Tuesday, January 20, 2015

My Grandmother's Hands

Grandmama had the most beautiful hands I’ve ever seen.

She was 58 when I was born, and she was born to a farmer, married to a farmer, so her hands were certainly not conventionally pretty. In fact, her fingertips were often so badly cracked open that they would be covered in tape to prevent the cracks from deepening. But when she sat still long enough (which wasn’t often), she would let me play with her hands. I didn’t hold her hands or fix her nails (goodness, no); I would play with the bulging, purple veins that spread across the tops of her hands. She would run her index finger firmly up a vein on the opposite hand, making the purple bulge disappear, then lift her finger, releasing the blood to surge back down her hand. Then it was my turn to try. The backs of her hands were as soft as her fingertips were dry. We would grin at each other, sitting together at her kitchen table.

I loved this time with Grandmama. In a long list of wonderful memories of her, this may be second only to seeing her cradle my newborn sons.

She wasn’t at all self-conscious of her weathered, aging hands. In much the same way that she would wiggle the plate containing her false teeth and reveal the gaps in her mouth whenever a grandchild asked, I suspect she simply accepted that this is where life had brought her body. So she freely allowed me the intimate opportunity to touch her hands. The hands that had known the hard work of the fields and of the home. Hands that worked the garden, gathered eggs, drew water from the well, ran laundry over a washboard. Hands that prepared the food that fed our bodies and souls. Hands that turned every page of her Bible at least thirty-two times as she read. Hands that wiped her eyes when she buried her beloved husband and two granddaughters. Hands that gripped a steering wheel for the first time in her 70s when she realized she had to learn to get herself from place to place now. Hands that were as gentle as they were strong.

My mother has her mother’s beautiful hands.

As a girl, her hands, too, knew the hard work of the farm. The same hands dance across the piano, create heirloom-quality needlework, and prepare meals into which she pours all of her love to feed her family. They have braided my hair and rubbed my back and bandaged my scrapes. Hands that are never idle, whether at her home or mine. The hands that reluctantly learned the work of a husband who left. Hands that give my favorite hugs.

My mother has always cringed when I touch the soft veins on the backs of her hands. She is more self-conscious of her hands than her mother was. But she needn’t be.

Last night, as I was peeling clementines for the boys’ lunches today, I happened to glance at my hands. Like my mother and grandmother before me, my hands were engaged in holy work, as I know they so often are. And I couldn’t help but hope that, one day soon, I will look down and see the bulging of beautiful, soft veins. My mother’s hands. My grandmother’s hands.

Grandmama meeting her 12th grandchild, my precious Bubba, at age 5 weeks.

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