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My Aging Van

March 15, 2009
by Kathleen Mears
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I bought my 1985 van in 1986 secondhand. My sister told me about the newspaper ad for a full size, lift equipped Chevy van with a raised roof. I had been thinking about buying a van since vocational rehabilitation purchased a power chair for me. But this van's $17,400 price tag scared me to death. That was more than twice the price of my parents’ first house. Even so, I decided to go see it.

The van was a deep red and had a cream colored panel around it. It was not my favorite color but it would work for me. I took a mechanic along, the husband of a caregiver, to check out this potential purchase. The first time, I only looked and rode in the van, because I wanted to take some time to think about it.

The van's owner was the wife of a successful attorney who had been disabled by a brain aneurysm. Her home had been adapted with the master bedroom moved downstairs. She told me her husband had recovered enough for them to purchase a minivan. I liked the van, thought it was a good purchase, and a few days later I went to see it again and offered her $16,000. I wanted to go lower but I also did not want to insult her. She accepted my offer.

I was able to put a down payment on the van and finance the rest at 11% interest on a 48-month loan. I was 36 years old and that was my first car loan. The only vehicle I had owned prior to that was my father's four door sedan. But with working full-time, I needed to be able to transport myself in my power chair.

The one strange thing about the purchase was that during my three trips to the van owner's home I never saw her husband. I secretly wondered if he had died and that was the reason the van was being sold.

The van needed new tires immediately and a tune up. I knew it possibly needed some other repairs. The previous owner gave me documentation on the lift and tips about running it safely. There were many repairs that first year which made me wonder about the van’s history. Brake repairs were more frequent because of a caregiver who drove with one foot on the accelerator and the other on the break. Though I tried to stop this behavior, I could not.

The first few years the van was used quite a bit. It took me to my part-time job in Columbus and to my breast cancer medical treatments. Though I never took a vacation trip in it, I did go to conferences in Ohio. I remember feeling guilty about the van's stereo system with its now passé cassette player, which I loved. I had never heard a stereo cassette play in a vehicle before that. My father's cars never had one; the radio was enough of a luxury for him.

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Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Ohio for 20 years. She is an incomplete...