My grandma came out to our new house for a visit to see everything since we’d just moved. She was talking to my daughter, who is two, and my daughter of course asks questions about everything like a good toddler should. She held my grandma’s hands and looked at them. She said, “What’s that?” which she asks a million times per day about everything, anyway, so I thought nothing of it. My grandma paused and looked at her hands, assuming she was pointing at the veins and wrinkles on her hands. She said, “These are just my wrinkled, ugly hands. They get like that when you get old enough!”
I had to stop and think when she said that because I have always thought my grandma’s hands were the most magnificent hands I’ve ever seen and I still do. Grandma has demure long, womanly fingers and shapely nails that look great normally and modelesque with a manicure. I like to think I’ve inherited my grandma’s hands because my hands and fingers look similar and it has been a point of pride my whole life. “Don’t say that, Grandma!” I thought. “Your hands are beautiful!” I thought about all the wonderful things those hands have done and how they’ve earned every wrinkle, crevice, spot, or line.
Those hands stirred a million pots and rolled probably billions of cabbage rolls, the tastiest in existence. Her Thanksgiving turkey is to date the best I’ve ever had (definitely better than mine!). Grandma always cooked big meals for everyone growing up, accumulating Tupperware to send meals to others. She is the most thoughtful person I know, constantly helping everyone and making food if someone’s family member died or someone had surgery. My grandma’s hands sent out greeting cards for all occasions and meticulously kept records of birthdays and anniversaries. She made me bacon and eggs on Sundays or Saturdays with cinnamon and powdered sugar on buttered toast. My sister and I argued over who got the first egg because they were so delicious that we couldn’t wait to eat them.
My grandma’s hands put Vaseline on my butt that time when I rode all day on my bike as a kid, trying to teach myself how to balance on the bike until my bottom was chapped. She thought nothing of it and made me some food after she saw me struggling to balance until I finally got it and rode my bike on my own for the first time. Every time I was sick at school, she’d pick me up and make me Campbell’s chicken noodle soup with a bit of water put in and I’d lay on the couch and watch The Price is Right with her at 11 am. I’d snuggle on her couch and smell the wonderful fabric softener she used. The brand still always reminds me of Grandma.
Her hands raised four children, some of them pretty wild at times, as I’m told. She’s shared stories of running up and down the street after Uncle Mike, trying to get him to mind her. She sounds like she was a pretty cool parent, having parties with friends in the back yard of their small but dignified ranch house. It’s hard to imagine raising four kids since I have two kids now and feel that’s plenty. But to further imagine raising them in a pretty small space by our standards today is mind-boggling. She made it look easy. I know she bore the brunt of raising the kids because my grandpa worked so much. Each one of her kids and grandkids are very successful, which speaks to the quality of the legacy she created and her fantastic ability as a parent. She shared so much love with her children that they have been able to pass that onto their children.
She has always been so spirited. Even in high school, she was one of the most popular kids in school. Someone affectionately started calling her “Tootie” for some reason and it has stood the test of time as her nickname. She enjoys dressing up for every holiday and buying us silly socks to wear that were appropriate for each season. She has a necklace with little Christmas lightbulbs on it for beads and she used to put it in her ear and pretend that it lit up. I always thought that was funny! She’d sing, “My Sweet, Wild Irish Rose” for St. Patrick’s Day and drink green beer. Each year, she’d sell over $4000 in raffle tickets for the church to raise money. She worked for many years as a dance teacher and primarily the secretary at her sister’s dance studio. Many of the parents sent their children to dance class I believe mainly so they could talk to Miss Tootie as they called her. Students frequently told me they wished she was their grandma and I said, “I bet you do!”
Each week at church, her hands paged over her little prayer book that she keeps in her purse. Over the years, she put in every prayer card from every funeral she attended. She prayed for her dead friends and family members as she said her Novenas and the Rosary. She’d sit in church for about a half hour prior to the service and pray from her prayer book. She has a rich prayer life that has inspired me and led me to want to work at a Catholic school and attend a Catholic college.
She was married for 50 years and even after all of that, she still had stars in her eyes looking at her husband. Grandpa has been gone for almost 11 years and it’s wonderful to see how she honors him every day but also is strong enough to stand on her own when other people might crumble at the loss of their spouse.
Every day, I thank God for giving me so many supportive figures in my life and particularly strong women to emulate like my Grandma. She is the only biological Grandma I’ve known in life since my paternal grandmother died long before I was born (I have a Godmother who is also like a Grandmother to me). However, Grandma is twice the grandparent any person could need. I hope someday I could be half the person she is, half the parent, spouse, and hopefully one day a grandmother myself. She reminds me to enjoy my life and make it as fun as possible, every day. She reminds me of how precious life can be. A family member passed recently and her advice was, “You can pick your nose but you can’t pick when you die”, which I took to mean that I should keep my smile on just like her.
So at that time, when my daughter asked about my grandma’s hands, I didn’t say anything because I had a hard time expressing what I really wanted to say. We just went on to the next topic, probably with her feeling like she looked old and ugly or something like that. I want her to know that she is the opposite of that. She gets more beautiful and refined with each passing year, more wise and delicate, like a pearl continually polished over time. I hope I can tell my daughter the history of these hands and help her appreciate more than just the physical look of a person but how to look inside and appreciate the reasons for a woman’s body bearing the scars of a life well-lived.
Written in honor of Dolores “Tootie” Maloney