Resentment and redemption: My grandmother’s hands

A picture of my grandmother working in her yard. This has been in my writer’s notebook for a long time to remind me to forgive her and remember her more generously..

Today I remember—and try to redeem—my not-always-loveable maternal grandmother, Martha Jean Schock.

My grandmother had drawn-on eyebrows and a permanent frown. She was tall and cast a long shadow when she walked past the hall night light. She hated being dressed so much that she’d stay in her cotton nightgown all day. Even when she doled out the occasional compliment, her voice kept its “don’t bother me” edge. But her hands were soft. They painted watercolor barns with the man on the TV art show and spread seeds for the cardinals and robins in the backyard.

While Grandma sat in her recliner for hours sucking on her Winstons and watching TV, I’d sit on the arm of her chair and examine her hands. The brown spots that dotted her knuckles made me think of speckled eggs, and her skin felt like tissue paper under my fingers.

Some eight years ago this week, she died in a car accident. The funeral home people rubbed her terrible last moments off her face and penciled on a kind expression that didn’t quite fit. They couldn’t do anything about her hands except arrange them like bruised fruit over the upside-down bowl of her stomach.

I imagined that if I opened her palms, a little more of her spirit could wriggle free from her body.

But I didn’t do it. I was eighteen and angry; the hurts that she had caused my mother and my family were still too fresh.

Now, I remember other things, like the way she made things grow and how she told me I was a writer, that I had written things she’d always wished for a way to say. I know other things about her life now, too, like how she was left to fend for herself and her siblings, how there was no one to tell her why she was bleeding when she got her period, how she never got to finish high school, how she wrote my grandfather’s papers for him when he was in college, how she lived in the shadow of a locked door at the end of a hall.

Now when I think of my grandmother, I think of how well she did considering the burdens on her heart. I think of how badly she wanted to open her hands to the world even when she had them clenched shut. I think of happier memories and hope that the force of my remembering makes her feel a little freer.


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