Saturday, April 14, 2012


Here's a poem I wrote in memory of Bob Brandon who sold us the VW Westfalia and who stayed on as our lifeline mehanic until he died suddenly and prematurely six years ago.

by Kevin Cahill

in remembrance of Bob Brandon

He kept the history in a tiny spiral memo pad,
the kind that could fit easily in a shirt pocket or
disappear into a glove box.
When he gave me the keys to the bus,
he also gave me the history.
He knew, I think, that I wasn’t the type
to continue his work which might be why
he almost forgot to mention it at all.

He had taken me all around the bus,
inside and out, shown me the locking gas cap
with the special key,
shown me the balky door handle,
shown me how to pop the top,
how to fold out the beds,
to swivel the captain’s seat
all the way round and then set up the tables.
Then he showed me how to take it all down.

I held the keys in my hand,
Maybe he saw the doubt in my eyes,
the doubt that I would remember much.
There’s one more thing, he said.
He fished this notebook out of the glove box,
he gave it to me.
I flipped a few pages, noticed how a few entries
were dated but all of them carried the odometer reading,
the miles more than the years,
the hundreds of thousands of miles,
he told me how he’d kept a record of things
like oil changes, and new filters, and tune ups.
“This might be handy,” he said haltingly
as if mindful of not sounding pushy.
“If you want to keep track of changes and upkeep…
and certain miscellaneous events.”
I looked up and caught the boyish grin.
He meant for me to understand what I was getting.
Miscellaneous events were part of the bargain,
to him they were selling points,
but he knew I was not like him and he said,

”Bring it to me whenever you need help.”

I chose to believe that we would be luckier than that,
that everything would work fine until the day we sold it,
as if luck were nothing more than the absence of difficulty.
It’s embarrassing now to remember
that I ever confused such cramped and fearful feelings
as having anything to do with the blessings of good fortune.
I needed teaching…though I thought at the time
that all I needed was a camper van.

The little book he gave me was a testament
containing the truth as he had come to know it –
things wear out, they break, they fail, nothing lasts –
for him this meant that he was never far
from one of those moments of truth
where he would be stranded on a roadside,
perhaps alone, perhaps with his entire family,
and where he would have to cudgel his brains
and ask himself the question,
“What do I do now?”
It seemed to be an enormously diverting question to him,
an invitation to get out his tools.…

Since he gave me the little book,
I’ve made a few entries of my own.
It’s disconcerting to see a different hand on the pages.
Whenever I have the oil changed,
I enter a tiny delta symbol, just as he did,
the symbol for change.
It is everywhere on the pages of his history.
So many changes.
He knew things…how to set the timing,
how to gap points, how to seat cylinders.
There’s something else he knew -
how put yourself on the road,
how to put yourself in the way of chance,
how to put things in perspective.

I wasn’t there when he took the family every week
teeth chattering up to Anthony Lakes in the winter,
or when they broke down at 10,500 feet
on Red Mountain Pass and had to be towed,
or when they broke down in the desert.
I wasn’t present, so I don’t know
exactly what he did at those moments.
All I know is what he wrote in the history -
there are delta symbols stretching out like mileposts
as far as the eye can see.
He never stopped changing things,
never stopped believing he could keep it running.
And I know one thing that he didn’t do –
he didn’t sell. He didn’t sell. He held on to it.

By the time I came along, he had retired, he had grandchildren
and a hankering to be with them.
He laughed when he told me that he had offered the bus
to his kids, now grown up, but they had declined
as he had known they would. He enjoyed remembering…
but he knew how things change.
Why would they want to freeze all over again in the winter,
bake once more in the summer,
be buffeted by wind and trucks rushing periliously past?
Why would they want the bus unless he came with it?
The bus made no sense without him.

And now he’s gone.
I try to imagine how it feels for his loved ones
to be stranded by his passing.
I remember my own road trips suddenly gone awry,
the brusque surprise of sudden change,
my own receding sense of calm and
the encroaching anxiety that I would never get
to wherever it was I thought I was going.
In my extremity I remember being visited by the recurrent thought,
half panic, half transcendent,
“We can’t stay here forever.”
It helps me to imagine him seeing us in our predicaments,
I imagine that smile and him waiting expectant and optimistic
for one of us to take his part and to nod as if to say
that this too is part of the adventure.
He’d probably think to himself, “Huh, what do we do now?”
even as he got on his back and slid underneath
for a closer look...and later,
another entry in the book.



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