One Sunday morning about 17 years ago, my 5 year old son, Eric, snuggled up next to me in Sacrament meeting. The sacrament was being passed and the room was very still. Sitting quietly was hard for this wiggle worm, so I took his hand in mine to let him know that I was pleased with his reverent behavior. Eric held my hand for a moment and then he slid his little fingers out from under mine and began to study my hand. His little tow head bent lower and lower as he peered closely at my palm. He turned the hand rightside up and upside down. He pulled on each finger and pushed on each fingernail. He stroked up and down the back of my hand multiple times. Then, he looked up at me with a smile on his face.
“Mom,” he whispered, “I love your hands.” My heart melted. As I gazed at him through eyes brimming with tears, he continued, “They’re just like Great-Grandma’s.” What? What did he just say? How could my 38 year old hands be just like Great-Grandma’s 90 year old hands? I saw my hands as relatively young and pretty. GG’s arthritic hands were withered, gnarled, bony, and covered in age spots! My first reaction to Eric’s comment was a plan to moisturize my hands more often and try to keep them out of the sun. But then, I began to remember.
My earliest memories of my grandma’s hands are from my childhood. When I was about nine, my family moved back to the rural area in which my parents grew up. Grandma and Grandpa Pemberton still lived on the same property where my mother was raised. Because I was the oldest, I was sometimes allowed to spend the night at Grandma and Grandpa’s house all by myself. I remember watching Grandma’s hands as they scrambled eggs and fried bacon for Grandpa and I. After breakfast, she and I would do chores. Using her hands to show me the correct technique, she taught me how to carefully remove her breakables from the bookshelves and then to dust with the grain of the wood, not against it. Her hands patiently showed me how to wash the picture window without leaving streaks. They gently guided me as she stood behind and pushed the vacuum along with me to demonstrate how to clean the white carpet without missing any spots. Finally, when the chores were done, I was allowed to read! Grandma and Grandpa’s living room had shelves and shelves of books. They had many years of The Children’s Friend magazines stacked in the bookcase in the hall. After a few minutes of reading, Grandma would leave me to my treasure. As a child, I never wondered what Grandma did while I read. As a young adult, I found out.
When Joe and I got married, Grandma gave us a king sized quilt that she had hand quilted especially for us. At that point, her hands were already painfully arthritic and yet, every one of her 16 grandchildren received a large hand quilted bedspread when they married. When each of my six children was born, they received their own baby blanket, hand quilted especially for them by GG’s withered, gnarled fingers. I was grateful, but my young hands had no concept of the pain that Grandma experienced as she sacrificed to make memories for every single one of her posterity.
A few years after that Sacrament meeting experience with Eric, GG died. As I visited her during the viewing, I saw her beautiful hands folded at her waist; those hands that had loved and given and sacrificed for so many generations of us. As I stood there, I realized that years before, my five year old Eric had recognized their beauty before I did. I am grateful for the lesson he taught me.
Now my hands are getting old. The veins on the back of my hands protrude and I have age spots and wrinkles, many, many wrinkles. But I don’t mind. My hands are just beginning to look like GG’s. I pray that I will fill my life with love and service and sacrifice so that someday my hands might be as beautiful as hers.