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Sunday, July 11, 2010

What's Going On In That Van?

Ever learn something about a family member that maybe you wish you hadn't ever learned, but, once you learn it, it suddenly makes heretofore disparate pieces of their lives kind of just, I don't know, click together?

Recently, in the midst of casual conversation/family banter, I learned that my eldest sister attended pre-school in a van.

Note: she wasn’t driven to pre-school IN a van—the pre-school WAS the van. Really.

Now, when I think of vans and their intended uses, an educational facility in which to house a teacher, school supplies, books, and small children doesn’t immediately leap to mind. And I consider myself to be a reasonably creative, open-minded, outta-da-box kind of thinker. And yet, still, I have my strong doubts about the whole van-as-acceptable-pre-school-environment concept.

Simply put, sending your child to pre-school makes it kind of a given that they’re going to grow up to become cult-members, door-to-door cucumber salesmen, or Molly Ringwald impersonators.

Now, granted, my eldest sister attended pre-school in 1970-or-thereabouts. People had some funny ideas back then, eating all of those funny brownies and such. If you’ve ever seen a man’s suit from 1970, you know what I’m talking about when it comes to funny ideas: lapels that stretched to Idaho, and plaid patterns that might look halfway awful on your average amateur bagpiper’s kilt—complete with Liberty Bell-diameter-sized bell-bottoms. And you might think that looks cool and retro now, but you’re an idiot. Now sit down before you hurt yourself or somebody even more special.

So, not only did my eldest sister attend pre-school in a van in 1970, she also did so in 1970 Virginia. Now, Virginia might be not too far below the Mason-Dixon Line but, to Jews, it’s basically Jim Crow-era Natchez. Throw in some kids learning how to spell their names inside a van, and we’re almost talking antebellum stuff, hon.

The thought that my mother and sister ever lived in Virginia at all is almost absurd to me. My mother got married and pregnant (nobody really discusses the order much) at seventeen and eighteen respectively (or not) and she and her husband and daughter fled to Virginia—fled from my Lymphoma-ridden grandmother and emotionally retarded grandfather. But pain and loss, destruction and fucked-up’ed-ness pursued them, and my mother and her husband got divorced a very short time later. Maybe he didn’t like the idea of his daughter attending pre-school in a van—although it’s more likely that my mother was the one who didn’t like it. What does she have to say about it these days?

“Look, it was the seventies,” she said to me, popping a forkful of salad into her mouth, “everybody was an idiot back then—even me.”

The fact that my sister is a functional human being in any sense after being subjected to God-only-knows-what inside that van (I’m sure all the windows were covered) is a Virginia-sized miracle. Maybe her experiences therein, wasting away through story and snack time on those springy vinyl seats accounts for her, um, questionable emotional status. Did they leave the engine running the whole day? Perhaps one of her many dozens of physicians ought to test her carbon monoxide levels.

Of course, come to think of it, that any of us are functional human beings is rather a miracle, isn’t it? After all, we’ve all been fucked up in one way or another by someone or other—our parents, our siblings, our bullies and our mentors, our friends and our not-so-much-friends, our lovers and our leavers. Our second grade teachers who thought we were retarded for not being able to do 64 math problems in 5 minutes.

And I didn’t even go to 2nd grade in a van.


  1. I had computer class in 5th grade on a converted school bus. It was the "Computer Bus" and it served all of the elementary schools in the city. They had completely tricked out the inside with bench seats and Apple IIe computers, and that very bus was where I wrote my award-winning DARE essay, the only accomplishment to date that has earned me a medal on a ribbon.

    But I can't impersonate Molly Ringwald.

  2. Functional? Speak for yourself!

    I gave you an award on my blog so come and pick it up, please. And no, it's not the one I told you I'd make you ages ago. I still haven't done it. I've been all distracted by weddings and diagnoses being up in the air and what-have-you.

  3. I also just gave you another award.


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