Over the river, and off the Beltway

100_0661“Grams, could we make brownies?” my daughter asks, already knowing the answer.

“Is the Pope a Catholic?” replies my husband’s mother, smiling up at Anna, who has at least a half a foot on her now.

Short but feisty. Born of Irish heritage. Humbly brought up in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey. Married fifty-three years to a quintessential Italian. Raised five children. Hates housework and cooking. Loves her twelve grandchildren.

Digging through her cupboards, Grams is surprised by what she has stockpiled. “Jesus, Mary and Good Saint Joseph, here’s some coconut — ever made Girdle Stretchers, Anna? Oh, and I’ve got a bunch of cake mixes, and here’s raisins, and a helluva lot of chocolate chips . . ..”

Anna removes a baking pan, inadvertently causing a small but noisy avalanche, sending Grams’ Westies, Patty and Murphy, scrambling into the dining room. Grams laughs, assuring her granddaughter that there’s nothing she’ll ever do to make her angry.

Anna and her sister transform the cozy blue kitchen into a science lab, eventually producing a batch of triple chocolate peanut butter chip cupcakes, in which Grams happily indulges, despite her diabetes.

A few days later, we are back in Grams’ kitchen, saying goodbye.

The Beltway and I-270 lead us out of urban sprawl and into pastoral hills and forested mountains. Three hours into our drive, signs of civilization dwindle to tiny towns, coal trucks, and soft serve ice cream joints, as our minivan rolls deeper into rural Western Pennsylvania.

While the kids snooze, I make a mental “To Do” list of the things I need to do when we arrive at our final destination. Thankfully, our ninth military move from Mayport, Florida to Newport, Rhode Island has made our summer visits with the grandmothers a bit easier, since they both live on the way.

“Kids, wake up! We’re almost at Grammy’s house!” I say, peering into the rear view mirror at open mouths, drooping heads, and sprawled legs.

Once in the driveway, the girls run giggling from the minivan, sneaking up to Grammy’s kitchen window to scare her. Mercifully, their plan is foiled by Oscar, the stereotypically Napoleonic dachshund, whose sharp bark is as good as any home security system.

Grammy appears at the side door, miniature Cujo at her feet, forcing the girls to settle for a lame “Boo!” from the shrubs.

“Wait! Go back!” Grammy pleads, “You have to come through the Secret Garden!”

My mother was a first grade teacher for thirty years. Despite retirement, it’s still in her blood. Sticking to the schedule, Grammy leads us back to the driveway so that we must walk through the trees that she had carefully pruned and adorned with lanterns and birdhouses.

With Step 1 of her plan complete, we finally hug and kiss hello.

Much like Grams’ house, we congregate in the kitchen. With us seated at the booth she painted with red apples so many years ago, Grammy seizes the opportunity to have our undivided attention. She reaches into a kitchen drawer, retrieving four typed handouts; each colorfully highlighted and decorated with sparkly smiley face stickers.

“Kids, during your stay here at ‘Grammy Camp,’ there are some rules which must be followed,” she says only half-seriously.

“Seriously?” Anna replies, only half-seriously.


The girls look at each other and smile. They know how Grammy is. A mix of Romper Room’s corny but nurturing Miss Patty, Hodgepodge Lodge’s nature-loving Miss Jean, and Magic School Bus’ scatter-brained Miss Frizzle.

She goes over her “Camper’s Guide to Health & Happiness,” explaining the finicky plumbing which still uses well water, and upcoming “mandatory” participation in creative activities like making gourd birdhouses.

In the days to follow, we follow her plan. Before we know it, we are back in Grammy’s kitchen, saying goodbye.

As my minivan heads northward again to our next home in Rhode Island, I wonder what it would be like if we weren’t in the Navy and lived closer to family. Between the exits I realize: the rarity of our time with Grams and Grammy is precisely what makes it so precious.

Grammy & the girls

Grammy & the girls

Going to the movies with Grams

Going to the movies with Grams

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Comments: 38

  1. Elea Lee November 8, 2013 at 1:08 am Reply


  2. omanforever2013 September 29, 2013 at 4:27 am Reply

    Dear , you have nice familly I like you all

  3. iheartsiena August 13, 2013 at 11:41 am Reply

    I enjoyed reading this!

