The Mobile Home




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.

36 thoughts on “The Mobile Home

  1. This post makes me long for the childhood days of long summer road trips. Ours was a blue Ford station wagon (aptly named “Big Blue”) and not an orange van, but the feeling inside was the same.


  2. “Painted walls and separate wishes.” That is wistful, beautiful writing.

  3. It sounds much more magical than five us stuffed into a Chevy Malibu for the trip from Connecticut to Florida – and back!

  4. There’s something so utterly nostalgic about road trips where car seats and safety issues weren’t so stringent. While I like knowing my kids are safe, I love thinking back to our trips in a friend’s van (like yours!) and then our own minivan, where my brother and I would sprawl and change seats with abandon.

  5. Stunning.

    This post says so much about the importance of family, and the long lasting benefits of togetherness. That van, by the way – awesomeness on wheels. Isn’t it funny how clearly we can remember things like the interior of cars we spent so much time in as kids? Reading this allowed me to conjur up clear memories of an old school Suburban. And no, there are no seatbelts in my memories. It’s a miracle we’re all here to remember our childhood road trips, what with the striking lack of safety features in our childhoods! Ha.

  6. Beautiful. So beautiful. Now I want an orange van and no seat belts. So simple. xo

  7. NannyK

    Best. Ride. EVER!! I loved that van…and every road trip we ever took. “Smiles smelling of pancakes”…still delicious memories for me. Pretty sure that, to this day, you and I could sing every lyric from every song of EVERY 8 track tape in the collection. From inside our blue sleeping bags, or under our beloved tiger blankets, we sang and dreamed. I hope our kids have such fond recollections of their childhoods!!! Thanks for bringing it all back for me Jules 🙂

  8. “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.”

    That, my friend, is sexy. I want to go to there. Because those were the good ole days. For real.

  9. Brilliant, as always. Car trips are the best memories I have too.

  10. Beautiful, nostalgic, warm. Loved this.

    I remember road trips with my parents, all six of us, in our lovely Volvo. Long, windy roads and sounds of us asking, are we there yet, are we there yet. Sigh.

  11. Loved this. Took me back to my days in a station wagon with faux wood paneled sides …me and my twin sis in facing seats at the rear with brand new Barbies in tow.

  12. I thought I commented yesterday, did I lose it? dammit.

  13. How poetic and beautiful – I feel like I was there.

    And not, for instance, in a different place where we were driving in our station wagon with the cold night air pouring in as my sick brother vomited out of the window and it all came slamming back in on me.

    No, I prefer your memories. 😉

  14. You have a such a good memory, or at least an amazing ability to call up enough detail to give your readers a flash of your childhood. It’s so inspiring . . . I think I’d like to write some posts about my childhood. See–you’re always leading the way for me.

  15. Love reading about your memories! And moms always know how long until we get there, right? 😉

  16. Julie, Julie…this is such beautiful writing.
    I especially loved this…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….because I know that feeling, that contentment.
    Just beautiful.

  17. We had a green Caprice Classic. It was massive.

    So were the Gordon Lightfoot and Elvis 8tracks.

    Mmm . . . Awesome.

  18. Ann

    So vivid and specific. Just love this.

  19. Oh, how sweet. What wonderful memories.

  20. I always dreamed of having a mobile home. What beautiful memories you just walked us through.

  21. I can smell this memory. Is that weird? I brought me back to my days as a kid driving to a rented cottage with my family. The songs, the vehicle…all of it.

    I love your words.

  22. My best memories are being mobile with my family — the road trips and cross-country moves in our Estate station wagon. This essay perfectly captured that time in my head. Beautiful words, Julie!

  23. francerants

    So awesome!!

    The most I ever got as a kid was a Ford LTD ride to the Mississippi river and ice cream cone on the way back. All in a single day. Your trip looks a hellavu lot better!

  24. I love road trip memories. Reminds me of the ones we used to take from TX to CA…stopping at the Indian gift shops on the way. I think I have a pic of my father wearing a chief’s head-dress! You blog today made me smile 🙂

  25. You know what my favorite part of this memory is? That someone else was driving. I miss that about childhood.

    Pancake-scented smiles. Good words.

  26. May I please request a memoir full of moments in time like these? So beautifully rendered and I think I can smell it too.

  27. This is so very beautiful, sweet friend.

    And exactly what I want for my family’s heart memories.

    {Except for the bench! Hee!}

    This is one of my faves of your’s, girl Love.

  28. Love Sedona, those amazing red rocks are only about 2 hours from where I live.

  29. Ohhhhh, so, so lovely.

    It reminds me of my own childhood journeys. 7 kids crammed into a station wagon or sometimes, my dad would rent an Econoline van and even though it was clown car chaos, the sweet anticipation of things to come, the universal tug of the hand to get the truckers to honk, the delirious joy when they did, the lulling rhythm of tires meeting the road as my dad drove all night. I felt all that again through your always lush, beautiful words.

    Gorgeous, girl.

  30. I never went on a road trip. Ever. And I keep trying to convince my husband that we need an RV. He hasn’t bitten yet. I am going to let him read this, keep working on him. Maybe that will change his mind.

  31. I remember road trips we used to take in our van. Wasn’t quite the same as your story but it was always an adventure.

  32. So beautifully written, Julie! As always, of course. Your line about California Girls reminded me of how much I used to take pleasure in songs about New York City. Confirmation I was living somewhere great because people wrote countless songs about it.

    Now I want an RV that smells of smiles and pancakes…

  33. Jessica@Team Rasler

    Ah, this is exactly what summer and family and road trips feel like in my memory. I especially love the part when you know that the world is wet but you are dry. I’ll love my mom forever for giving me that sense of safety your parents obviously gave you, too.

  34. That thing looks tricked out and awesome! Just like you describe, the memories have to be wonderful of it! Ahhhh, the good ol’ days.

  35. Beautifully written. I can so relate to the security of being with family — wherever and whenever in the world — as long as we were together. Great photos! Your lovely memories also reminded me of my post last month entitled “Destination Ahead: Spontaneity.”

  36. Di

    I can’t get past that it was orange and not blue! Great post…as usual!

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