“Grandma’s hands clapped in church on Sunday mornings, Grandma’s hands played the tambourine so well.”
Perhaps as I recently heard those lyrics sung by Bill Withers and the fact that my own Grandmother Bessie was living with my parents and I during my high school years when that song was recorded, those sounds inspired me to remember her hands.
During the early 1970s, I remember eating breakfast with her often on weekday mornings before I departed for school and noticing her swollen, twisted, gnarled hands trying to pick up a variety of pills. She hated taking those pills and she would often ask me to take them for her. Much to her chagrin, I always refused her request but she would then smile at me, take them and love me anyway.
Recently, I watched my wife (“Nana” to our grandchildren) at our kitchen counter, patiently assisting our almost 3-year-old granddaughter placing brownie mix in a big Tupperware bowl. Lovingly and patiently, her beautiful hands added other ingredients while guiding those precious little preschool hands. The final result was a delicious chocolate concoction and the delightful licking of the spatula.
During moments like that, my memory vehicle often takes me back to Grandmother Bessie’s kitchen and the strength of her old hands deep inside a wooden mixing bowl containing flour, eggs, milk and sugar. Those ingredients would eventually become mouthwatering tea cakes. With my sister and I intently watching, she was repeating this ritual for us as she had done for her own children and the other grandchildren who came before us. Her hands were most often busy, productive hands.
I watched those hands as she would fearlessly catch a chicken that would eventually be mixed with dumplings for the big meal prepared for the next day after church. I watched those hands planting a variety of flowers that would burst into color every spring in her yard. I watched those hands as she would caress my grandfather’s face and give him a quick good morning peck before he ventured off to the milking barn. I watched those hands as she opened her purse and pulled out a wild cherry Luden’s cough drop that would keep me occupied during a long sermon. I watched those hands shell butterbeans that would eventually fill three big bowls. And, I watched those hands as she would pull on the little white plastic bell that hung from the string affixed to the lone light bulb in the big bedroom where I slept during those nights at her house. With her words of reassurance, I would finally drift off to sleep while watching that little white bell glow in the dark.
But even more than watching those hands, I felt those hands. I felt those hands grab ahold of my face and envelop me into her soft body as soon as I could run to her after our big family car finally arrived at her house. I felt those hands put a cold bath rag to my forehead after I had consumed too many tea cakes. I felt those hands dry my tears as I would often become homesick on those miserable hot, humid nights lathered up with “6-12” mosquito oil on my arms and legs. Her hands were loving hands.
“Grandma’s hands soothed the local unwed mother, Grandma’s hands used to ache sometimes and swell.”
I felt Grandmother’s hands as she would cover my hands and help me play her old pump organ and sing “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” all the while encouraging me to sing with her. I felt her hands as she would grab my hands and pray before a meal, always beginning her prayer with “Lord, I come to you in the most humble way I know” and would then proceed by giving thanks for our food. I watched those hands create baby blankets and other garments for a needy young family.
“When I get to heaven, I’ll look for Grandma’s hands!”
I can only imagine what it will be like when that eternal reunion takes place and I’ll see and feel those hands again. Until then, I will fold my hands and give thanks on this Mother’s Day for my Grandma’s hands, the hands that caressed my own mother who in turn, caressed me.
“She sews for the poor and extends her hands to the needy.”
Bruce Fields served as associate pastor/pastoral care at First Baptist Church on Green Street in Gainesville for 29 years. Today, he and his wife Nancy are happily retired, enjoying great amounts of time with their granddaughter and grandson.