plugs into the power adapter, and I plug a boombox CD player into that so that I can listen to my murder spy thrillers while I drive. Given how disastrous a housekeeper I am, it should come as no surprise that my car similarly has quite a few empty diet coke cans and other miscellany that my husband ostentatiously collects and puts into the recycling or trash before he rides with me (I have to drive or I get carsick, so I drive us everywhere).

The other evening, I needed something from Target and I went out in the van. As I was pulling into a parking spot, the van died. Just died. There I was half-in and half-out of a parking space, and the van was unresponsive and comatose. In my usual fashion, I had forgotten my phone (I hate all phones) and I had to stand in line behind 20 people at Customer Service before I could call my husband and Triple A. I had to leave a message on my husband’s phone, and I got through to Triple A, and they said an hour.

In the meantime, I went shopping for what I needed, then I hung out with the poor sick van. When it was long after my husband should have arrived, I went back in and waited in another line to use the phone. This time John answered, and it turns out he had gotten my message, and had gone to Target, and where was I? Well, when he had gotten my message, he hadn’t really listened to me, and he went to the Target he usually goes to instead of the one I told him to go to (we live equidistant between two Targets, and so I had been sure to specify). So I exercised great restraint and explained to him that No, Dear, I was at the other one, and could he please come wait with me in the dark creepy parking lot?


Another slightly larger double corner heart.

We got the van towed, and the mechanic couldn’t even look at the van for a couple days because he was so busy. In the meantime, I started catastrophizing and wondering how I was going to afford a new van (they start at $30,000) so that I could get one exactly like her as a replacement. I had to miss my weekly visit with my braiding buddy, Wanda. I started thinking unhappily of limited trunk spaces in more affordable sedans, and how would I ever manage to take everything I wanted to the braid in, in May.

Then, my husband walked in, and dropped the keys in my lap. The old girl was fixed! It had been a simple belt issue that had taken them about 15 minutes to correct. My 2003 van was running again.

But my brief, 48-hour stint of being van-less had been enough to make me realize just how much I depend on her for my braiding adventures (and the associated wool-gathering). So, bastardizing Virginia Woolf, “A woman needs money, a room of her own sure doesn’t hurt, and a 2003 white Honda minivan to braid rugs”… at least this woman, anyway!

In other news, we have 27 people signed up for the braid in!  Some of the classes are close to getting full, so if you have a specific class in mind, please register soon!


9 thoughts on “Virginia and the Van

  1. Wonderful, now I better understand your love of writing and masterful use of words, some I have to look up. I identify with so many of the things that you share regarding housekeeping where you braid in your house, never remembering your cell phone. I do not like to read unless I am trying to learn something but I do have a passion for writing, especially poetry. Since 1977 and before I have kept a journal of my thoughts and fears and the trials and tribulations of raising a family with a sick child. Somehow if I write it I expel it and I feel better. But anyway I applauded you writing and sharing your experiences; such a confident woman.

    I am in the process of making a rug for a friend and am contemplating the 9-strand border. I am looking at Nancy Young’s beautiful rug in your post and love the pattern. Do you have a breakdown on 9-strand patterns. You have shared 7 and 8 strand with me. Can you just look at a braided border and figure it out? Not sure which tube comes first. I usually just keep trying combinations but since I stitch each tube it is so nice to look at a pattern and be sure of your colors from the start.

    Thank you Christine for sharing your life stories. They are always interesting and thought provoking . Cheryl Sent from my iPad


  2. Christine, I can totally relate. Had a 93 Toyota Previa van we got when our son was in 7th grade (he’s 35 now) and we just sold the van 2 years ago for $1,200 with 265,000 miles on it, to a friend who needed transportation. I loved that van but moving 4 cars around in the driveway was getting to be a pain, otherwise would have kept it. Hope your van keeps on going and going!!
    PS When I saw your van 2 weeks ago, I must admit I was a little envious. Still miss my minivan.

    • Hi I just took my 1995 Minivan in to get inspected 480.00 to put brakes caliper wipers oil change and inspect. Little to say I said no. I picked it up 68.00 Oil change, emission. I bought brakes, caliper, and wipers 95.00. so for 170 i should have van finished. The brakes should take me maybe 1-2 hrs max. so they should be 1 hr. max. for them so where does the other 200 come in. Guess we all have issues. When you think of what we have that is a luxury issue. At least for us we have 2 other cars. Nice reading your blog.


    • Thanks for your sympathy! It’s amazing how attached we get to inanimate objects like cars. My van is definitely female, and she loves wool.

  3. As a beneficiary of the mini van (more a maxivan) when picked up from airports and transported to Braid Ins, I too am glad it is fixed. Reminds me of Alexander McCall Smith’s character who has a ‘tiny white van’ she loves. Glad it worked out Christine and that I will see it and you in May at the Philly airport!

  4. Our first minivan, shortly after they came out, was a compromise between my (now ex) husband’s desire for a big car and mine for one that drove like a small car. Minivans are great cars; it’s too bad that the American lust for ‘cool’ made them undesired. As a gardener I can attest they are great for mulch, plants etc. too!

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