COLUMBUS _ We were packed into the van, going to see Cousin Bruce's new land on a cloudy spring day.
``So, I couldn't figure out what to do with the money,'' he said from the shotgun seat. ``Never had any money before.''
``You had money,'' Buddy corrected him, from way back in the third seat. ``You bought me Lincoln Logs for Christmas.''
``True,'' said Cousin Bruce. ``But I'm talking about enough money to buy real logs.''
``I'll sell you some real logs,'' I said.
``Nope. Spending almost every cent on this land,'' said Cousin Bruce. ``Then I'll pitch a tent on it this summer and try to build something before it gets cold.''
``We can help you,'' said Uncle Chet.
``I can hardly wait to see it,'' said Hon. ``Imagine Bruce moving to the country.''
``We're getting close,'' said Bruce, who hails from Springfield, Mass. ``I saw it on the Internet last week, then drove out here to check to see.''
``And never even stopped in,'' said the little miscreant, his favorite niece.
``No, but if I move out here, I'll be stopping in a lot more often,'' said Bruce. ``I only got the money last Monday when I turned 50. And by Tuesday, I was on to this land. I was trying to figure out what to do with my little nest egg when inflation's at 10 percent.''
``Is it that bad?'' I asked.
``Only if you eat, or buy gasoline,'' said Uncle Chet, who was at the wheel in a captain's chair. ``Of course, the government says it's much less, because they don't want you to panic.''
``So I asked myself: `What do you invest in, when you're going through inflation and recession at the same time?''' said Cousin Bruce as we tooled along the river road.
``Something people need,'' said Hon.
``Something undervalued,'' I said.
``Something with intrinsic value,'' said Uncle Chet, slowing down by the real-estate sign. ``Is this it?''
``This is it,'' said Bruce and we pulled onto the grass, peering out the windows at a wide field rolling down to the winding river.
``It's beautiful!'' said the little miscreant. ``Let's get out!''
Across the river, the rich, dark bottom land was plowed up and behind it rose the wooded foothills.
``It is nice,'' said Hon as she stepped onto the grass and the sun peeked out.
``This is great,'' I told Bruce. ``You're going to like this a lot better than living on the 32nd floor, listening to sirens all night.''
``I'll adjust,'' he surveyed his new ground. ``After I saw it, I just knew I had to get it before the Chinese take over.''
We walked down the gentle slope toward the willows that line the riverbank.
``How far over does it go?'' asked Uncle Chet.
``It's about 500 feet wide, but I haven't found the markers yet,'' said Cousin Bruce.
``Probably one in that hedge row,'' Uncle Chet pointed, and the party changed course, now bound for a corner.
``When I found out I was getting this money, I thought of buying gold,'' said Bruce. ``But I don't get how they price it, how it goes from $400 to $900 and back again. And I thought of stock, but stock scares me after Enron. Who knows if these companies are telling the truth, or just trying to soak us? I think solar's going to take off, but who's good, who's bad; it could take a month of Sundays to understand, and even then I'd probably be wrong.''
``You could have bought bonds,'' said Hon. ``Then, at least you'd know what you're getting.''
``Or T-bills,'' I said, ``but the interest is less than inflation.''
``Or ice cream,'' said Buddy.
``Or you could have invested in my college education,'' said the little miscreant. ``But I'm glad you didn't; I like this.''
Uncle Chet halted, looked up toward the road, then spun slowly back to the river.
``If you got a fair price, you made a smart choice,'' he told his younger cousin. ``Hang onto this, even if you have to burrow into the side of it, and 10 years from now they'll say you stole it.''
``So, how much did you steal it for?'' asked the little miscreant.
"Now that's none of your business,'' I told her sharply, then wheeled to him. ``But of course, if you want to, you can tell me.''
Cooperstown News Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week.