Just a few months after we moved to the Panhandle, 300 miles away from home, I got a new car — a 1994 Saturn. I must have had gas mileage on my mind, because I sure didn’t think about space.
I loved the Saturn. When we traded it in for an SUV six years and more than a hundred thousand miles later, all we had done to it was replace the battery, and that was my fault. It was a great car — just small.
I did the driving in it. It was all Mike could do to get in the passenger side. Because he’s 6 feet, 4 inches tall, and Saturns are practically down on the ground, he had to fold in half, then fall into the seat.
So, what do you do when you head home for Christmas, and have to load your own baggage, plus your gifts, food, and the dog?
Well, you take Mike’s old ’89 Chevy pickup and just load up the back. But since we lived in the Panhandle and you never knew what the weather was going to do, you needed some shelter for your stuff.
Once again, Mike had that all figured out — a homemade camper shell. Plywood sideboards and a plywood lid fastened on with bolts. Really pretty. He offered to paint it to match the pickup, but it wouldn’t have helped.
He would put the sides on — they were about two feet high — and we would load up the bed of the pickup with all our bags, big garbage bags of presents, boxes with pies in them, and the dog. That bed would be full.
Our old dog, Dogita Rita, always went home with us. In the car, she would have most of the back seat to herself, and she had the back of the seat for support, but the pickup was a different story.
She could sit between Mike and me for a while, but would get restless. She was too big to get in the floorboard, and didn’t like it there anyway.
So one of the first things to go into the bed of the pickup was her doghouse. It was one of those Dogloo things, and easy to load, then we’d get her in it — not hard either because she loved her house. Then we’d load all around her, leaving a little room at the door if we needed to get her out.
When the truck was loaded, we’d get the lid and with one of us on each side, bring it up over the bed, and Mike would bolt it into place on the sideboards.
So there we were, traveling up and down Highway 287 with our homemade plywood camper shell, with the dog and her dog house in there too. All we needed was Granny in her rocker to make us look ever more sophisticated.
Mike refined his design later so that we didn’t have to take the lid all the way off when we unloaded. He would unbolt one side, and lift the lid and prop it open with a stick, like a car hood, and we’d unload.
Out of consideration for my parents, he took the camper shell off while we were there, parked in front of their house, so the neighbors wouldn’t think the neighborhood was going downhill.
We used the camper shell three or four years, then one year, we just put everything, except the dog, in big garbage bags and took our chances. I’m not sure what looked worse, the camper shell or a pickup bed with a doghouse and piles of garbage bags.
Then we got that miracle car, the SUV, with seats that folded down so we could have the whole back for the bags, presents, food and the dog, and we didn’t even need to take the doghouse with us.
I kidded Mike about hiding my face as we drove along with the plywood wonder in back of us, but it served its purpose, and we’d put on the Christmas music and laugh all the way home.