The Suitcase Lady


June 1, 2010, 1:30 pm

Sometimes a gift isn’t. The most spectacular gift of this sort we ever received was a Volkswagen, one of the original ones.

My father-in-law, a mechanic, called from Arizona and told us he had restored a car for our teenage son. The car was a deal from some obscure third cousin in California. All we had to do was fly out from the Midwest and drive the VW home. My husband and son embarked with happy thoughts of their road trip home.

Thirty miles out of Tucson, a stop for a quart of oil was necessary. One hundred miles out of Tucson, a new passenger, a case of oil, was riding in the back seat. 2,100 miles later, my husband walked in our door and ruefully told me, “We can’t afford this car, and we can’t sell a gift.”

With regular fill-ups of cash, we managed to keep our son’s gift moving.

Then the situation took a more serious financial turn south. Our daughter was away at school but commuted forty miles from her apartment to the campus. (Don’t even ask why: love was involved.) She called to say that her junker car had broken down, and, since there is no public transportation in rural Wisconsin, immediate help was needed. We told her brother he would have to give his car, the gift from his grandfather, to Sis. He rose to the family emergency with total grace, and thus became carless. But not for long. Moved by his instant generosity, we bought him a small pick up truck so he, too, could get to school and work.

The VW was now 300 miles away from home in one of the coldest parts of the state. Despite the fact that the car had a beer tapper in place of a gear-shift knob, it did not enjoy living in the land of Leinenkugel beer. My husband soon became a telephone buddy with a very lucky mechanic in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

Three months before our daughter’s graduation, our little gift drove its last mile, causing us to lease a brand new car to get child #1 to the finish line.

Some families celebrate graduations. We celebrated our daughter’s move to Manhattan. Surely, no car would be necessary there.

For some unknown reason, this is not the only VW story in the Tooley family.We all seem to have some serious Volkswagen karma. I understand that our children’s generation is overwhelmed with school, work and parenting responsibilities. But I do hope that in good time they will add their own adventures to the Tooley VW chronicles.

Click here to learn more about these little jewels.

11 Comments for this entry

  • Linda Haack

    My VW experience started in 8th grade when my father, with 6 kids and a mother-in-law to transport, bought a VW Carmen Ghia. 4 seats and only if you had very short legs in the back. Obviously he was opting out of any kind of carpooling. My mother, the practical one, then bought a VW bus, way before it was a cool hippy thing to have. I learned to drive when it was a totally dorky thing to be seen in and died a thousand deaths of embarrassment. Nevertheless, my first car purchase was a used VW beetle. And my brother’s; and my best friends. Everyone had one, mainly because it was all we could afford. No bells, no whistles and no heat. But it was our very own car. And we could occasionally afford gas for it.

  • Mary

    Linda! I did not remember that your mom had a VW bus. But I do remember the Woody Jeep you guys had. Didn’t your mom have a bright orange car later in her life?

  • Naomi

    I never had a VW, but I remember my uncle’s faded blue VW van. Or was it a bus? I have no idea what it was called, but I think he drove it for decades.

  • Jen

    I loved that old beetle! It seemed to fit my personality. So much so that when my Honda died about 7 years ago, Alan remembered how much I loved that car and he went out and bought me an orange Beetle convertible as a surprise for my birthday. It is the best car. Ever. I am doing my best to keep it forever, because there will never be a car as cool, or one that suits me as well! I <3 my slug-bug!

  • Chris Helm

    Before we were married, my husband bought a bright orange VW. He went to school in Madison and drove home to Milwaukee on weekends. On his way to work in blustery winter weather, his VW was blown off the highway by a large semi. Fortunately, my husband was fine and so was the VW. My sister also owned a VW at that time. I took a picture of my husband and sister in their respective cars waving at the camera through the sunroofs. The cars are facing each other as if to kiss.

  • john tooley

    Well, I have had the joy now of owning eight VWs. Two ’66 Beetles, Two ’74 Vans, two other vans and Rabbit and and a Jetta. We currently own 2 VW’s and its cousin an Audi.

    I have been passed by my own wheels, had people ride on the roof, seen the rain come in through the floor, push-started in front of the US White House, had my neighbors place bets own how many times the motor would be returned to the garage floor, been given lot’s peace signs and thumbs up, and never stop dreaming of which one to buy next.

    My current salvation is the internet as I have diagnosed the strangest of problems from my couch.

    But, the single best story occurred in Matt’s ’71 bus in West Virgina. Beaver, to be specific. A roadside grocery store that specialized in re-sale of expired canned goods to be really specific. We found ourselves here after asking locals in even more remote towns where we could get a VW “fixed”.

    We reluctantly asked for the owner of the store by name and told him we had been sent to him for help. Upon listening to our request, he went into the back of the store for about 5 minutes and then returned carrying half of a VW axle in the air like an Olympic torch. He handed it to us and said: “this what you need?”

    Attached to the end of it was indeed the correct make and year CV joint that Matt’s bus needed. For 10 dollars we were on our way with the spare part needed to assure our journey home.

    Beaver…VW paradise….who knew?


  • Mary

    John, that is a terrific story or, perhaps, life saga.

  • MattT

    And to add to John’s story, the store where we got the CV joint was called “Cooley’s”. How is that for weird.

    And I think as a rite of passage everyone should own at least one VW in their life. I stopped buying VWs after I owned four. I finally got it out of my system as I learned there was more to life sometimes than the journey and that I actually wanted to get where I was going.

  • john tooley

    Matt has a remarkable memory. I had forgotten the store’s name.

    To be deliberately silly, I have found that owning 3 VWs at one time if only good if you never need them all working at once. Since all 3 of our cars are ~10 years old, I always have a list of something that could be fixed or diagnosed.

    Regarding getting it out of your system, I concur in part with Matt. I no longer yearn to own a vintage VW, Craig has cured me of that. Craig’s two VWs really do require a highly trained mechanic and body-man as one of the regular drivers. My skills fall far short of Craig’s as does my patience.

    I can however tell you that whenever Craig’s family visits our house though, someone always wants to talk about their cars. Either in envy or to tell a good story about a VW…

    ….Like when we got passed this spring by an identical green van on our way to the mountains in PA. We were pulling our blue 1970 pop-up…they had a load of kids…all waving happily to see a version of their car working equally hard at creating fun for all….

  • Mary

    Yes, when a car reaches a certain stage in its life, it is advisable to keep a mechanic in the trunk. Jenny said the other day that she is keeping her orange VW forever. I sincerely hope she can do this. Just remember the mechanic in the trunk, honey!

  • Jen

    Yup. Forever! And, this one has a heater. Just sayin’.