My Grandmother’s Hands



You must come back, as your grandmother did,

from “Dandelion Greens” ~Jane Flanders



My grandmother’s hands raised four children. To me her hands were delicate looking, tiny hands, slim fingers, nails trimmed to a sharp point like her words. Small hands that matched her 4 foot 11 inch frame. But those hands were strong and versatile.

She wore a large straw hat to protect her translucent skin from the hard Indiana sun, her firm grip on a hoe that dealt death blows to arrogant weeds that had the temerity to grow in her garden. The garden that fed her family through the depression.

I watched those hands grab a chicken by the neck and swing it around until its neck broke, fulfilling its destiny to become our dinner.  She showed me how to delicately reach under the laying hens and gently put their eggs in a basket without breaking them.

They ran clothes through a wringer washing machine, pegged clothes on a clothesline, her moistened fingertip tested a hot flat iron, screwed lids on bell jars while canning beans, peas, and tomatoes. She also canned beef, potatoes, and made her own ketchup. All of these jars carefully placed on the shelves that were up against the dirt walls in the cellar to feed them through the winter.

Her fingers flew around her tatting shuttle dripping pearly lace like a creamy waterfall. They sewed a bridal gown and veil for my Terry Lee doll. And showed me how to make my own dolls with bobby pins and holly hock blooms.

When I was around nine-years-old I nearly made her run the sewing machine over her own finger when I came in from an enlightening trip to the outhouse with my cousin, Carol who told me very explicitly how babies were made. It was quite a different version than the one I had been told. Grandma was in her bedroom at her treadle sewing machine that faced the window, her back to me. I flopped down on the bed and asked her what fuck really meant. Her foot made the treadle race and I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had started smoking. I watched the deep pink rise up the back of her neck and disappear into her scalp as she told me to ask my mother.  I did. I should have known Carol was right. She lived on a farm.

I can still see Grandma walking through the woods her head covered with a bandana, carrying a sturdy walking stick, bending down to carefully pick a tiny yellow sponge morel from under a Mayapple leaf.

And I can still see her hands when I look at my own.

Rebekah Spivey for the Poplar Grove Muse