January 15, 2008
By Heather Groen, Grandville, MI

I must have been quite a sight, sitting miserably on the hood of my car with my cell phone clutched against my chest and my eyes beseeching some kind soul to offer me assistance. People zoomed passed me at seventy miles per hour, staring at my wretched position. I envied them in their working vehicles, since I was supposed to be home in half an hour.

My car swayed beneath me with each passing semi-truck as I frantically started to shake my cell phone and then flip up the screen. Dead. My arm went limp and dangled against my side. I rubbed the sole of my shoe into the pavement absent-mindedly as I contemplated my next move.

The roar of an engine jerked me out of my self-pity and sent me sliding down the hood. I meekly pulled myself upright and found myself beside a luxurious sports car. Through the tinted windows I could make out a head, shoulders, and a waving hand. I blinked and slowly came around the front of my car. I heard a click, a door opened, and a little old lady emerged. She hobbled along on a wooden cane and squinted at me as she came to a halt. We stared at each other for a moment.

“Having trouble with your car, dearest?” she asked in a cracked voice. She grinned broadly and even her wrinkles wrinkled.

“Uh…y-yeah,” I sputtered, goggling at her.

She waddled around me and motioned for me to prop up the hood. I did so, and she bent over the engine. Rubbing her chin with one hand, she studied the wires and valves with the other. With a shake of her head, she said, “It’s blown, sweetie. You’re getting nowhere in this car.”

I glared at my car, then down at my cell phone. I wanted to strangle both of them. If they had necks, that is.

“Do you need to call someone, honey?” The old lady seemed openly concerned.

I nodded as I stared at the blank screen. “If I had a working phone,” I mumbled to myself.

She somehow overheard me. “You can use mine,” she said, pulling a cell phone from the purse draped over her thin arm and holding it out to me.

I hesitated a moment before taking it with a barely audible “Thank you.”

As I dialed, she eyed me intently. “You look so much like someone I once knew.”

I turned to regard her with the phone to my ear. “I do?”

“Yes. Same big brown eyes, same hair, same long nose.”
I suddenly became self-conscious of my facial features.
The old lady added, “Her name is Therese Land. Do you know her?”

I almost dropped her phone. “Therese Land? She’s my mom.” I mentally kicked myself. Blurting out like that to a complete stranger!

The old lady beamed radiantly. “So you must be Samantha!”

There was no answer at the home phone, so I focused all my attention on her. “Samantha’s my older sister.”

“Abigail?!” She stared incredulously. “My goodness, you’ve grown.”

How did she know my name, while I had no clue who she was? I blinked a couple of times before replying, “Do I know you?”
“You ought to. But perhaps you don’t remember me. I was a close friend of your grandmother. My name is Genevieve Walden, better known as Auntie Gennie.”

“No, I don’t recognize the name,” I answered.

“Hmm…you don’t say?” She scratched at her white hair. Just as I was about to thank her and return her phone, she said resolutely, “I’ll give you a ride home. Come along.”

I remained where I was as she limped back to her car. My hands shook as I considered the pros and cons of doing as she said. Getting into a car with a stranger is one of the greatest mistakes a child could ever make. Then again, I wasn’t a child anymore and night was fast approaching. I figured I was better off with her than standing alone on a highway shoulder where any nutcase could take off with me. So with half my mind protesting and the other half encouraging me, I followed the old lady.

“Could I have some directions to your house?” she asked sweetly, her hand poised over a notepad with a pen in her grasp.

I slid into the seat beside her and obliged her request. We started down the highway at such an alarming speed that I was prompted to look back on my poor lonely car as it faded into the distance. Turning back to face forward, I stared dejectedly at my keys and cell phone in my lap in silence. After several awkward moments of no sound but the purr of the car engine, the old lady sighed and said, “Would you like to hear a story?”

The question caught me off guard and I stuttered a reply in the affirmative.

“Oh, wonderful!” she squealed. “I figured we might as well do something during this time together.” She took a deep breath before she began. “Many years ago, back in 1937, an expedition took a young couple through the tropical rainforests of South America all the way to the icy expanse of Siberia. It all started with a proposal of a college board to send a select number of scholars and professors to the Mayan temples of Mexico for some archaeological studies. The husband was among those chosen. He and his wife packed their bags and took a train from their New Hampshire home to bustling New York City (Mind you, this was when commercial airplanes were still new). They then boarded a ship to take them to the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico for a few months and found some magnificent ancient carvings. All seemed to be going well for this couple, until they were ambushed.”

I unconsciously gasped.

“Yes, ambushed by villains out to sell precious Mayan artifacts on the black market. The couple was left with nothing but the clothes on their backs as the thieves ran off with their luggage. All their maps and digging supplies were gone. Their money was stolen. Fortunately, thieves can never steal hope. The couple hired a driver with the promise of paying him later and they made off in a jeep through the jungles of Central America. They had to fend off tarantulas and keep jaguars out of their camp. They even had a twenty foot long anaconda reside in a tree they made camp under.”