  4. seawindsolution143 August 12, 2013 at 7:22 am Reply

    Thanks for posting this, keep posting.

  5. mybeautfulthings July 31, 2013 at 10:01 am Reply

    I love having my Grandkids to stay and we always bake! Great fun for all concerned. Happy days! 🙂

  6. Browsing the Atlas July 24, 2013 at 8:37 pm Reply

    Your kids are incredibly lucky. I never had a grandmother like this, but am thrilled that my children do. My mom is as much fun as what you describe here. Is there anything better in the world than having kids who are ALWAYS excited to hear that they’re going to Grandma’s house? I hope I’m as lucky someday.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari July 24, 2013 at 11:43 pm Reply

      Thanks Browsing the Atlas …. I feel your pain a little. had one grandmother who was fantastic but died when I was four, and another who was fun and flamboyant but we didn’t see her that much. Then I had a step – grandmother who wouldn’t allow me to call her grandmother because I wasn’t related by blood ( we called her, simply, Ann). Families are complicated, and we must take what we get!

  7. segmation July 23, 2013 at 1:37 pm Reply

    What a wonderful Grammy! We are lucky to as my mom is the best to my kids! We are lucky to be a part of these awesome families!

  8. onechicklette July 23, 2013 at 1:01 pm Reply

    Fun post. I’m chuckling at Granny’s handouts.

  9. theempathyqueen July 23, 2013 at 10:16 am Reply

    Thank you for sharing your love of family, humor and a visit with Grammy!

    • Lisa Smith Molinari July 23, 2013 at 12:27 pm Reply

      Thanks for stopping by! I’m looking forward to checking out your site too!

  10. Kate July 23, 2013 at 8:15 am Reply

    A very sweet tribute. My memories with my grandparents stand out in living color. I can remember conversations, smells in the house, vivid images in their homes. Your kids are fortunate that you are chronicling this for them! They will cherish it someday!

    • Lisa Smith Molinari July 23, 2013 at 12:27 pm Reply

      It’s funny you mention smells… I don’t know how many times my kids will smell something and say, “smells like Grammy’s house” or “smells like Grammy.” The funny thing is that sometimes, the smell is sulpher because my mother still has well water! I don’t think she wants to be remembered for rotten egg smell!

  11. muhammadhariskhan July 23, 2013 at 7:22 am Reply

    beautiful post..

    a way towards a healthy life… Follow it before your life becomes slave of medicines …

  12. doctorbutterfly July 23, 2013 at 3:59 am Reply


  13. Terri L. Spilman July 22, 2013 at 10:35 pm Reply

    How fun! Distance is hard but I think you are right – it makes the trips extra special.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari July 22, 2013 at 11:04 pm Reply

      Yep, we gotta make the most of every visit. Thanks for stopping by!

  14. Behind the Barr July 22, 2013 at 7:47 pm Reply

    Great post Lisa – you can’t beat grandparent time.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari July 22, 2013 at 7:55 pm Reply

      Thanks Annie! So what do they call grandmothers in New Zealand anyway??

  15. Eagle-Eyed Editor July 22, 2013 at 7:40 pm Reply

    “Girdle Stretchers”. What a fantastic name. Great post and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    • Lisa Smith Molinari July 22, 2013 at 7:54 pm Reply

      Oh, and they are yummy — a layered bar cookie, basically the same as a 7 layer bar…. delish!

  16. Dana July 22, 2013 at 4:47 pm Reply

    What a great post! It is great to see people realize, that yes, would it be great to have this or that, or be here or there, sure, but would it be the same? Would it be what you have now? No. Sometimes, just sit back and appreciate exactly what you’ve got, and it seems like you have some really great grandparents to your children!

    • Lisa Smith Molinari July 22, 2013 at 5:36 pm Reply

      Well said, Dana. Right now I am sitting in our base house, which is old and quirky. I have been complaining about the repairmen that have been here since we moved in about three weeks ago, but then, as I sit here at my computer, I am looking out at the sailboats docked at the base harbor with the Narraganset Bay beyond. In the whole grand scheme of things, I have NOTHING to complain about! Military life can be tough, but it has been very good to us, and I would not change a thing.

