My Grandma M. was the perfect white-person grandma straight out of storybooks: Baby-powder skin, silver hair, blue eyes, soft voice, gentle hands. But I used to be afraid of Grandma M.’s hands.
Grandma M. came to live with us for a while. My mom squeezed a third twin bed along with the two my younger sister Meg and and I already had in our one-person bedroom, somehow fitting it in along with our dressers and nightstands. Grandma had to share part-drawers with each of us.
Macy Girl, our big sister, had a HUGE room on the ground floor entirely to herself–the master bedroom, actually. No need for Grandma to climb two flights of stairs, or to share a bathroom with five other people. But make Macy Girl share?
It was a bit of a culture shock on both sides, living with Grandma, because Meggy and I were not neat, soft-spoken, dress-wearing little girls. However, Grandma knew we loved her, and we knew she loved us.
The best part about Grandma coming to live with us was that she tucked Meggy and me in at night. We dimestore daughters weren’t used to that. It was wonderful being coddled and fussed over. Grandma would pull up our bedclothes with her old, wrinkled hands and very gently tuck the blankets around us.
On Grandma’s hands, the bones and tendons stood out, and you could see every blue vein. No wonder, at first, I was scared of her hands:
Images of old women, or even just parts of them–drooping noses, lined lips, sagging breasts, veiny hands–are frequently used in stories and films to portray ugliness or evil. It is interesting, isn’t it, that images of old men aren’t typically used that way?
With hands in particular, advertisers and Disney have conditioned us from childhood to be inspired by confidence in an older man’s strong hands–even ropey ones (think of an aged sailor), but to turn away from old women’s “witch” hands.
One comedian says about old-woman hands:
I guess he intends to give up touching his own junk when his own hands look the same way. His junk will be very lonely. Peeing will be a b#tch. Ah–but he’ll be in grown-up Dydees by then. Bet he thinks THAT happens only to old women, too.
I outgrew my first fears, and came to love Grandma’s gentle old hands. When I became a grown-up, I heard Gil Scott-Heron sing a lovely song called “Grandma’s Hands”, and it made me think of my own grandma’s hands ever afterward. If you listen to it at the bottom of this post, you will know exactly how I felt.
My hands began to look like my Grandma’s hands when I was quite young–perhaps because of my diseases. Thanks to “Grandma’s Hands”, I have always been proud of my strong-looking hands.
After Grandma M. tucked us in at night with her strong, gentle hands, she would sing the Starbaby song to us in her crackly, trembly old-woman voice. She sounded beautiful.
When I had my own children, I sang the Starbaby song to them, too.
And that is how I am going to end this post.
I love you, Grandma.
Thank you for singing me the Starbaby song.
If you couldn’t understand my nervous voice, here are the words the way my Grandma sang them to me:
There was a star baby way up in the sky;
Grew tired and hungry and started to cry:
“Oh Mama, Dear Mama, I’m sleepy,” it said,
“Please bring me my supper, and put me to bed.”
Away went the star mother on wings of true love,
To the bonny bright Dipper that sparkles above,
She took it and hurried to the Milky Way stream,
Where brimful she filled it with rich milk and cream.
She fed the star baby with cunning and croon;
And rocked the star cradle:
The shiny new moon.
Song written by Bill Withers
SEXIST AGEISM ADDENDUM
Why then the fear?
What twisted culture
Have we here?
Don’t hate the gay,
Brown, fat, or fem,
But old and female?
Cool. Hate THEM.
UN-F#CK DISNEY ADDENDUM
Um…Guys? I love Disney. Little Mermaid is one of my favorites. I just get a little carried away when I’m up on one of my soapboxes, spitting into the online sea (that almost sound familiar, don’t it?).
There are plenty of things Disney has done that I despise–like pricing their parks beyond reach of yours truly, who used to go at least twice a year–but the eff-them sentiments expressed herein apply only to Disney’s sexist ageism.