Into the Woods to Grandparents’ House


Today I took a shortcut to get to the post office in East Greenwich (eBay shipments – are you following my other blog, ‘From Splurge to Purge’ ?). From Division Street, I turned right onto Howland Road and took it to the end, where Howland meets Middle Road. As I was stopped, I was looking at one of the houses my grandparents lived in. Yes, one of – from the time I was a child, there were, oh, at least four. Five? All in and around East Greenwich, Cowesett, Coventry, all after the magical house on Hemlock Hill. It’s pictured here, as a copy of a painting that was made.

Most of us have fond memories of our grandparents, if we were lucky enough to have them. I had only my mother’s parents (my dad’s mother died when he was 18, his father died before my first birthday), but they were superlative grandparents. We would drive to visit them, either from our house in Connecticut or, after 1963, our house in Johnston. The drive to Hemlock Hill in Perryville was via Route 1A, the old Post Road that runs along the southern coast of Rhode Island, where beaches have names like Matunuck, Weekapaug, and Quonochontaug. Perryville, named after Cmdr. Oliver Hazard Perry, is really a village within the town of South Kingstown.

My younger sister was too small to remember, but Ann and I, sitting in the back seat, would strain to see the familiar landmarks as we approached. Invariably, Ann would call out, “I see the white church!” and “I see the red house!” before I did, as she was not saddled with vision problems until she hit her 40s.  The red house (pictured at left) marked the entrance to, well, to Red House Road, a dirt road with no lights and plenty of animals in the woods. A quarter-mile drive or so, past Dr. Gee’s little yellow cottage on the right, nestled behind trees and tall shrubs, brought us to Hemlock Hill. A two-car garage sat at the bottom of what to me seemed like an insurmountable driveway up to the house. Most times, my grandparents parked the car in the garage and walked, with bags of food or other necessities, up the hill to the house.

And the house! With wooden Adirondack chairs on the wide front porch and the smells of molasses cookies or beef stew filling the cabin (because it was built as a cabin, and had bedrooms and a bathroom added later), it was a comforting place full of love. My cousin Cindy remembers sleeping over when it was just the cabin, with an outhouse down in back and a chamber-pot for use during the night. A tick-tocking clock on the rough-hewn mantle marked each quarter-hour with soft Westminster chimes; a bird that had flown into the picture window was preserved and mounted on a branch (fascinating to us kids, and my first and only up-close experience with taxidermy), and the big heavy oak rocking chair waited to be occupied, by grandfather and grandchild. On a very clear day, you could see the ocean from that high vantage point. My grandfather built a fish pond in the front, and farther down the grass, a stone fireplace for cooking outdoors in warmer weather. He blazed a trail through the acres of woods behind the house, and each of us begged to be taken for a walk along the “bunny trail.”

My grandparents sold the house in the 70’s, and although my grandfather was still hiking, it was better for them to be closer to their children and grandchildren. My mother always said she didn’t know how her mother could live in such isolation. Around ten years ago, my sister noticed the house was for sale, but the picture accompanying the real estate notice showed a different house, now two levels. Everything changes – that’s why memory is so cherished.

Going for Ice Cream


What’s better in summer than going out for a cone? Today my younger sister Mary Beth stopped by and invited me out for ice cream. It was early afternoon, and I hadn’t had lunch, so I was game. (I know, none of us really needs ice cream, but you have to agree it’s hard to say no!). Of course, summer means hot weather. As kids, we didn’t care if the ice cream dripped down the cone and onto our hands, our wrists, our arms….unless you were a fast licker, that cone didn’t stand a chance in 90 degrees. Today, I suggested a spot nearby where we could sit inside, in air-conditioned comfort.

When I was about seven years old, we visited my Uncle Carter and Aunt Betty, and their children, our cousins, all of whom are older.  Aunt Betty suggested to my older cousin Susan (the oldest of the cousins, and therefore the most important and coolest) to take my sisters and me for a drive, “get the kids a cone.” Susan, who would have been sixteen at the time, probably rolled her eyes, but figured she had the opportunity to drive, so she grabbed her girlfriend, put the three of us on the red vinyl bench seat in the back of the car, and drove to Goddard Park, a jewel in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, on Narragansett Bay. There, she bought each of us a cone. Well, my older sister Ann could make an ice cream cone last for 45 minutes if she had to, and never ever have a spill or a stain. I, of course, would be done with mine well before everyone else and never gave that cone a chance to drip. And then there was Mary Beth. At three years old, I can still see her in her adorable little yellow sundress, sitting in the back of the car on a hot summer day, chocolate ice cream on her face, her tiny hands, and all over her yellow dress. She was grinning and laughing and having the best time – because she was eating ice cream! And if it dripped on the car seat, so what? It’s vinyl! Wipe it off!

A Sunday ritual in our family was taking a drive for ice cream. This usually did not take place in the middle of the summer, because we’d be at the beach, but in the spring and fall, after Sunday dinner, Dad and Mom would put the three of us in the back seat (always the same seating – Ann behind Mom, me behind Dad, Mary Beth in the middle), and we’d drive to the Newport Creamery on Smith Street in Providence. Dad would get the cones and bring them back while we waited (not so) patiently in the car. Then, eating his walnut fudge ice cream, Dad would drive through the “old neighborhood,” which consisted of New York Avenue in Washington Park, over to Narragansett Boulevard, past Saint Paul’s Church, over to Spring Green, then Apponaug, and finally home. And by the time we arrived back home, Ann would just be finishing her cone.