Twenty years ago, Chris and I moved our family back to Michigan, where we both grew up and where most of our family lived. I was glad we took the opportunity after getting married to leave and experience other places and people, and I was also glad to return when we did. By then, we had three young kids and felt the importance of our children having a relationship with their grandparents and extended family. I remember how excited I was to go visit my grandmother and re-introduce my kids to their Oma.
My grandmother held a significant, positive place in my childhood memories. As I walked into her room that day, I anticipated her welcome but was still surprised at her words. I leaned in close to embrace her, and she reached her familiar, long hands up to hold my face. I told her how much I had missed her, and she responded “Well I’ve been here, you’re the one who moved away!” And there it was, the familiar mix of kindness with a bit of a sassy edge that was the grandmother I knew and loved.
Last weekend, I had the chance to learn more about my grandmother at a family reunion. My cousins and I shared stories of visiting Grandpa and Grandma’s house, picking out our favorite teacups from Grandma’s china, playing dress-up with her fancy dresses in the attic. We looked through old photographs of her as a young woman in the early 1930’s, her 6-foot-tall, slender build perfectly showcasing the flapper-style dresses of that era. I remember as a young girl being so fascinated with how tall she was and how stylish she looked, finding hope that my own awkwardly tall body could someday appear as graceful as hers.
While my grandmother was never the soft, round, ever-smiling grandma of storybooks, I always felt loved by her. The rather stern lines of her angular face were balanced by the elegance and kindness of her hands. Her hands were always in motion: making food, polishing wood, knitting mittens, placing Scrabble tiles on a game-board, rubbing circles on the back of a sick granddaughter.
My cousins and I shared similar stories of how Grandma would allow us to play with the prominent blue veins on the backs of her hands, providing endless entertainment as we “popped” them and then watched the blood race back in and fill them up again. According to Google, the loss of elasticity and thinning of the skin that comes with age is responsible for the prominence of these veins. As we talked, we laid our hands out on the table, aware that many of us inherited Grandma’s long, slender hands with pronounced veins—evidence that we, too, are getting closer in age to the grandmother of our childhood memories.
I still miss my grandma, who died only a year after our return to Michigan. The young girl in me still longs for the kind, nurturing presence she brought to my life. The adult woman in me longs for the imparted wisdom, the assuredness that comes with long history, and most of all, the ability to simply rest in her presence, knowing I am loved.
While there will always be something special about the space my grandmother holds in my heart, the “old soul” in me has always found it easier to relate to people older than me. In junior high, I visited our elderly neighbors frequently, playing my piano lesson pieces for them on their otherwise unused grand piano. In high school, I frequented the nursing home near our church, playing for their hymn sing, listening to their stories. As Chris and I moved around the country early in our marriage, we made friends in each new place who were older. We loved soaking up their wisdom and warm welcome.
As I look at my hands, aging like my grandmother’s, I am aware that my place is shifting – I am becoming the older woman.
I am honestly ambivalent about this – wanting to protest that I still have so much more to learn and take in, and yet also wanting to welcome opportunities to be the one offering a restful, grounded, kind presence. My hope for me, and for you, is that no matter our age, we would be women known for our kind hands, hands that reach out in welcome, join in connection, and open to release love.
Janet Stark is a woman learning to bless her depth and sensitivity. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband, Chris, and their kids and grandkids. Janet loves curling up with a good book, trying new recipes on her friends and family, and enjoying long conversations with friends over a cup of really good coffee. She is a life-long lover of words and writes about her experiences here.