Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: BUSY (02/02/17)
TITLE: With Might
By Ann Grover
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“Tell us about when you were a little girl,” they clamour. Camille tucks my lap quilt closer, Brandon pushes the hassock under my feet, and Courtney finds my tin of digestive biscuits. I tell them the same stories whenever they come, while their mother prepares custard and rice pudding and poached eggs for me.
They are enthralled, envisioning a life without microwaves, Wal-Mart, and electric lights. To them, it’s fantastical, a fairy tale, and the disbelief in their eyes is as gratifying as their wonderment when I tell them about riding in a sleigh to church and sleeping three to a bed and walking two miles to school.
Their world seems outlandish and other worldly to me, too. Everything at breakneck speed. My head hurts to think of all the things about which I know nothing.
“Grandma, why are your fingers all bent?”
I look at my hands. The fingers are indeed misshapen, and the skin is thin, with a road map of blue veins underlying the discoloured spots.
“My hands are plain wore out.”
Wringing out clothes, kneading bread ...
“Did you have to do everything with your hands in the old days?”
“Many things. We didn’t have all the lovely appliances and machines you have today. The moment we got home from school, we did our chores.”
“Well, split wood and fill the woodbox. Fetching water, gathering eggs.”
Digging potatoes, skimming milk, shelling peas ...
“Because you didn’t have ‘lectricity!” crows Camille.
“That’s right. We had a wood stove and a root cellar, a hole dug into the hillside, for the vegetables we grew. I helped in the garden, too.”
Sun and wind on my face, soil crumbling through my fingers, the smell of coming rain ...
“Did you get tired of doing chores, Grandma?”
“Sometimes, but my mama always said, ‘the devil finds work for idle hands.’” They looked puzzled, so I explained. “Keep busy or you’ll get into trouble.”
“So you worked, worked, worked all the time.”
Some chores were a respite. What fun we had at haying time, for we loved to make tunnels and caves in the stacked hay.
Fishing, berry-picking, embroidering ...
“Did you ever get in trouble, Grandma? Did you get a time out?” Brandon asks.
“‘Time outs’ hadn’t been invented yet. No, my mama gave us extra chores if we were naughty. Nasty chores.”
Washing out handkerchiefs, mucking out the chicken coop, digging a new outhouse hole ...
“Didn’t you get to play?” Courtney’s eyes gleamed with compassion for the long-ago little girl whose days were filled with endless drudgery.
“Oh, my goodness, yes!”
“How did you play without Barbie or an iPad or TV?”
Ice skating, horseback riding, sledding. Playing in the barn. Swimming in the creek. Pageants, picnics, and riding the pigs. Sewing my own raggy doll.
There was always something to do and time to do it. Time was unhurried, a slow unwinding between sunrise and sunset, a steady turning of the seasons, like a great wheel that journeyed resolutely toward a far horizon.
“Poor Grandma. Poor hands. Doing stuff all day long.” So sweet they are, caressing my knobby, twisted hands.
Hands that have been blistered, bruised, and burned. Sinewy, callused, ingrained with dirt. Frostbitten, stained, chapped. Pierced by sewing needles, thorns, and splinters. Embraced newborns, planted gardens, soothed broken hearts. Even when they’ve grown weary, my hands have never forsaken me.
Though they pain me and tremble, my hands have yet another mission. I touch the silken-haired heads of my great grandchildren. I am grateful that the everyday life of these little ones is so much easier than it was back in my day, but I plead with the Father, that the bright and lively parade of amusements and activities won’t keep them from doing the next thing, the right thing, the hard thing, the best thing. That whatever tasks their hands, their tender and untried hands, find to do, they will do well.
And selfish, old woman that I am, I hope they’ll find time in their hurried, brimming life for me.
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