  17. madaboutyoulady July 22, 2013 at 3:36 pm Reply

    This is the kind of grandma that I want to be.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari July 22, 2013 at 5:32 pm Reply

      I say that all the time too, Madaboutyoulady. Grams is so laid back about having company and the schedule, and I tend to get too uptight about this kind of thing. And my mom, Grammy, is super fun and creative with the kids. I hope I can learn from them!

  18. sunnydelay July 22, 2013 at 3:04 pm Reply

    Makes me miss the trips we take to visit my mom, known as ‘Hahrmee’ (a term of endearment in Korean, equivalent of grams or mamaw). We always have fun and memories in our own idiosyncratic ways! She’s quite a character and also lives in a rural, hilly area in Hanover, PA. Thanks for sharing!

    • Lisa Smith Molinari July 22, 2013 at 5:30 pm Reply

      Yes, I love Hanover! That’s where all the “potato chip farms” are! There’s a cute little town with an applesauce factory too — it has apple street lights and the restaurants all serve applesauce as a mandatory side! PA is a great state!

  19. poohbauer July 22, 2013 at 2:57 pm Reply

    My grandma may have been the reason why i got so fat during her visits. She used to just love to cook and would never eat anything herself. She always told me that she got full just watching me eat. Its a pity that I don’t get to see her too much any more since we’re countries away. oh how i miss my grandma. Loved the post. Had me thinking about the good old days

    • Lisa Smith Molinari July 22, 2013 at 5:28 pm Reply

      Oh heck yea, I always eat with reckless abandon while visiting family! As my 15-year-old says these days, YOLO!

  20. Mark July 22, 2013 at 2:46 pm Reply

    Great post. There’s nothing like visiting grandparents. My dad was in the Navy, too, and we only got to visit once a year during the summer. But those were always special times.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari July 22, 2013 at 5:27 pm Reply

      Aww, I wrote about Grams first, and sadly, she just became a widower last December. “Babbo” was a memorable grandfather to the kids and will be missed. On my side, we still have my father who the kids call “Pap”. He lives in the Outer Banks, NC with his second wife, and we see him when we go to the beach there. It can be tough as a Navy family to give everyone equal time. Someone always gets shorted whether we intend it or not, but I think our extended families realize that we do our best.

      • Mark July 24, 2013 at 10:36 am Reply

        I’m so sorry to hear about her loss as well as the loss for the kids. That is never easy. We lived in California, and would travel to Arkansas for a month each summer to visit family. It always seemed to go by way too quickly.

        On another note, I noticed you’ve been published in several places. I was just wondering if you could tell me, did you write in those places first, or after your blog? And is it pieces you’ve submitted or been asked to submit? I’ve just started blogging and really enjoy it. And I’d like to expand my writing a little bit. I was just looking at how other writers have done it.

        • Lisa Smith Molinari July 24, 2013 at 1:00 pm Reply

          Hi Mark, thanks for your thoughtful comments and for stopping by my blog. As for writing, I am a military spouse columnists and a general slice of life humor columnist. I send proposals or query letters to various newspapers and magazines. I have various newspapers both military and civilian that publish my column,along with a monthly column in Military Spouse Magazine.There are plenty of editors outthere looking for good material, but they rarely reach out and ask for it. You have to find the editors and send them your material. Write up a short, attention getting query and gather some “clips”(pieces you’ve had published) or a few great writing samples and give it a go!

          Good luck and let me know how it goes!

          • Mark July 24, 2013 at 1:32 pm Reply

            Thanks, Lisa. I appreciate the advice.

            I love your blog, and I’ll be looking forward to reading more from it!

  21. lauriebest July 21, 2013 at 10:37 am Reply

    A lovely and heartwarming post. I don’t have grandkids, but I DO have a new grandpuppy and I get excited to see his four-month-old self so I can appreciate your thoughts!

  22. Grace July 20, 2013 at 3:44 pm Reply

    Yea! Family!

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