The only thing I remember about my nana is her hands. They were not the soft, Toll House baking hands of America’s favorite grandma. They were hard. Hard and wrinkled and full of calluses. They were the hands of a woman who spent far too many years out in the fields, toiling under the sun to put food on our table.
When I was younger, I used to dream about those hands—nightmares really. The way they would come down tougher than boards when I was bad. “Anyone but nana,” I used to cry as she would haul me across her lap. I get phantom pains just thinking about those spankings.
And then one day they weren’t there any more. Those hands that spoke of hardwork and hard times were gone. There was no relief in my mind, no remembrance of those old spankings. Instead, it was as if an immutable force had disappeared over night, as if gravity had stopped working and I was left floating all alone amongst the stars.
I barely remember the funeral. There were lots of people I did not recognize and very few I did. People told stories of my nana—a person who was quick to joke and quicker to laugh, a person who always tried to help no matter the burden. They told stories of someone so different from the person whom those hands belonged to that I started to wonder if I was in the wrong place. Had I wandered into a different funeral? A funeral for a different nana who probably baked her grandkids the softest chocolate chip cookies?
By the time it was my turn in front of the casket I was convinced that my nana would not be the one lying there. Some other old lady would be enshrined in flowers. It had been her doting family who had been apologizing for my loss. I waddled up to the casket so sure in my mistake that I did not recognize the woman lying there. She was not wrinkled enough to be my nana. Nor did she have the perpetual scowl my nana always wore. And then I saw her hands.
They were yellow and stiff, so unnatural that I thought they were fake. But I recognized the way they clutched at each other, as if the world had spent decades trying to tear them apart. They looked harder now, less like boards and more like pieces of granite. She would like that, knowing how much harder she could whoop me. And I recognized the callouses; the blood and sweat that had gone into making those hands hard. They were the hands of a fighter, the hands of someone who struggled all her life trying to do the right thing. They were the hands of my nana.
ZB Wagman has always been able to find dreams tucked in the leaves of books and squirreled away on the shelves of libraries and bookstores. He recently started helping others find their dreams at the Beaverton City Library.