My Grandmother’s Hands

A year ago, I had the enormous privilege of holding my grandmother’s hand as she passed away. It was devastatingly beautiful — and changed me forever.

I had woken up on a Friday morning, planned out my outfit for my husband’s holiday work party and looked forward to only working half a day. That’s when I got the call that my grandmother’s condition was grave.  It probably wasn’t worth coming home, I was told, because I might not make it in time.

I immediately thought that I needed to hold her hand one last time. Those hands that I have held so many times and that I know as well as my own. They were not delicate and feminine — they were sturdy and strong. Her veins were just underneath the skin and I can remember being able to feel the blood pulsing through. Her skin was soft and carried the distinct almond smell of the Jergen’s lotion that she always wore. Arthritis had deformed the joint on her index finger and it had been that way my entire life. I never thought of the pain it must have caused her…I only thought that it was uniquely her. They were *my* grandmother’s hands.

Those hands made homemade bread and peanut butter cookies that were always in the house. And, deviled eggs on special occasions. They held me steady when I was little girl and she took me on hikes in Capital Reef National Park, where my grandfather was a Park Ranger. They made Christmas ornaments that I will treasure forever. They hugged away my tears when I really missed my grandfather. They played countless games of Bridge with her girlfriends and shook the hands of strangers at the Cultural Center where she volunteered her time.

As she aged, the skin became thin and they bruised easily. But she didn’t. She was still tough as nails and wanted to do everything for herself. We once caught her shoveling the sidewalk when she knew she shouldn’t be, but she wanted to clear the walk for our arrival. Every year when I would visit, she would squeeze my hands and look me in the eye and tell me that she’d be there waiting for me when I came back. Until the year she didn’t. And, I knew that our time was short. I thought I was at peace with our goodbye that year. She hugged me tight and told me to be happy. But, when that call came, I knew I had to go.

When I walked in the room that cold December morning, it took my breath away. She looked so small and frail. Her hands were folded across her chest and her eyes were closed. She hadn’t spoken in a couple of days and I feared she would not even know I was there or know who I was. But, when I took her hand and whispered “I’m here Grammie”, she struggled to open her eyes and ever so slightly squeezed my hand and whispered “My Steph…my Steph…”.

I held her hands for the better part of 2 days and sang her Christmas carols and old hymns. And then she was gone.

She was the best person I knew and I loved her fiercely.  There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss her and want to hold her hand again.

hands

Nelda “Ruth” Wallace – 12/17/1919 – 12/21/2014

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Love Story, Part 2

December 16, 1991

Monday. Finals week was here and I had to drag myself out of bed and go to work. I had been a year since I packed up and left this place for good. So much had happened since then. I had enrolled in community college and taken a couple of night classes.  I fell in love with my anthropology class and was supposed to go on a summer dig in Israel, but then the Gulf war happened and the school canceled the trip. So, I got in the car and drove from Washington to Colorado. I just wanted to go home. I could have stayed in the mountains forever, far away from all of the shit I had been dealing with. But, my aunt ever so gently told me that I couldn’t live with her anymore if I didn’t go to school. Since online schooling wasn’t a thing yet, I didn’t have much choice. Even though I had no intention of returning to Washington State University, I had deferred my enrollment, so it was still an option for that semester. I didn’t  have the time or the energy to try and do anything else.

So, I went back. I moved in with the one friend who hadn’t seemingly abandoned me. I didn’t really have a plan. My financial aid was a mess and my only real option was a work study job, which I was lucky enough to find at the school newspaper, The Daily Evergreen. I met a guy and we started dating, mostly because I just didn’t want to be alone.  I was too broken to realize that I was more lonely with him than without.

My job was actually the bright spot of my days. I looked forward to going. I loved being around the people — they were smart people who wanted to change the world. Once or twice a week, the opinion page editor would write a column that I looked forward to reading. I loved his way of thinking and the way he put those thoughts into words. There was also a cute boy that would walk back my desk on his way to the newsroom. He hardly even glanced in my direction, but I looked forward to seeing him every day. One day, he came to check out a camera for a story. When he left, I asked my manager what his name was. She eyed me suspiciously and said “That’s Lloyd Brown. He’s the opinon page editor”.

After that, I made it my mission to get this guy to notice me. I would say hello when he walked by or if I saw him on the bus, I’d sit next to him. But, he always seemed lost in his thoughts. Student Publications would periodically auction off the promotional materials that were sent. I decided to outbid him on the Lloyd Cole CD he was bidding on in an attempt to try and find something to talk about (nevermind that I didn’t have any idea who Lloyd Cole was and let’s not even discuss the irony in the album title “Don’t Get Weird on Me, Babe“).

Eventually, we started making small talk but I knew he wasn’t one bit interested in me. But, today — today was different. I was leaving for campus and my room mate commented that I looked really cute…for a Monday. I told her that today was the day Lloyd Brown was going to ask me out. She gave the side-eye and said “oooohkay”.

So, when he walked by, I said “HI!” a little too loudly. And, he reluctantly stopped and said hello. I asked him what he was going that night and he said that he had gotten free tickets to the basketball game so he thought he would go to that.

“That sounds fun. I haven’t been to a basketball game yet this year”, I said enthusiastically.  The truth was, I had never been to a WSU basketball game and this particular game was against Alcorn State, which wouldn’t have been my choice of games to go to even if I had thought of it on my own. He looked at me with a puzzled look and said “uhhhh, so, do you want to go?”  I think he was just happy that I had a car and he wouldn’t have to walk in the cold.

So, we went. The Cougars won. But, it wasn’t a date. We were both afraid that somebody might see us together, even though it wasn’t a date. He asked me to drop him off at band practice afterward but on the way, we stopped at the Combine for coffee.  I paid for my own, because it wasn’t a date. He was really late for band practice because we just sat there and talked until the Combine closed. And, I dropped him off a little further away than necessary because it wasn’t a date and he didn’t want his friends thinking anything different.

When I got home, my room mate met me at the door and told me that my boyfriend had called at least a dozen times. I didn’t care, I told her.  “I found the man I’m going to marry”.