Story of van puts life into perspective

I remember it like it was yesterday. My parents closed the deal on an army-green van in the summer of ’06. It had a raised roof intended to be adapted for my wheelchair.

As I waited for my brothers to pile in, I thought back to the hand-written letter my mom had sent almost a year before. It was sent to the company we’d purchased the van from, after she was told that certain parts of Pennsylvania didn’t make adaptations to handicap-accessible vehicles – when in reality, they did.

Mom wrote it by hand so as to not “scare” the representatives from the company who came by our house.

My parents originally settled on that mammoth green machine because they’d been given a promise that the necessary adaptations would be made in a timely manner. However, after that deal was made, the van was not user- friendly for anyone.

My mom had to throw me over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes and lift me almost two feet in the air to get me into the thing.

Even though the company wasn’t able to adapt it, we were stuck with it – a brand-new, leftover, end-of the-year model. And the van was worth one-third its original price.

Mom decided to take matters into her own hands. She found another company an hour away from Altoona that had wheelchair-accessible vans in stock.

“This is almost over,” I thought to myself. “In a few hours, I’ll be rolling in style!’

After many negotiations and a double-car payment, I was watching cars fly by from the comfort of my own chair on the way home in our new navy-blue van. We were on top of the world, especially me.

The sense of freedom and independence I had would be short-lived, as I heard a voice on our answering machine late last summer echo, “Hi Tim, Debbie’s been in an accident”

The voice belonged to Betsy Lehman, who Mom works with at Dreams Go On, a therapeutic horseback riding program in Hollidaysburg. She was on her way there when she saw the van smashed on the side of the road.

My dad bolted out the door. My heart dropped. At this point, I didn’t care if the van was reduced to a pile of scrap metal. I didn’t even care if I was able to go anywhere again. I just wanted to know if Mom was OK. But with that feeling came a sense of selfishness because I realized that van was a luxury – and I should’ve appreciated it while we had it.

A few edgy hours passed before I received a text from Dad that read, “Mom’s pretty banged up, but OK. Very lucky.”

This made “the bigger picture” crystal clear.

It’s almost been a year since the accident. We’re waiting another two years to reapply for a new van. We have to use a portable ramp, so long gone are the days when Mom and I get to run around. If anything, this is a classic case of “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”

I guess Mother does know best.

Erin Kelly, 27, of Altoona is a 2009 graduate of Penn State Altoona. E-mail her at WriterWheels28