A tragicomedy about mushrooms in a van.
Written and illustrated by Vivian Hansen de los Ríos
My parents drove me and my siblings around in a white Plymouth Voyager van, the ultimate mini-van for the time, complete with a sliding door and dark red plush interior. We were quite pleased with it, as it was new; we were poor, and anything new was a real treat. The only problem was that it smelled like something had died in it.
It was my cousin’s fault. He was infamously destructive, so we should’ve known to keep him out of the new van. He was visiting us that summer and at some point managed to spill a whole cup of water in the back. Instead of telling someone and cleaning it up, he decided it best to just leave it there, closed up in the van for two days in the heat and humidity of a Mississippi summer.
There were mushrooms - real, actual mushrooms - growing in the van. Knowing how furious the parents were, my siblings and I had to hide how hysterically funny we thought it was. I mean – mushrooms! Of course, it wasn’t so amusing when we had to ride around in the van with it smelling like that. They tried everything to get it out, but every day we had to open the doors and air it out for a moment before getting inside.
It was soon dubbed “The Swamp Machine.” Even all the other kids in the neighborhood called it that. Luckily I was too young at that point to be embarrassed by that sort of thing, simply seeing the humor in it.
We had that van for a long time, and eventually the sliding door got very heavy and difficult to close. My mom had the clever idea that if you drove at a decent speed for a few feet and then slammed on the brakes, the door would close itself. It was very funny at first, but it soon became our regular method of closing the door. One day as we were leaving the grocery store, my mom started driving (door open, obviously, though of course the three kids were buckled in "safely") and a woman in the parking lot started shouting. She waved her arms frantically, moving toward the van, trying to tell my mom the door was open. Then: BRAKE. SLAM. Door closed. The woman dropped her arms, slightly dumbfounded before realizing that we had done it on purpose. My sister and I died laughing. My brother, just on the verge of puberty at that point, covered his face in embarrassment.
When the van was on its last two legs, it began to break down frequently. My grandparents lived six hours away, and our last journey to visit them in that van was particularly memorable. The van overheated numerous times. We had to keep the air conditioning turned off to try to make it go further. In the prime of the summer, the reek of the Swamp Machine was overwhelming. The windows in the back only opened by angling outward by an inch, but my siblings and I each had our noses stuck in those little crannies of fresh air. We stopped at one point because my brother was ill. He seemed okay until he got back in the van. Eau de Swamp Machine overwhelmed him again, and he dashed back outside to continue upchucking.
Finally, the cost of constant repairs became more than the value of the van and my parents started looking around for a new ride. They sold the Swamp Machine to a high school kid down the street for $200. He said he didn’t mind the smell. He gutted the van and outfitted it with a huge sound system. I’m sure that being a high school student with a vehicle of his own, especially one with fancy speakers, counted for something.
But when we heard the thumping of the van as it drove past our house, we just waved and laughed, seeing the silhouettes of his teenage friends’ faces pressed against the windows, their noses stuck in those tiny crevices of fresh air.