It didn’t matter that there were no seatbelts; we knew our van was plush.
Every last inch of the interior was covered in slick paneling with artificial wood details or scratchy pile carpet in a shade somewhere between rust and dried blood.
Dad chose the décor himself after he converted the back third of the van into an oversized bench with room for luggage underneath and my sister and me above.
There were two official captains’ seats up front – covered in brown vinyl that stuck to damp skin – and the remaining cabin could accommodate the population of an entire slumber party, our hands still sticky from syrup, our smiles smelling like pancakes.
The dashboard featured an eight-track tape deck blasting tunes from the Beach Boys’ Endless Summer. Thrilled to be actual “California Girls,” my sister and I sang along in spontaneous harmony, our voices drowning out the steady growl of the engine as the van jostled us toward our destinations.
Sedona, Arizona where I got my first Nancy Drew book and my sister got tonsillitis; Pecos, Texas where the Ramada Inn was miles from any ocean but still reeked of low tide; Auburn, California where we spent every Thanksgiving with my aunt, all of us filled with turkey and talking and happiness.
“How many more songs’ til we’re there?” we’d ask.
“Five,” Mom would guess.
She was never wrong.
We passed the time playing games on the nubby carpet that left imprints on the backs of our legs. We waved out the back window at the passengers of other cars under periwinkle skies dotted by whipped-cream clouds.
We were a model of efficiency, a single family in an orange house on wheels that could transport us anywhere we wanted while we dreamed.
What I remember most, though, is the rain.
On night drives, I’d hear the patter of heavy drops but couldn’t see them; still, I knew the outside world was soaked and I was dry.
The steady squeak of rubber as the wipers cleared the windshield lulled me as much as the rocking tires that absorbed the road’s bumps and curves.
Staring at the paneled ceiling, I felt absolute contentment and safety. Silence punctuated my parents’ whispers as my sister slept next to me, her face pressed full against the carpet.
We were not in a house divided by painted walls and separate wishes. We were together, all of us in one mobile home.
And that’s all that really mattered in the end.