“The way these vans have shaped and enriched our family life would make one believe these darn things have a soul.”
Syncroserge, Samba member
Anyone who’s ever had a Bus, Vanagon, or any other old VW knows that Volkswagen ownership confers membership in a rather unique and tight-knit ‘family’ of other owners.
Random encounters in campgrounds, National Parks, or grocery store parking lots quickly resemble reunions between long-lost cousins.
But until lately, I had no idea how deeply these threads can be woven into the fabric of our lives, sometimes unbeknownst to us …
I recently attended a sea-kayak symposium about three hundred miles from home, and I enjoyed the typical admiring glances and peace signs every time I puttered through the parking lot with my Westfalia.
“It’s a 1983,” I answered, and she replied that she used to own one in the same color. She went on to explain that she and her husband had gone to Germany and picked theirs up at Westfalia-Werke in Rheda-Wiedenbrück, then spent five weeks touring northern Europe before shipping their new van home to the States.
I chuckled because that was almost the same story I’d heard about the original owners of my own van, but I suppose lots of Americans did that.
She went on to recount some of the various unique accessories they’d added to their Camper: the matching Westfalia toilet-in-a-box, a foot switch for the sink pump, the RV bubble levels on the closet wall; all of which our van also has. And she mentioned their cross-country road trips to the western American national parks, and to points beyond.
I finally asked whatever happened to her Vanagon. She explained that once their children were born they had camped less and less, so they finally sold it to a pair of engineering students from Germany. My ears perked up and I asked, “What university?”
“Oh, that was way down in Platteville …” she waved offhandedly.
I felt a shiver run down my spine.
“That’s where we bought our Westy,” I said, “from two university students who were returning to Germany!”
She stared blankly at me, almost skeptically, and I stepped over to the Vanagon’s passenger door and opened the glovebox. Stuck inside there has always been a small faded mailing label with a name and address, presumably the original owners. For the seventeen years this Westy has been in our family I had long planned to look them up, but had never quite gotten around to it.
I read the name aloud to her.
“Well, that’s me!” she exclaimed. We both burst into laughter and exchanged a friendly embrace at this reunion of long-lost Westy ‘parents’. We spent the next hour swapping stories and tales of our travels and road trips, and exchanged email addresses.
A few months later she invited me to her home for tea and to see a small photo album documenting their tour of Europe.
It was a thrill to see the ‘baby pictures’ and first steps of our beloved Westy, but the real pleasure was hearing her travel stories—old and new—and contemplating the serendipity that had brought us together …