Although my grandma is pushing 98, she has no intention of letting go. At 5 a.m. she’s up and at it, cleaning, cooking, tending the yard, making a killing on the bingo circuit… all the stuff active, retired people do. She’s a bit hard of hearing and osteoporosis has done a number on her back but her mind is still sharp. And every now and then, she’ll tell a story that leaves me speechless.
Her latest yarn took me back to Poland, south of Warsaw in a town called Warka. Apparently her family owns a farm there, some 200 acres large. Although she hasn’t visited the place in 13 years, she remembers it had several large barns, one of which was stuffed with “a whole mess of weird, old cars.” And as she is the sole, remaining family member, the property is more or less hers.
My heart skipped a beat. Old cars and barns—Arthurian legend fodder for car geeks. During WWII, many Eastern European car buffs hid their rides from the advancing tides of war. Volkswagen’s Autostadt in Wolfsburg, Germany has had several significant finds turn up that way. This was a story I had to hear.
There’s a way to get information out of grandma but you need to be very clever. If she knows you’re too interested, she’ll make up some chore she has to do. And then she’ll say it’s too bad she doesn’t have more energy but so much work is exhausting. If she had a strapping young man to trim her trees, fix sliding doors, re-jigger the sprinklers, patch the roof, paint the bathroom she could “remember” much better.
And then she’ll appear to fall asleep, muttering about silly, old cars and barns and cows.
I make a fresh pot of coffee and grandma perks up. She’s mad I threw out the old stuff. Apparently, one pot lasts her all week. I’ve been wasteful and she does not approve of my freewheeling ways.
I spend the next six hours as grandma’s indentured home repairman. Despite what she claims are failing eyes, grandma can tell if there’s so much as a twig out of place at 100 feet. And every 10 minutes she brings another friend over and introduces me as her big grandson. I few times, grandma volunteers my services. I quickly change the subject to healthcare. Older people love talking about that stuff. I learn which hospitals are the best for knee and hip replacements, hernia surgery, cardiac care.
That night I take grandma to her favorite restaurant for a little more information. Unfortunately, she knows every single soul in the place and it’s a non-stop greeting line. It’s 8:30 p.m. and I have to race grandma home in time for her “shows” (she likes Iron Chef and CSI Miami). We don’t get to talk while the TV is on.
Grandma is getting tired for real now, so it’s time to retreat. I will be coming back next Saturday to finish up the window casings and re-caulk the bathtub.
But grandma already knows that. This is a tale worth hearing.
My heart skipped a beat. Old cars and barns—Arthurian legend fodder for car geeks.