Just after work on a Friday afternoon, Mary Newby walks up to the counter at Hallsville Market and Deli.
“Have you seen my mother?” she asks. The question is met with a confused stare.
“Have you seen Polish Maria?” Newby asks, rephrasing the question. Finally, a face lights up with recognition.
“Yeah, she was in here earlier, but I haven’t seen her in a while,” says Sonja Lebsock from behind the register.
“OK, thanks.” Newby returns to her minivan and looks out over the parking lot. “She could be anywhere.”
Newby is one of about 20 million Americans that take care of an elderly parent at home. Her mother, 84-year-old Maria Zofia Yaninas, has been living with her for the past 10 years.
“She just couldn’t live by herself any more,” says Newby, who works full time at Carfax in Columbia.
During the day, Yaninas has free rein in the town of Hallsville.
And she uses it, wandering all through the neighborhoods and visiting her favorite people and places, such as the post office, gas stations and Hallsville Market and Deli. Along the way, she picks up things like coins, bottle caps, lighters and cans. When she returns home after hours of roaming, she separates her findings into plastic bags and paper Dixie cups that lay scattered in her room.
People in town know her as “Polish Maria.”
Although she has lived in the U.S. for almost 70 years, Yaninas still speaks with an accent that traces back to her hometown of Kacwin, Poland. She emigrated as a teenager with her father in 1938, a year before Adolf Hitler invaded her country.
For an 84-year-old, Yaninas has a remarkable amount of energy. She barely sits down all day. In addition to her long walks, she stays active around the house by cleaning and sweeping. She also reads through magazines and newspapers, cuts out quotes and rewrites them into notebooks.
“If I don’t do this, I would get lonely and cry,” she says.
Newby usually calls home at least once a day.
“I worry about her,” she says. And with reason. Yaninas was hit by a car on her 80th birthday and broke both of her legs. It happened right at the top of a hill, just at the point on Route B where the speed limit changes from 55 to 35. It is the same crossing that Yaninas makes nearly every day to get to Hallsville Market and Deli.
“It’s hard to reason with her,” says Newby as she spots her mother from the minivan. “People don’t realize when you get older how much you become like a kid again.