Prologue: THE CALL
My dad hung up the phone. Our friend invited us on a short drive to a nearby village. He heard there's a spring that flows through a gold mine and wants to taste the water. We'll pop a visit to the old mineralogy museum as well. It's in the owners own house.
We met in the parking lot...
Act 1: GOLDEN WATER AND THE WEREWOLF
Our first stop was just at the entrance of the village to get water....gold water! No joke, the spring comes directly from the gold mine and our companions swore on the health benefits of this. I don't speak Doctor, nor am I a big fan of miracle cures, but sure, as long as it doesn't have the big "DON'T DRINK THIS WATER! IT'S POISON" sign on it, sure, I'll try it. It tastes like water. Marvellous. But some people are more impressed than me and even buy it from the bottling station nearby. The spring itself was nicely taken care of - it had a gazebo and everything. But something was watching us... the house across the road had a werewolf statue in its yard. I like this village. I wanna be neighbours with these people!
Act 2: THE GATE, THE DOG AND THE CRONE
After our bottles were full with the much praised water we only had to drive a few minutes to get to the gate of The Aesthetic Mineralogical Museum of Iron - say that with your mouth full!
We rang the bell.
The dog barked.
We insisted. We knew the owner is old and maybe he didn't hear us. We stood there for about a quarter of an hour...talking to the dog. #sanity
Eventually, the neighbour lady, a small and crooked but well disposed being, came out to tell us the old museum keeper doesn't really hear anymore. But that we should open the yard gate, and go into the lobby of the building. There we would have to knock onto the metal door on our right - he'll surely hear us. We thanked her, pet her fat small dog, showed respect to her cat and went in.
Act 3: DREAD AND THE MANGY CAT
The metal door rang and boomed as we knocked. But in vain. We were left just standing there once again, in the company of a very sickly looking cat that was gracing the guestbooks with its butt. We were aware that the owner was really old. We didn't need the neighbour telling us that. He's born in 1924!
The hollow unanswered knocks, the sickly pet, the unlocked doors... and the smell... (hopefully from the cat). We were all having the same thought but none of us dared speaking it out loud.
Act 4: THE POLICEMAN AND THE PILLOW
The crone had mentioned that a woman from a few houses down takes care of the poor old fellow. We set out to go knock on her door, to see what's happening. But we didn't get there - another neighbour, next door, just on the opposite side from the crone, a young and annoyed woman, yelled at us: "Just go in and knock on the door on the right, you're making the dog bark and it's waking the baby!"
"We did. No one is answering."
"He's deaf." yelled an older man from the same yard. "I'll go in and let him know he has visitors."
We were once again in the lobby with sickly cat. The man went in. Then came out slightly pale but puttin' on a facade: "I've looked for him in every room. Even in the bathroom! The old codger must have left to chat with the other elders, up by the pub, and forgot to lock his doors. I'll take you there. I saw him just last night." We got in his car, I sat next to old boiled corn on the cob that turned brown. No one was voicing what we all feared. He stopped by the town hall where the village's police man was standing outside. They of course knew each other. It's a small village. The Officer haven't seen the old man either. We pressed on at the pub. The barkeep and the patrons haven't seen the man in days. We turn around to go back. Now the villager that was helping us wants to go to the woman who cares for the elderly man as well. We pass by the cop again. We report he's not anywhere around or at the pub.
We reach our destination - a yellow house: "Hey, where's the old codger?" yells our driver without getting out of the car. A slightly irritated but also kinda amused woman appeared at the gate "In his bed, where d'ya think he is?" - "I went in, he's not inside. We looked at the pub, he ain't there either." - "Maybe he's at the bathroom." - "I even looked in the bathtub!" Exclaims our now visibly worried guide. "I'll be right over, let me get my cigarettes." She says and sends us away to the house.
At this point, in front of the museum there's us, the young mother, thee crone, the man who drove us, the policeman is walking towards it and the carer lady finally arrives. She goes in. We follow. After us the older guy and the Officer. She opens the door to his rooms and goes in. "I told her, he's not there." The man says. "God I hope I don't have to spend the night in the woods looking for the old man." The Officer mutters.
"You have visitors." We hear her voice from inside "Get up. Easy now." She comes out. Turns out he was sleeping, so well bundled up in his bed, hidden between pillows and blankets, that our friend had not noticed him. Everyone leaves. We wait for him to get ready and come out.
Act 5: FROM TIMES IMMEMORIAL
His frail frame appears in the door. The cat darts to his legs, very excited to see him but quickly being distracted by an itch and crashing down to bite its own butt at the old man's feet. He gently and clumsily, with the help of his cane, navigates around the poor beast. He asked us where we were from. I don't know if he heard our answer or was just bowing his head in approval of his own thoughts as he was slowly climbing the few steps to the museum door.
Once inside he takes a moment to catch his breath then he starts his slow and well rehearsed tour. The museum is filled with pictures of past visitors as well. he lights up every time he remembers one of them and tell us stories about them.
The stones are beautiful, and there are a lot displayed for such a small space. But this is more than just a mineralogy museum. He loves the stones, collected them all his life. He brought them in and regaled the visitors with his tales, savouring their fascination, living for it. His wife would be the one looking after the displays, making sure that her man's passion is presented in such a way that makes it justice. She is no more...
The display cases are dirty, the air is stuffy and the dust seems to want to cover the stones again, bring them back to the bowels of the earth. But the stones gleam on! and his passion radiates and his eyes light up. His mind is full of information about these minerals, his past full of smiles and wonder from the visitors he's had...yet he forgot he had given us a tour as soon as it was over and promptly stared the tour again. The same...but different, with different memories...another cycle, just like the Earth.
Epilogue: STONES, WATER AND TIME
The key turned in the ignition. We didn't talk till we got to the Goldmine spring again. We set off to see a museum. But we got to see more. A small village, modern yet forgot by time. The neighbours, the cop and the barkeep...a different kind of "knowing each other", a deeper way - an older way. And a lifetime passion of a man....and what a lifetime. 94. Only fitting for the loving guardian of these crystals, formed millions of years ago, to live to such a long age. And hopefully the passion for the stones keeps him around for the years to come. Maybe it's the water, maybe it's the stones, but the whole trip felt to be happening in its own little pocket of time. Or maybe I caught whatever that cat was suffering from.
A great big THANK YOU to Constantin Gruescu for being such a graceful host and to his neighbours for caring and helping on a moments notice.
Born in the village of Dognecea, in 1924, Constantin Gruescu had a passion for minerals from an early age. He opened his collection to the public in 1945, in a room in his own home in the mining village Ocna de Fier. The museum has always been free for everyone and in addition to the innumerable students, teachers and tourists, his museum has been visited by Romanian leaders and foreign representatives, the most notable being the former Queen of the Netherlands, Princess Beatrix. (Source: Wikipedia - and his stories, of course)