My eyes bugged out twice that length.

“They finally came across those crooks in Honduras. But alas! The burglars had backup, and a team of villains captured and whisked our heroes away to their secret base in the Galapagos Islands. The couple was gagged and tied up outside the base. Lucky for them their trusty jeep driver came to their rescue, insisting that he came only to ensure being paid. The three of them snuck into the fortified stronghold and squeezed passed the sleeping guards. They found their suitcases and rushed away as fast as possible. However, the mastermind of this wicked plot was no fool and had anticipated this move. Our three heroes were pursued by guards and forced to retreat among the rocky shores. They found a suitable hiding place in a cave and came up with a strategy. The three of them ran amongst the pods of sea lions resting on the shores and slipped away to safety on an old fishing boat. Unfortunately, the Galapagos Islands are quite a ways off the coast of South America, and the threesome realized they couldn’t make it in their small boat. Much to their relief, they met up with a larger fishing boat and were brought back to the main continent. From there, they made their way back to Mexico.”

The old lady paused. I waited for a few moments before stating, “You said they went to Siberia, too.”

She smiled. “So I did. With their possessions returned, the couple paid off their friend and retreated to their home. Soon afterwards, they learned of an expedition to the Great Wall of China. That required a plane ride, and the couple saved up enough to take the journey. Arriving in Beijing, the couple ran into no one else but the criminal mastermind whose plan they had thwarted. He took them away to the northernmost reaches of Siberia and imprisoned them, hoping to prevent them from interfering again.”

I was leaning forward in captured silence when she paused again. I whispered, “Did they make it?”

She grinned. “Of course, my dear. A particularly strong wind collapsed the building they were in. Miraculously, they survived with minor bruises and dashed off with a sled dog team to report the evil mastermind to the authorities. He was soon found and imprisoned. The couple continued their stay in China and then returned to the States for good. Both of them are alive to this day.”

I laughed. “Right. Like that could really happen.”

She gave me a strange look that I could not quite understand when we arrived on my street. As I stepped out of her car into the crisp night air, I said, “Thanks for the story. It made me feel like a little kid again. I felt like I was there.”
Her eyes twinkled. “I was there. Can you guess who that couple was?

I only stared, transfixed by her broad smile.

“They’re my husband and me. Curious, isn’t it?” She drove off without another word.

I stood flabbergasted, unsure of whether to dismiss her as crazy or to actually believe her. I wandered up to my house and found my mom coming in from working in the backyard. That would explain my unanswered call.

She looked up in surprise as I trudged through the fallen leaves. “Abbie? Wha…”

I held up a hand before she could continue. “Do you know someone named Genevieve Walden?”

Mom’s jaw dropped. “I haven’t seen her in years! How’d you…”

I interrupted again. “This weird old lady picked me up on the highway after my car broke down on the way home. She told me this insane story about archaeological digs in Mexico and being shanghaied to Siberia. She also claims to have been friends with Grandma. Now, which is true? Please tell me the story just came off the top of her head…”

Mom shook her head. “It’s all true, Abbie. Everything she told you is one-hundred percent fact.”

I frowned. “Look, I’m sorry that my car died, so please don’t start making fun of me.” I brushed past her, but stopped after I noticed her bewildered look. “It really was all true, wasn’t it?”

Mom nodded. “Aunt Gennie was a renowned scientist. She was famous for her daring and seemingly impossible feats and adventures. She was a celebrity during her younger years.”

I lowered myself to a sitting position on the stairs of the back porch. “I can hardly believe it. I mean…it’s just all so improbable…”

Placing an arm around my shoulders, Mom led me inside. “We’ll talk some more after I call your dad and tell him about the car.”

I wobbled into the house and promptly tumbled onto the sofa. I stretched out and pulled the blanket over me. Mom went off with the phone and left me to wallow in my thoughts. My head swam and I massaged my temples. Temples. The Mayan pyramids. Siberia. Criminal mastermind. It all played over and over in my head.

Mom suddenly interrupted my thoughts. “Dad’s getting a tow truck. He needs your keys and exactly where the car stalled.”

I pulled the jingling keys from my pocket and told her where the car was. Then I fell back against the armrest. Mom returned after a few moments and sat at the far end of the couch. “You don’t look so good, hon. Want a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream?”

My favorite. But I turned it down as I sat up. “I want to talk to Aunt Gennie. Do you have her phone number or anything?”

Mom contemplated for a moment. “I’ll look in the phone book. Her husband’s name is Harold, I think.”

“Please find it,” I implored. “There’s so much I want to ask.”

With a smile, Mom nodded. “She and I are long overdue for a visit. I can’t even remember the last time I saw her. We all kind of went our own ways after your grandmother died.”

“Yeah, she mentioned being a friend of Grandma…”

Mom stood and took out the phone book. She brought it to the kitchen table and flipped through it. I leaned back onto the couch and fell asleep to dream about twenty foot anacondas and sled dog teams.


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