Oh, how we become our parents as we age. While I was raising my two children, I often heard my mother’s words coming out of my own mouth. I assume that’s because as an adult, with my own children, I finally came to realize that my parents weren’t as dumb as I thought they were when I was a teenager. It comes full circle when your children present you with the same issues that you presented to your parents, and they to theirs.
While I believe fully that where human beings are concerned, there really is nothing new under the sun, technology has shown us that there are always new things out there. I also believe that if you don’t learn and grow, and keep up with the times, you aren’t being fair to yourself, and you cease living authentically.
I was looking at my 85-year-old mother’s hands the other day, and recalled, very vividly, the hands of my grandmother. I then looked at my own hands and saw that I was well on my way to perpetuating the family genes. This prompted me to dig up an essay I wrote when my mother’s mother passed away. I’ve shared it below. Enjoy.
My Grandmother’s Hands
Originally written in 1992
My Grandmother! She seemed so unapproachable, yet I had been able to get under her skin just enough to develop a delightful relationship, which I cherished during her life and remember with great fondness since her passing. I remember that she was stand-offish when we tried to show affection, turning her cheek when we tried to zero in with a kiss. My cousin, Sally, had given her the ultimate challenge when she said, “Nanny, if you really loved me, you’d kiss me on the lips.” She would give in, because she loved us— all of us, each one in her own way. There were many sides to her.
The one thing I remember vividly about my grandmother was her hands. She always kept them neatly manicured, yet I used to marvel at her past and wonder about the millions of things those hands had done in her lifetime. Did she scrape her palms when she fell while roller-skating down her street? Had she ever held a butterfly in her palm or had she pointed to the sky to count the stars? What was she thinking when my grandfather slipped a wedding band on her ring finger?
I know she had a love for things that grew, and I can still picture her with dirt under her fingernails, having just repotted a philodendron. Had she ever felt compelled to make a fist and strike someone in anger? I couldn’t imagine that. I recall watching when she would knead yeast dough for her cinnamon bunds, or roll the kifflin cookies in the powdered sugar.
My grandmother loved to work the daily crossword puzzle, and I can see her tapping her pencil in thought. She would very carefully calculate the numbers on her purchase orders for the kitchen at the family’s summer camp. My grandmother did a lot of needlework. One piece hangs in my dining room, a constant reminder of her. Nanny also painted.
I can just imagine her wringing out a cool wash cloth to lay across the fevered brow of any of her three children, eight grandchildren and fourteen great-grandchildren. I heard stories of how she would carefully tear off just the right amount of toilet paper for everyone during the depression.
Though she tried to appear tough, there was always evident a distinguished tenderness when she would wipe away a tear. I remember the way she held my face in her hands on my wedding day, noting how soft her skin was against mine.
When my children were born, I typically counted their fingers and toes. I watched their chubby little hands grasp a pencil or crayon that was just fat enough to enable them to handle it gracefully. I’ve noticed, as they’ve gotten older, how they have lost their baby fat and have grown slender, right down to their fingers. And I’ve wondered what magnificent things they will do with their hands, and will their grandchildren marvel at them?