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My junkyard grandmother isn't religious at all.

I have one grandparent left, my grandmother on my fathet's side. She's 96 years old but looks and acts like she's 75.

Ill be honest. For years she embarrassed the daylights out of me because she owned and managed - are you ready for this? -- a junkyard. She called it a "wrecking yard."

As a boy, I knew what "mean as a junkyard dog" meant because Grandma had just such a dog, a dirty little pug that yapped and carried on at the slightest provocation.

For 40 years, Grandma drove trucks loaded with scrap and auto parts to the nearest big city, 500 miles away, to sell. On the side, she owned -- still owns -- an apartment building and a few rental houses, and invested in real estate to the point where she's been the most unlikely looking rich person for years.

She also can't resist collecting old cars, the ones that are valuable. For several years, in an old shed behind her house, she has had a 1956 Corvette in excellent condition. Last I heard she had turned down a huge amount of money for that car at least twice. She knows the price can only go up.

The old house Grandma lives in makes Fred Sanford's look like suburban splendor. Her living room is cluttered with old sewing machines, old toasters, old this-and-that, all in working order; and you had better take a couple of these items when you "leave or you'll hurt her feelings, except she would never tell you so.

My grandmother is about 5 feet tall and slender, and, until they stopped making them in 1960, she was extremely fond of Sudebaker cars and pickup tiucks. Last year, several years after the state took away her driver's hcense, she hired a lost soul of a guy to drive her and her

load of junk - excuse me, salvageable material - the 500 miles to the big city I mentioned before. She sold the wrecking yard years ago but, so help me, she still stays in business on a smaller scale.

On the outskirts of the city, one of the truck's tires blew, so the hired man said he would hoof it to the nearest service station for help. Three hours later, he had not returned and it was getting dark. Grandma got out of the truck and flagged down a couple of college students who helped her change the tire. Then she got behind the steering wheel, drove into the city, and located the new home of her 73-year-old daughter, a place Grandma had never been before.

I can't handle this. This is not how a ninety-something grandmother is supposed to behave.

Because she lives several hundred miles away, I visit only once a year, but she does not seem to change from one year to the next. She still fries eggs for breakfast in a puddle of bacon grease, and what can I do but eat these little cholesterol bombs and smile? Her kitchen still looks like a second-hand shop for kitchen appliances. She doesn't keep it very clean. When I go in there, I don't know what to do or say so I do whatever she wants me to. When I give her a hug she seems all bones and wrinkles.

My grandmother is not a Catholic Shd's not a regiturious person at all. I don't w what she thinks of me taking Catholicism so seriously, although she would never say anything uncharitable. The only time she complains is whep, the new hip the doctors gave her a few years ago doesn't seem quite right, then she says,"Mn-mm,"and my Mom

As a young, unmarried woman, Grandma taught school in a one-room country schoolhouse. All you needed to teach in those days was a high school diploma. She had learned some classical Latin along the way, and when I was in about the seventh grade, I told her that I knew some Latin, too. Say some,' she directed. So, good altar-server that I was I recited the Confiteor. She said, It's church talk, isn't it?'

A few years ago, after my father - Grandma's youngest son - died, she mailed me a document from a bank to sign. This means that when Grandma dies, which is not likely soon, I get some money - funds she had set aside for my father. I have no idea how much and I don!t care. What hit me was the gesture. How old-fashioned, I thought.

My junkyard grandmother would be the last in the world to flaunt that bumper sticker one sees so often: "We're Spending Our Children's Inheritance."

Grandparents, if they can, are supposed to help the kin they leave behind sharing t hen they go. That's part of what being a family means. You set an example for the younger ones about giving and sharing and being unselfish. That's what my grandmother would say. But, of course, she isn't religious at all.

Mitch Finley's latest books are Everybody Has a Guardian Angel ... And Other Lasting Lessons I Learned in Catholic Schools (Crossroad), and Your Family in Focus: Appreciating What You Have, Making It Even Better (Ave Maria Pm*.
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Author:Finley, Mitch
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Aug 13, 1993
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