I’ve been thinking a lot about my Grandma lately. Not so much about the last few years of her life, though she was still lucid and vibrant until the very end at age 92, but about when I was still a child. Her house. Her piano, never silent at family gatherings. Her pantsuits, so elegant on her long lean frame. Her bold jewelry and scarves that I constantly played with.
I had a continual fascination with her hands. I remember her long tapering fingers, and the tributaries of silvery blue veins that traced the back of her hands. As a child, I traced these gently with my fingers, thinking they were like lifelines, her past in the network they laid. Already she had lived a life I didn’t fully know.
Grandma Marie bought diamonds after my grandfather’s untimely death in the early 1980’s. I remember family members calling her “Diamond Lil” in a tone that sounded to my ears faintly disapproving. But even then, I thought I understood. Those hands needed something, once they were on their own. Something beautiful. Something tangible.
Many years later, as her life was waning, and a little of the sparkle faded around the edges, I read her memoir. I knew that she was strong: she survived iron-lung Tuberculosis in the 1950’s. But I was astonished to find out that this woman, in the middle of World War II and with a toddler in tow, had boarded a train for California, leaving the town of Des Moines, Iowa to live by herself for months where her husband was stationed for military training. There were other stories, too. Like the camping trips with friends and family once their children were grown but they were still young enough to enjoy a great adventure, at places like Estes Park and Yosemite. There were poems and stories, highballs and high jinks, and lots of music and laughter.
I love my Grandma and the person she was with us, her grandchildren. But I also love this mysterious woman, with her own agenda and history and strength. I inherited her height, her laugh, and–I hope–her strength. I certainly inherited her hands.
For Poem in Your Pocket day, I was inspired by Grandma and her life to write this poem. Miss you, Grandma.
Curious, I trace the lines
Barely, with my finger.
Standing out in bas relief,
The tributaries of veins,
The routes of life coursing.
I think I memorized the pattern,
An atlas of reminiscence, a life well-lived.
The sparkle of diamonds, rectangle and round,
A mirror ball of light.
A seed planted, a penchant for adornment.
Legacy takes many forms: words, heart, gestures.
Mother to daughter, daughter to mother.
Now my mother’s hands
Look like Hers.
My own daughters, on her lap,
Trace the lines,
With endless fascination.