Packin’ My Suitcase Like Grampa

Author’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of pieces inspired by or reflective of my painted work. Some of my contemplations will lead me to the work of others. Some will feature mine alone. Some will do both. I hope you enjoy all of them.


It was Sunday, and what that meant to me so many years ago was precious. We were both early risers, my dad, and me. I couldn’t wait for him to say, “Let the girls sleep. Let’s go to Grampa’s“. The girls referred to my mother and my older sister. But I’ll leave that for another story. Oh boy! I wasn’t one of the girls today. I was with Dad! And off to Grampa’s we’d go.

Let me introduce you to my Grampa. Mario. He was a big, tall, burly Italian with one leg. Well, one real leg, and then he had this other wooden leg. That leg would always be resting anywhere but on the stub of his leg, where I thought it belonged. It was an entity on its own. Sometimes that leg would be holding up the kitchen counter, resting on the sofa, or poised by the clothesline ready to do its work.

It wouldn’t be so bad, but Grampa lived on the second floor of an old Victorian house — ALONE. How he managed to go up and down the stairs was a mystery. But he did it. He lived and thrived on his own, cooked for himself, did his own laundry, cleaned, pruned trees. All while that wooden leg supervised from afar, giving Doctor Eckleburg hope. Maybe it was because he was stubborn, independent, or just had a hell of a strong will.

To a five-year-old girl, it was because he was Grampa Mario.

I loved him. I loved going over there. It was me, Dad, and Grampa Mario having our Sunday special. Every year we planted this huge garden. We didn’t need fancy equipment to plant. We had our assembly line. It was our parade. Grampa would lead by pounding his crutch into the ground for that calculated hole. That crutch new just how deep and how many inches apart those holes needed to be. Next was my turn. I can hear that voice: “Justa two seeds ina each hole.” I’d place the seeds just the way Grampa told me to. After all, I wanted to do that crutch justice and please Grampa.  Last, Daddy mounded the dirt. What a team!

That garden carried us all summer. We planted, toiled, harvested, and celebrated. After our labor of love, we would sit under the grape pergola. Depending on the time of each season, you could rest assured you’d get whiffs of apple blossoms, ripe grapes, and earth.

We’d sit there in the mottled sunlight eating fresh peas or peaches right from our own land, telling stories, laughing, and wiping sweat.

Oh, those grapes. Those old vines provided fragrant shade, rich wine, and music from a host of birds. A welcome refuge from the hot sun.

I’d give anything to sit there again to listen and savor another nugget of wisdom. I was told Grampa packed the original roots of those grapevines in his bags when he came over the pond. He packed seeds and rose roots, too. And when he got here, he planted them. Each time he moved, he packed some of his roots and planted them again.

I want to pack my suitcase like Grampa. Not only did he pack those vines and roots and seeds, but he also packed sustenance, independence, ingenuity, and courage. He and my dad are long gone but lovingly never forgotten.

In a way, they sort of packed my bags for me.


Anne O'Brien
Anne O'Brien
Anne is the founder and Principal of The ArtFitters. At an early age, she found herself drawing house plans, enjoying visits to the furniture store, even staging and re-staging her bedroom. At the age of eight, she was more interested in picking out wallpaper, reupholstering furniture, and re-decorating rooms than going out to play. Over the course of her professional life, the scopes of her projects grew larger. Her exposure to styles, materials, and furnishing became more broad. Today, with more than 20 years of experience behind her, Anne is a visually inventive conceptual thinker who always sees the big picture. From residential re-design and staging to managing a $190 million dollar commercial property portfolio, artful re-creation and adaptive re-use inspire her. And she’s worked with franchisors to implement design standards that have been applied nationally. While managing commercial facilities and designing interiors, Anne always made time for art. She’s had instruction in sculpting, pottery, Norwegian folk art, wood carving, dress design, jewelry design, and interior design. She’s studied painting at the Borgo Rinascimento International School of Art in Farnesi, Italy, and with numerous artists. You can see a selection of her work at PaintingsbyAnne.

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  1. Anne, this story is delightful. Thank you for sharing it with us. It made me remember my grandpa fondly. He was Italian, and came to America by himself when he was twelve. I have such lovely memories of his garden, especially the string beans and tomatoes. There was nothing I loved more than picking a free pole bean as a kid. And that first crisp bite- wow! But more than that, he was a tall, serious man who loved deeply. He was also blind, but man could he see. Thanks for taking me back to memory lane, Anne. It’s what I needed.

    • Laura, it is so nice to hear that we have something in common, our heritage. I can just hear that snap of freshness as you tase the bean. We are both fortunate to have grandfathers that taught us so much. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Anne – I never knew my grandparents, so your piece was all the more lovely.

    As I was reading it, I was reminded of the questions you’re now asked by Customs when returning from abroad. One is something like “Have you visited any farms?” Or “Are you carrying any live plants with you?” Grampa Mario would have checked “No.” Good man.

    • Good evening Jeff. Yes, if he traveled today, those treasures indeed would be confiscated. Thank you for commenting and I’m glad my story gave you some enjoyment. And, as far as your grandparents, you do know them. They are inside of you in small traits and resemblance. All my best.

  3. Thank you, Anne, for this story of those important people, your dad and grandpa, who will remain with you for a lifetime-in your heart, your memories, and the way you choose to live your life. Reminds of the quote “Bloom where you are planted.” 🙂 Many beautiful metaphors offered in your writing.