This post was waiting in my saved files for a long time, but today is the special day. Today is my late grandfather's birthday. He was not only a great scientist, director of a research institute, but also a person with the biggest heart ever. He was my mentor, my friend and the ideal model of how a real man should be. This post is for you, grandpa Volodya! I miss you a lot.

I am being asked about my interest in cars quite often. It seems like it’s unusual for a girl of my type to be so addicted to vehicles. My interest rose greatly from early childhood, when I would spend hours and hours in the garage with my uncle. At the time, a garage wasn’t something attached to your house, where bands like Metallica would first jam. In our city each residential neighborhood had a distanced garage complex where cars were standing most of the week and were taken out only for the weekend. Parking overnight near the house was prohibited. Those garage complexes were almost like a second home for married guys and young boys. Women were not part of this club. Since those days every driver was a mechanic, that was a valid excuse to get out from the house – I need to fix a car. Luckily for me, my mother was leaving me under my uncle’s supervision, who was a teenager that time, and my uncle was taking me with him to the garage. Probably, my mom still doesn’t know that I had rides on motorcycles there, he-he (no helmets, obviously).

So my childhood was full of theoretical knowledge. My first practical experience happened not with that uncle, who by that time got married and switched to much more boring activities, but with my grandpa.

At least 4 times a year my grandfather was visiting his parents, who were living in a village 200 km away from our city. Usually, I was the one who was always ready to go with him. Visiting great grandparents always included these four activities: bringing goods from the city, helping with their garden and fieldwork, helping with renovations and purchasing a huge amount of food at the local farmer’s market.

That was either the beginning of fall or late spring, the seasons that have a lot of rainy days. We got to the village on Saturday afternoon and spent the entire day working around the yard. Sunday was a market day, so right after breakfast we went by car to the big market on the border of the village. Back in the city we could buy only tiny chickens with bluish skin and some preserved meat like SPAM, so the shelves of grocery stores were pretty much empty or filled with one type of can from floor to the ceiling. In the village we had an opportunity to buy fresh groceries from local farmers. Usually our shopping basket included some vegetables, fresh milk and sour cream, salo (traditional Ukrainian salted pork belly) and chicken eggs. The trunk of grandpa’s car was packed with all these delicious gifts of farmland when we headed back to his parents’ house for a final dinner before going back home.

Actually, my grandpa's car deserves a few sentences. In Ukraine, many of the city people have a piece of land where they relax on weekends and grow fruits and berries (It's called 'sad' - [sʌd]) or where they ruin their weekends by growing an annual supply of veggies, usually potatoes (it's called 'gorod' [gɔr'ɔd]). So when my grandpa was looking for a car, his requirement was to fit at least 6 bags of potatoes into the trunk . I mean real bags, 50 kg bags. The best available car for this job was the Lada 2104 - a station wagon or universal with a 1.3L engine and 4-speed manual transmission. It was, as Canadian boys say, not a sexy looking car. Also, it was a rear wheel drive car with low clearance, so to do the job (a.k.a. carry a massive supply of potatoes for a Ukrainian family) it needed at least a gravel road, but tarmac was better. I think in the UK it was available as the Lada Riva.

So let's get back to my story. We almost reached the house, which was a few meters away from the main street – the only street with tarmac in the village, when my grandpa suddenly changed direction and drove down to the meadow.

The road down the hill was pretty rough due to the recent rains that washed it out, though the path through the meadow was damaged by tractors and looked even worse than the hill. And the bottom of the hill grandpa stopped the car and told me:

- Get out and go to driver’s seat

- Why? I don’t know how to drive yet

- Don’t worry, you will manage it. It’s pretty easy.

I was 13 or 14 years old, so by that time I read all the car magazines in the house and was using my pocket money to buy the newspaper AutoReview. I was scared, but excited at the same time.

I adjusted the seat and mirrors, clutched and turned on the first gear, started to gas… And at this moment realized that I couldn’t control the heavy car on the tractor’s tracks and poor Lada 2104 started to jump over the bumps. I stopped maybe in 10 or 15 meters, couldn’t go too far. My grandpa looked puzzled and said that it will be better to try in the city, where tarmac is more common than here.

The worst surprise was waiting for us when we opened the trunk. We purchased about 60 eggs in carton boards. When I was leading the car through the tractor tracks, all of our purchases were flying back and force, so we had a huge omelet made of about 40 fresh eggs evenly distributed at the bottom of the trunk. Our departure got postponed due to emergency clean up of the car.

After that I hadn’t touched the steering wheel of the car for another 4 years. The lesson was learned, but I still remember my grandpa with respect for letting me risk driving the car for my first time.

The photo of Lada Riva 2104 was kindly provided by Dmitry Avdeev. My grandpa's "number 4" was exactly the same.

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