Natural Allies

by Matt Benedetti

“Diamonds,” says Marielle flashing a confident smile.

The first-grader furtively peeks at her opponent’s hand while placing the card on the deck. Sporting a blue and green Wild Kratts shirt, the seven-year-old laughs and takes a healthy sip of chocolate milk from a swirly straw.

Content for the moment, the 1st grader waits for the next move.
“Hahts,” says Gram with an accent honed from a lifetime spent in Somerville/Boston neighborhoods before the influx of boutiques and flowered window boxes. She places the 8 of hearts on top of the pile with an equally mischievous smile and takes a sip of her beverage.

Behind sky blue eyes, Marielle thoughtfully studies her hand while considering her options. After munching a handful of pizza-flavored goldfish, she reaches for the top card and plays it without hesitation.


Gram turns to the television as the iconic theme from the 70s sitcom Barney Miller fills the fourth-floor apartment with the horns, chords and percussion emblematic of that era.

“Barney Miller?!?!” says Marielle.

Though she acts incredulous, Marielle is well aware that the police comedy/drama set in the squad room of the 12th Precinct of the NYPD is her grandmother’s favorite.

The camera shot spans across the water capturing a skyline featuring the twin towers circa 1975. Marielle rolls her eyes in mock exasperation as Hal Linden, the star, shares a laugh with a colleague as the program begins.

Gram plays the next card.

“This is a silly show, the clothes are ridiculous,” teases Marielle in a transparent attempt to prompt a reaction from her paternal grandparent.

As expected, the effort is successful.

“Well, If I have to watch Wild Kratts….they talk to animals for goodness sakes!” said Gram.

After further discussion, “A Night at the Museum 2” starring Robin Williams will be next to be the next feature on this rainy evening.

The game of Crazy 8’s resumes and Marielle goes to the dwindling deck, finds the 8 of diamonds and declares, “Clubs.”

Within a moment, the latest game in what has become a monthly ritual has concluded and Marielle is basking in the glow of triumph.

“Did you see what I did Gram? I knew there was one more!” she says proudly. “Just like I taught you,” says Gram.

I sit as a spectator as my two favorite people in the world joyfully interact with references and a language only they understand.

“She always wins,” says Gram shuffling the cards for next hand.

On the screen, Inspector Frank Luger enters the squad room to audience applause and the resigned expressions from the multi-cultured plain-clothes detectives.

I sit in my chair and watch the loving, funny and invariably entertaining exchanges between my daughter and mother. It’s Saturday night in a 4thfloor apartment in Boston and I can think of no other place I would rather be.

Parents are in the business of saying no, grandparents, however, are duty bound to say yes. Grandparents and grandchildren are indeed natural allies regardless of time or distance.

Marielle’s monthly visits are much too infrequent but both value this precious time to play to relax, play Crazy 8s, watch movies and laugh.

Somehow, the two share the same smile and sense of humor despite a seven-decade age difference.

They also share a love for unicorns, rainbows and pizza from the Pleasant Café (though Marielle usually only eats the cheese.)


The keenest similarity, however, is their innate sense of kindness. Each can have their moments but both possess a deep, unabashed reservoir of love.

Asked about Marielle’s disposition Gram observes, “She doesn’t give me any slack but she is a great hugger.”

Marielle explains that Gram is really funny and always says, “Oh my Lawd.” She adds that Gram makes her a great hot chocolate even in the summertime.



As a kid, I spent a great deal of time with my Nana watching National League baseball on TV, drinking cold Pepsi and playing Gin Rummy way past my bedtime.

It was a place of laughter as visiting relatives brought tales of their day’s travails along with a six-pack of Miller Lites. To me, her apartment was always a sanctuary from the troubles of life.

She allowed me the run of her place and before long my toys were strewn about the wood-paneled one bedroom apartment. I can picture Nana holding the rosary while mumbling prayers in an unintelligible whisper.

As I sit here as a spectator in my Mother’s apartment four decades later watching my Mom and daughter joyfully visit, I am struck by the serendipity. The laughs, relaxed environment and contentment recall those weekends back in the late 70’s when I was young and believed the world a grand place.


As a divorced father and veteran, I am cognizant of the life’ many hardships and keenly aware of the value of this monthly visit. Although I am physically present, my role is that of a supporting actor or facilitator and relish the second billing. During the course of the two-day visit, I am paid little attention other than to fetch a drink from the fridge or pick up a pizza. Although a steadfast source of comfort and love for each of them, on these weekends, I am present but unnecessary.

A recent Boston College study found that for grandparents, relationships with grandchildren provide a connection with a much younger generation and exposure to different ideas, which is beneficial. For grandkids, grandparents can offer life wisdom that they can put into practice as they navigate young adulthood.

Although I agree with the premise of the study, I feel that researchers could have saved considerable time and energy by forgoing the data and spending a few hours with Mom and Marielle.


Barney Miller has concluded with a resolved conflict, laughs and a percussion finale.

Night at the Museum 2 slides into the DVD player.

“Hey, can I have some more goldfish,” asks Marielle to Gram.

She shoots a glance at her granddaughter.

“Hey is for horses…. better for cows,” Gram admonishes with a smile but the intent is clear.

After much procrastination, Marielle finally concedes.

“Gram, can I PLEASE have more goldfish?”

The snack quickly appears in a neat black cup accompanied with a small glass of raspberry Gatorade.

Gram cautions Marielle to be careful.

“You know what happened last time,” she counsels.

Marielle smiled at the memory of spilling the contents of the beverage during a previous visit.

Gram asks Marielle about her gymnastics class.
“Straight jumps, tack jumps, y’know,” she casually says while taking a sip of the blue beverage.

“No, no I don’t know,” laughs Gram.

Marielle kids Gram that she would like to see her try gymnastics.

Gram smiles as she deals the cards and the movie begins.

“You will see me flying on a unicorn before that happens,” says Gram.


Marielle laughs out loud in a manner reserved exclusively for kids. The thought is hilarious and has both my mother and I laughing, too.

As the card game begins, I can’t help but think that I found the happiest place on earth.



By Jim Hegarty 2011

There is a miracle that happens almost every day

It happens at home and it happens far away

It may be a quiet little miracle, almost which few will hear

Or a notable affair of which thousand will cheer

But whatever the circumstances, whatever the case

Everytime it happens, it makes the world a better place

The miracle I speak of in my feeble efforts here is the birth of a baby girl,

so precious and so dear

So let us all rejoice and let our bosoms swell

As we make room in our hearts for little Marielle


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