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John Diesel and his wife, Charlene, enjoy dinner while their grandson Jakob Vartanian runs around outside after finishing dinner quickly. "He doesn't eat meat...or vegetables" Charlene says as she prepares him his own mozzarella sticks for dinner. Sweets and junk are what Jakob testifies to being his diet.

Their Retirement Job

story by Boris Shirman

"Horses and our grandson are the two most important things," says Charlene Diesel, 58, who with her husband, John, 60, is combining a horse carriage business with the responsibility of raising their 10-year-old grandson.

The balancing act includes sitting for hours in Victorian attire on a horse carriage, driving grandson Jakob Vartanian to cross-country practice and taking him rollerblading once a week.

"It's our retirement job," Charlene says, smiling.

When Jakob was 4, his mother, who was struggling with a tumultuous lifestyle, turned the youngster over to his grandparents.

Initially, Charlene thought that Jakob was autistic because he didn't start talking until he was 5. But as time went on and his life settled down, Jakob became more open and happy. Now he is a very energetic kid who runs cross-country at school, always has friends at the roller rink and within minutes can find kids to play hide-and-seek with at a McDonalds. "He's a kid magnet." his grandmother says

It all came together in Paducah, where they purchased a barn and a business. "It's like God had a plan: a barn, a business, a farm for sale," Charlene says. The business is John's Pass Carriage Service, where they provide guided carriage tours dressed in Victorian clothing. They also include Jakob by giving him all the dollar bills from a day's take as long as he helps with the horses.

Balancing their busy life, especially at their age with a 10-year-old, is a daunting task. They have to wake up early to get Jakob ready for school. Then it's off to cleaning the horses for the day's carriage rides and back to taking care of Jakob after school. Charlene believes that "kid time is important" so she takes him rollerblading once a week — unless, of course, he hasn't finished his homework. "He is a blessing, but yeah, my life is full" she says.


Charlene and Jakob sit outside their barn in Paducah studying spelling words for an upcoming spelling bee that Jakob will be in. The plan changed from a night of rollerblading to a night of homework and studying because Jakob had not finished enough of his homework and according to Charlene, "work comes first".


John and Charlene take Jakob to the bus for school. They wake up no later than 6:30 am to get him prepped and ready to go to the bus stop.


Charlene steers a horse carriage down the streets of Paducah, "I'm definitely a tourist attraction" she says. Along with taking care of their grandson, they own a horse carriage business where they give tours and participate in parades and fairs.


John and Jakob sit and wait for Charlene who is running late for the weekly rollerblading night. They fill the time with corny jokes and by antagonizing each other.


"Come sit on my lap" Charlene calls, trying to get the usual affection from Jakob. Charlene is only able to get her grandson's attention for a few minutes at a time, as he runs around with the dog.


Jakob plays a fierce game of tug of war with the family dog, Ms. Tilly, while his grandparents Charlene and John sit by. "If you'd believe it, this is a normal night" Charlene explains as Jakob does laps around the couches.


Charlene holds onto the hand of her grandson while Jakob sits atop his grandma's lap during night family time in between his running around.

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