Wagner Family Reunion & Mark’s 60th Birthday: Golden, CO – 10/20/2012
James contacted me in July to reserve the Hippie Limo for what I knew was going to be the most rewarding ride of the season. James, his eight brothers and sisters, their father, and some friends were planning a reunion in their home town of Golden, CO to coincide with their brother Mark’s 60th birthday. The plan was for everyone to spend a day revisiting all the places that had played an important part in the family’s history and hearts. It was a plan with a twist.
The Wagner family’s primary transportation for many years was a split-window VW Microbus similar to our Samba. Their bus was piloted first by their father and then by several children in succession as they received their respective learner’s permits and licenses. As is the case with most families who have grown up with an air-cooled v-dub as an extended family member, many of the Wagner’s fondest memories often included their bus, sometimes as a center-stage lead, other times as a minor supporting character. It was James’ thought that any driving tour of their family’s old haunts would have to take place in a VW bus like the one their dad ferried them around in.
James’ first question to me after presenting his plan was, “How many passengers does your bus hold?” I felt my heart sink as I responded, “Only six.” I could not imagine a better or more fulfilling day for the Hippie Limo than taking the Wagners on a reminiscence tour in the very kind of vehicle that had shuttled them around 50 years ago, but I didn’t see how I could accommodate them all. “Hmmmm,” James said as he turned over an idea emerging in his mind, “I guess I’ll hire another van to follow along behind and we’ll stop every now and then to change out people.” Now that, folks, is a man of foresight and vision.
I found myself counting down the days until October 20th, and then ticking off the hours of that morning until 1:00 when I was scheduled to pick up the Wagner clan following their lunch at the Blue Canyon Grill. While waiting for the group to emerge from the restaurant I had the opportunity to meet the driver of the “overflow” van. Her name was Bonnie and she was a long time family friend who had agreed to pick up the modern, full-size passenger van that Mark had rented to track along behind the Hippie Limo. I learned from Bonnie that nearly all of the family had moved away from Golden some time ago, and that only recently two of the brothers had returned to the area. “It’s amazing that they were able to pull this all together,” she said, “but here they are!” And with that observation we both received the message to pull into the alleyway behind the Blue Canyon and pick up our nostalgic revellers.
I am fairly sure that the Wagners and their friends were already well-informed about the part our WayBack machine was going to play in their day, but despite their foreknowledge their faces beamed with nothing less than joyful disbelief and stunned exuberance when the Hippie Limo arrived. It was as if the sight of our Samba had popped the cork on a fresh bottle of fond memories and everyone was raising up a cup to share in them. I opened the Samba’s doors and stood aside to let the family explore the interior and was rewarded with an excited rush of many voices in different conversations recalling moments in their lives that had taken place in or around their bus. One memory in particular that stood out to me was that of a younger sister who pointed to the small, raised cargo area over the engine in the back of the bus. Through equal measures of tears and giggles she recalled being a baby and having been placed in a makeshift crib there during family trips to St. Louis. Another sister commented that she just wanted to smell the bus and let the memories wash over her.
Amid all of the story telling one of the family members produced a stack of shirts and brochures and began distributing them to the group. Guffaws and cackles erupted as people realized that the shirts were baseball jerseys that bore the numbers 6 and 0 (for Mark, the birthday boy), and that each number was filled to the edges with expertly cropped family photos. The brochure featured pictures of Mark in his pre-CPA youth and a list of all of the locations the family would be revisiting during the reunion drive. After a short exercise in herding cats, the family was sorted between the two vehicles and the tour began. Though I had faithfully entered and ordered all of the addresses and stops into my GPS a few nights before, I learned quickly that no guidance system can track the well-worn travel routes favored by a family’s collective memory. I turned off the GPS and let the family be my guide.
The tour consisted of drive-bys of several schools and parks that the children had gone to over the years, as well as slow cruises around the houses and neighborhoods that the family had called home at one time or another. On the short list of places the group actually planned to stop was the family’s very first home in Golden, situated on Table Drive. I imagine the area’s Neighborhood Watch received a bit of an unexpected jolt upon seeing two buses pull up and disgorge over a dozen people, most wearing matching shirts, who immediately began inspecting and surveying the area with the crime-scene-like intensity that only adults returning to a childhood home and neighborhood can project. After a short time exploring, the Wagner clan gathered together on the curb in front of the old family home for a group photo before once again loading into the vehicles. As fate would have it, just as we were about to leave for the next destination an SUV pulled up and into the driveway of the former Wagner residence. A small, unsuspecting family got out and headed towards their front door.
I felt the hairs on the back of my neck bristle as two separate but distinct desires quickly charged the air inside our Samba and in the other passenger van. A family united only moments ago was in a sudden and utterly silent struggle of wills between those planning to stay seated and drive to the next place and those plotting to pop out of the vans as quickly as possible, catch the new family before they could reach the safety of their home, and explain that “We used to live here and we were wondering if you wouldn’t mind letting us in to look around.” As is usually the case, the plotters set the pace for the planners. In a few moments even the more reserved family members joined the boulder ones already at the doorstep for a tour of the old homestead. Fifteen minutes later found both sides reconciled as they emerged from the house talking about what they remembered and what had changed. The point on which all agreed: Everything seemed so much smaller than they remembered it.
We continued on to the other parts of the tour, pausing now and then to switch out passengers and once to allow the family to stop at the Lakewood Bar & Grill, an old favorite watering hole, to partake of something called “Birthday Cake Shots.” When we reached the end of the tour and returned to downtown Golden I felt both inspired and grateful to have met a family that shared such a strong connection to each other and to their home. In the four hours we travelled together I do not think we passed a single structure or even geographic feature that did not evoke a deluge of wonderful memories. Nor was there ever a moment of silence in our Microbus. If everyone wasn’t sharing memories they were sharing the chorus to the songs on the Hippie Limo’s sound system . . . with delightful results.
Before driving away I encouraged the family to come together for one final photograph featuring their father in the driver’s seat of our Samba. As you see from that photo and the others, October 20th was a great day for reliving old memories and making new ones. I am so happy that the Hippie Limo was there to add to their joy. Happy birthday Mark and happy reunion Wagner clan.
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