My Grandma`s Hands
It has been a little over a year since my Grandma O died. My grief has evolved from all-encompassing to the occasional twinge of sadness – always missing her, but fondly now, as opposed to desperately then.
The day after she died, when our family gathered at my Uncle’s house on the home farm, Grandma’s wedding ring was passed around. And we were all astonished and just how huge her hands had been. Even when I put it on my thumb, the thin, plain gold band threatened to fall off. My cousin Jill ended up with the ring, and wore it on a chain around her neck until she was able to get it sized. Apparently, when she did this, she got a good chunk of gold back. At least, according to Jill.
Only now, after she is gone, am I looking at pictures of Grandma’s hands and realizing that, yes indeed, those were some huge hands. Large, work-weathered and capable. And I wonder why I never noticed how big they were when they were alive.
Maybe it is because they were never still for very long. As my cousin Jon so beautifully noted during her funeral, Grandma’s hands were always very busy assuring that she would be with us all long after her death – everywhere I look in my house, her hands are evident, in the made-with-love blankets thrown over chairs and couches, in the cross-stitches on the wall, in the slippers that some of us are now wearing sparingly, as there is no one left to patch them. These were hands that made buns on Saturday simply because it was Saturday. These were hands that made sure cookie jars were full and that pantry shelves were stocked.
And I wonder why her hands were so large. Maybe it was because they were always trying new things, whether it be learning new ways to knit or learning to hardanger, or whether it be holding the books she was forever reading, always enlightening herself and moving forward in her beliefs and humbling those around her with her open, accepting spirit. Her generosity was always evident, and learning of a new grandson-in-law’s love of salsa meant that home-made salsa was one of the new items stocked on those pantry shelves. An extra tray of Saturday buns was usually burned for a widower brother-in-law who liked his rolls a bit on the dark side, and single brother-in-laws always had a place to come for holiday meals. And these were the hands that picked up the phone or the pen for the countless numbers of phone calls and letters to her kids, grandkids, siblings, nieces and nephews, friends and neighbours, as they celebrated and sorrowed.
Her big, strong hands were also needed for guiding her family – herding her seven kids and twelve grandkids through the ups and downs of life. Clutching much longed for great-grandkids close to her, rocking them gently up and down, positioning the babe to be gazed upon with such love.
Maybe her hands were that big because they needed to be. Because we needed them to be.
I do not have my Grandma’s hands. I have stupid, broad, stubby little hands, the only thing familiar as being like Grandma’s my plain, thin gold wedding band. There are no examples of my love made tangible like knitting or cross-stitch strewn about my loved ones’ homes. And honestly, being as crafty as I am, that is probably for the best. I don’t call or write to people as often as I should, and my cookie jar is currently empty. I do use a lot of my Grandma’s recipes, including her bun recipe, but I do not bake them every Saturday, even though my kids love them, and when I do make them, my stupid small hands make it difficult to squeeze the dough properly. But they’re really good buns. Why don’t I make them every Saturday?
No, I do not have my Grandma’s hands. I do, however, have her feet, short and wide (or “pointless as being feet”, according to my big-footed brother). This is a fact I have always kind of cursed, because the width of my feet makes it almost impossible to find shoes that fit, let alone cute shoes that fit (those that say shoes and hats are the great fashion equalizer for women do not have my stupid wide feet or my stupid fat head). I was kvetching about this once, and my mother-in-law corrected me. “You have prairie feet,” she said, “feet that will keep you upright and grounded with the winds blow.” And she’s right. My feet have kept me standing when strong winds blew. They kept me rooted in who I am, and in where I come from. Those roots are deep, and connect me to home and to family, no matter how far flung. My feet remind me.
I think that Grandma’s feet were prairie feet, too. She was a woman who, even as a child, knew her own mind and wasn’t afraid to say what she was thinking. She knew what was important in life, and she taught by example for the rest of us. Family first, always. Faith, hard work and food were right in there, too, but family. Family, family, family. Her firm roots grew and nurtured many different branches, but they all trace their way back to the same spot – a spot where large, strong, capable hands pulled you into a hug and fed you.
And so, me and my prairie feet will put down their roots in the same spot, and keep that connection as my branches and I grow and go where life – and the army – may send us. And maybe, just maybe, if I work hard enough, my hands will grow a little.