She sat at the table with the cheerful others, but her face was sad. Her countenance did not reflect a lack of ability to do the task, but more a lack of capability.
All of her family has her treasures, the labors of her love. The grandchildren and the great-grandchildren have samples of her handiwork. Tiny stitches, intricate patterns and lovely fabrics crafted with love and pride and given freely.
Her skillful hands are now withered and bent, distorted strangely. Her eyesight and dexterity not what it used to be, causes more of a roadmap on the cloth than the fine lines of an architect’s drawing. She wants to, but she can’t and it makes her sad.
I watched grandma at the craft table in the nursing home where she went after I could no longer manage her pain. The ladies chattered like chirping birds at a feeder as their busy skillful hands stuffed, sewed, trimmed and organized squares, circles and stars in cascading quilts all over the table. But grandma, her blue eyes tinged with tears, just watched and occasionally glanced down at her hands that once had been so deft, so skillful at creating.
Gently I wheeled grandma from this scene, thinking bingo might be better, at least there she could hold the pieces hear the caller and see the big bright numbers, but as we neared she said, “No I just want to go back to the room.”
So I wheeled her to the elevator with my two toddlers in tow fighting over which would hit the buttons. Grandma sat staring at her hands. Her hands once were her trade, her craft as she had a salon in her basement and weekly did ladies hair. They would drive for miles to have Gertrude tend to their tresses. Now, her hands lay lifeless in her lap. She caught my glance and said, “I used to do things with these hands. Make beautiful things.”
I remembered the hand crafted Christmas ornaments my husband hung on the tree at our first Christmas and the party favors Grandma would make for birthdays and holidays. I had the quilt she finished for my son and the one she started for my daughter.
We headed back to her tiny room furnished with what belongings she had left that would fit. The children turned on the TV while grandma looked at her hands. My daughter sat in front of grandma and watched a purple dinosaur make crafts with the kids and sing about loving one another.
My daughter Hannah’s hair was never neat. She was a tomboy who wore cowboy boots and holey jeans. Occasionally she would don on a tutu over that and set off with her dad to Lowe’s drawing smiles, smirks and snickers. On this day, we had left without the tutu and without brushing her hair because the nurses called to say that Gertrude wouldn’t eat. We dashed out of the house leaving breakfast on the table and hygiene in hindsight.
At first grandma looked at Hannah’s hair with a scowl but then I saw a tender smile replace the frown. I watched as those gnarled hands gently began to part and unknot Hannah’s hair without causing her to flinch. Life came to her hands as she skillfully separated the hair into sections and began working her way through the tussled bed head. Hannah never moved. By the time the television show was over, Hannah’s messy tresses looked like newly spun gold.
Grandma’s face was not so sad anymore and her hands did not seem as gnarled and lifeless. She continued to stroke Hannah’s hair as if admiring her handiwork. As she patted and smoothed Hannah’s hair when we gave her a goodbye hug, her hands seemed youthful and full of love. I took her hand and held it in mine and thanked her for making Hannah’s hair shine. I looked into her blue eyes and saw a twinkle where the tears had been. She smiled looking at my hair; she tugged it with her fingers and said, “When you come back, you’re next missy.”
Weeks later, as I looked at her lying peacefully in what would be her permanent bed, I looked at grandma’s hands folded on the bible and thought of all the things she’d done and made with those hands. Through my tears I smiled remembering that afternoon, weeks earlier when her hands were full of love, the afternoon when they spun gold.
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