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The Beauty of Having “Grandma Hands”

My aging skin tells a story that makes me proud.

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Hands, grandma, aarp, sisters, illustration
Angela Chilufya
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“Glamma, you have pretty skin.”

That’s what Taelyn, my granddaughter, said to me. She’s a beautiful, curious and very smart 9-year-old. We were having my birthday breakfast with family at a loud restaurant in a suburb south of Minneapolis. I had just turned 53. It was January 2, cold outside but warm and cozy inside.

Pancakes the size of our faces were stacked high on plates. Eggs and fried potatoes came in mountains, oatmeal in boats and hot coffee by the gallons. Like all family meals, there were usually three or more conversations going at the same time. I flowed in and out of them, picking up snippets that made me go, “Wait, what?” and then take a second to coo at my youngest granddaughter who, at three, was joyous in her toddler demands.

Taelyn was a bit under the weather that day. Quiet. She kept her book open. The one about women inventors that we gave her for Christmas. The one she was sharing with me as she read. She’d tug on my arm and interrupt whatever I was running my mouth about, whatever I was laughing hard about, to tell me about an amazing woman scientist.

At one point, she took my hand and rubbed the top of it and told me my skin was pretty. It makes me smile with weepy tears to even remember that moment because this sweet child didn’t know that finding my skin pretty was a concept, an idea, a feeling about myself that I didn’t have for many years.

Being brown in the small, white, rural Minnesota town I grew up in meant that I was very different. Wherever I went — to school, riding my bike, the movies, sitting on my front steps — I could never hide that I was different. Darker.

I struggled with wanting to be seen and heard. Wanting to matter and wanting to be left alone. To not be singled out, the first kid to have some bully say awful crap about. To not be the kid everyone looked at if the teacher dared to talk about slavery in class, which was the only reference to Black people I ever heard. I was ignored and discarded, but before that I was seen as Black and less than. I wanted to choose when I was present and when I could slide back into the shadows and be left with my books, my imagination, my dreams. I didn’t get that because I couldn’t hide. I was brown.

But in that moment with Taelyn, I remembered holding my own grandma’s hand and rubbing the top of it. I loved her skin. I’d tell her that and she’d laugh and say it was like an old moccasin. I’d say, “No, grandma.” Then she’d let me turn her hand over and rub the palm where the skin was thick with callouses. She’d let me intertwine my fingers with hers so I could l put my fingertips on her swollen knuckles. My grandma worked hard for many years in a chicken processing plant, which gave her painful arthritis and tender joints. But I loved her skin.

In that moment, when Taelyn gave me so much with her sweet compliment, I remembered that I used to look at my hands and wonder if they looked like grandma’s. My mother’s hands were smaller. She had tiny fingers. But my hands, with my brown skin and arthritis in my thumbs, made me think about grandma.

I have grandma hands. With soft brown skin. Grandma hands that bring comfort to the granddaughter. That hold history. That stroke cheeks and comb hair. That hold wee ones’ hands and provide safety with love. Grandma hands with beautiful brown skin.