Restoring Her Positive Outlook

She and her vintage trailer were both in pretty bad shape. Could they be fixed?

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- Posted on Apr 17, 2013

An artist's rendering of a vintage travel trailer with angel wings

Boxes filled with my ex-husband’s belongings sat piled up outside the garage. I added another to the stack. After 20 years of marriage, I was starting over as a single mom with three kids.

As I headed back inside, my eyes fell on the 1957 Mercury camper-trailer parked next to the house. I’d bought it on a whim after seeing it on a flier for a good price, and hoped to restore it one day. I always loved giving a new purpose to old stuff.

I had imagined all sorts of family adventures in the camper: trips, sleepovers, tea parties. My husband wasn’t too interested, though, and I never got around to fixing it up myself. It sat abandoned in the side yard, getting more and more run-down.

Rust spots fanned from the hinges, grime covered the windows, pine needles blanketed the roof. I hadn’t so much as opened its door in months. It had lost its charm and appeal. I ought to get rid of it, I thought as I went into the house. The camper was nothing but a dream from another life.

When my friend Marci from across the street came by, she could see how down I was. “You need to do something fun,” she said. “Are you going to the antique market tomorrow?”

It would be nice to get out of the house, with all its reminders that everything had changed. A treasure hunt was a good idea.

The next morning I put on my best vintage jewelry and headed over. The streets were lined with antique furnishings, garden art, primitives and—what was that? Parked beside a booth was a camper, a lot like the castoff next to my house.

But this one was clean and bright, all decked out with shiny appliances and 1950s tchotchkes. Two women were selling collectibles underneath the camper’s awning.

“Your camper is adorable,” I said.

“Thank you,” one of the ladies replied. “I’m Sandy. This is Staci. We’re proud glampers.”

“Glampers?”

“Short for glamorous camper,” Staci explained. “We take old campers and make them fabulous. If you’re the kind of gal who’d want to take a chandelier on a camping trip, glamping is for you!”

“I own a camper myself,” I said. “But mine’s in terrible condition.”

“You’ve got to start somewhere,” Staci said. “There’s a glamper gathering coming up.” She scribbled down a phone number on a scrap of paper. “The campsite is only a few miles away. I’ll be there.”

I thumbed the scrap of paper in my pocket while I browsed at the fair. Glamping sounded right up my alley. But my camper was about as glamorous as I was.

When I returned home I ran my finger down the side, leaving a clean line in the grime. The streak of white made me remember what the camper had looked like when I first bought it. Underneath all this dirt was a really cute canned-ham shaped trailer. But it’s too far gone now, I thought.

When I bought it, I was so full of hope for the future. The memory of how my camper had once been—and how I had been—stayed with me throughout the day. It was still fresh in my mind that evening when I went to visit Marci and told her all about the glampers.

“It wouldn’t be that hard to fix up your camper,” she said.

“Things are different now,” I said. “Moneywise.”

She picked up a home decorating magazine. “It doesn’t have to be expensive.” She pointed to a page with flea market style furnishings. “Just imagine, a few throw pillows, maybe frilly curtains... you already have everything you need.”

“Well, I guess decorating wouldn’t be that hard. But the camper hasn’t even moved in eight years. It might have mechanical problems.”

“Let John come over and check it out,” she said, offering her husband’s help. I felt a tinge of excitement.

“Okay!” I said.

The next day John checked the camper’s tires and hitched it to his truck. My heart sped up as I watched it roll forward. Pine needles fell from the roof as it moved. He took it around the block to test it out. “Looks like she’s roadworthy,” John said.

“So? Are you going to go glamping?” Marci asked me.

“I have no idea if I can tow her,” I said, biting my lip.

“I can do it for you,” John said.

“But she needs a beauty treatment before we introduce her to the glampers,” Marci said. I filled a bucket with soapy water and recruited my son and daughters to help scrub. Grime and dirt streamed down the sides. I wiped the interior surfaces.

As the years of neglect washed away, the inside of the camper filled with light. Maybe she has potential, I thought. And maybe there was a little bit of adventure left in me. “I’m going on a glampout!” I called over to Marci. Before I lost my nerve, I went inside to book a spot.

“And what is the name of your camper?” the coordinator asked.

What? “I...I don’t have one,” I said. A name for my camper? I was just happy that it was clean.

“That’s fine, honey,” she said. “We’ll see you in two weeks!”

I needed every day to prepare. Marci and I looked through some magazines for ideas on how to gussy up the camper. My daughters and I rummaged through my vintage linens, selecting floral tablecloths, quilts and a blanket my grandmother knit. We found funky trinkets to arrange on a shelf above the bed.

“Is it okay?” I asked Marci after we’d hung crochet-trimmed handkerchiefs up as curtains.

“It looks great. Stop worrying!” she said, giving me a hug.

I awoke early on the big day, lively with anticipation. I wrung my hands as John pulled the camper away from the house and drove us to my campsite.

“Welcome, fellow glamper!” Staci said when we got there. I was surrounded by campers decorated with suitcases, wicker chairs, pink flamingos—just the kind of stuff I loved!

Each camper and campsite had a theme of its own, with quaint outdoor seating areas. One camper was decked out with all pink accessories. Another had an old-time bicycle with a flower box in the basket under the homey awning.

Everywhere I looked, I got more ideas for my camper. And everyone was so open and friendly, and genuinely interested in their campers. There was a real sisterhood here—and I was becoming part of it.

I’m having fun, I thought. I had almost forgotten how this feels. It was like I was coming back to my old self.

“I was stuck in a rut for too long,” I told Marci when I got home. “You have to go with the flow.”

And that’s what I named my camper: Flo. Flo is currently parked in her old spot next to the house. But she’s different now. And so am I. For the next glamping retreat, I might give her a bright turquoise stripe and a matching fringed awning.

By uncovering Flo’s charms, I rediscovered my own. My camper angel showed me I had lots of potential. It was time to dust myself off and enjoy life’s ongoing journey.

Read more about the popular style of travel known as glamping!

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