It was a few minutes into reading that I felt Harper’s small, delicate fingers softly outlining the tops of my hands. No longer was she as interested in what I was reading as she was in studying my hands...her grandmother’s hands.
Harper’s fragile little fingers traced my thin skin, the veins that I suddenly noticed, caught the attention of her tiny fingertips. The wrinkles and age spots, that appeared overnight, were circled by her sweet touch.
She was gentle, curious, memorizing these hands that she loved so much, hands that were so different from her own, so different from her younger mother’s. She said nothing, I kept reading but in that moment, in that scenario, I was poignantly and vividly swept back to my own childhood.
I loved my grandmother dearly. If she were still alive today Minnie Mama would be around 145 years old, but I always thought of her as old, and old was a good thing in my child's mind.
Minnie was a woman of meager means, who had nor needed much. She grew up a country girl, in the piney woods of East Texas in the late 1800's. Minnie was well acquainted with hardship, sorrow and loss. Her own mother died when Minnie was 8 years old. Her husband died of tuberculosis at age 42, and only ten short years later my grandmother lost her eldest daughter to the same disease that had taken her husband's life.
Minnie had a tough life. As a young woman, she was forced to managed a failing family farm and provide for her two surviving, younger daughters. Life finally proved too difficult on the farm and the family moved to Houston, where a living could be made.
Minnie never drove a car, never painted her nails and she never wore a bra... a full slip under her dress was ample for Minnie. She was soft spoken and kind, a woman of strong faith, yet she had her had her opinions and she would speak her mind when the time was right and we listened.
As a small child, I would spend a week at a time with Minnie Mama in her small unassuming home. Oh how I loved it there. She had no air conditioning. Open windows framed in crisp white crisscross organza curtains, coupled with box fans blew warm humid Houston air through her little home.
Living right by railroad tracks, the sounds of slow moving trains with their long whistles would sing us nighttime lullabies.
Mrs. Baird's Bread operated a large factory only blocks from her home and that distinct aroma of baking bread drifting through her open windows still wraps my senses likes a child's favorite, warm security blanket.
I loved sitting in my grandmother’s lap, snuggled beside her in her oversized rocker. She would sing hymns, read to me and we would quietly talk to one another.. I have a strong picture in my mind of her holding her hands in mine as we sad so still.
I remember her hands...her thin fragile skin, almost translucent. I remember thinking how different, how special they were from anyone else’s hands. The tips of her fingers, soft and pillowy and when I pressed their tips they would stay indented for just a moment too long.
She wore two small diamond rings that hung loose on her slim finger. She had a habit of twirling them unconsciously between her small delicate thumb and ring finger. Even today, I can close my eyes and see us sitting together, the warm air blowing through those wispy white curtains, the long, lone train whistle, the smell of freshly baked bread and my grandmother's hands.
When I think back and picture myself as that small little girl sitting in my beloved grandmother’s lap, her voice has fallen silent in my mind and her face has become dim over the years, but it’s her hands that are so vivid to me. I can see and feel Minnie Mama smoothing out my dress, running her soft gentle fingers through my hair, ever so gently caressing my shoulders, my back and holding my hands in hers.
It was here, between her loving hands, that I was confident that she would always do everything possible to protect and encourage me. I will never forget my grandmother’s hands, they taught me much.
I am a far cry from the humble, unassuming woman that Minnie Mama was, but I pray that in my own way my grand children may find the same legacy she left me. I pray that as Harper looks at my aging grandmother’s hands, she feels all the love that I have in my heart for her.
I know that as she grows older she will no longer have the desire she does now to crawl up in my lap and allow me to hold her, to run my fingers through her curls, pass my hand up and down her little back. Nor will she want to sit and play with my hands as she does now.
Perhaps someday, in the far distant future, as she is holding one of her little grandchildren in her own lap, she too will find the legacy that lies in the amazing warm and tender touch of a grandmother’s hands.
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.” Henri Nouwen
Psalm 90:17 “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands.”