Heirlooms

"2 : something of special value handed on from one generation to another " – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

of hands~

on September 19, 2013

I always loved Grandpa’s hands. His hands were huge and strong. As a toddler, I could only grasp his hands by his pinky. He would offer his smallest finger to me as we would walk down the street to the store and when my little, short legs could no longer keep up with his long, tall frame, he would grab me under my tiny arms and swing me through the air, through dizzying heights, until I landed squarely on his broad shoulders.

The skin on his hands was calloused but smooth, from years of wear and work with the grease and oil of a trucker’s garage. I can recall his return home from long days of work in the garage, covered with grease and grime. He had this oil based gel that he used to dissolve the grease from his hands before using the bar soap. It was white and slimy and odorless to my recollection and sat of the edge of the bathroom sink in a pump bottle.

I only have one memory of grandpa raising his hand against me- spanking me after I piddled on the front porch stoop because I waited too long and could not make it to the potty in time. We still lived at 207 West Ottawa, of course, so I had to be under the age of 5.

As I pour through the old family photos, I came across this picture of  George and Robert Conn . These are my great-great uncles. I am struck by how much Frank Hand, grandpa’s cousin, resembled George. But, look at Robert’s hands. I never knew my great-great uncle Robert, but I recognized those hands.

George and Robert Conn

George and Robert Conn, my great-great uncles, brothers to Jesse M. Conn.

And all of my life, I knew grandpa’s hands would take care of me. When I talk abut him to others, describing the way he loved me and cared for me, his hands always come into focus in my mind’s eye.

My last memory of his strong, loving hands was when he was in the hospital the final time. The sheet that separated us from his roommate was drawn closed and grandpa and I were talking, visiting, and I was gleaning some tales. Grandma and Shirley had gone to get some supper, rest a bit and would return later that evening with some socks because grandpa’s feet were cold due to his poor circulation. While we visited, I tried my best to warm his feet by adding more blankets and snugging them tight, rubbing his legs a bit to stimulate some circulation in his extremities. He continued telling me stories and I moved to his side and held his hand in mine. He called me “sis”.

His stories wound and wove, through his memories, all about family and road trips, and road trips to visit family, new babies, and food. His stories were laced together with the common thread of care and love. After a while, he stopped talking for a moment.

Grandpa was never quiet for long so I seized the opportunity. I told him I always loved his hands because I always knew they were there for me, always taking care of me. He told me he wished he could still take care of me. I told him that it was alright. It was time for me to care for him. And we fell silent for a moment.

His roommate, whose face I had never seen, called out to me. He told me he had a spare pair of hospital socks, “Take them. Please.”

I thanked him and took the socks, and put them on grandpa’s feet, warming them with my hands as I dressed them. And I returned to his side, and held his hand in mine. I loved this man, this giant, this father-figure deeply and I knew he was never going to return home from this hospital stay.

I returned to my home in Chicago that evening, knowing I had seen my grandpa for the last time. The next day, grandpa was moved into the hospice ward. And when he died a few nights later, I felt it. I just felt time pause, for just a moment, and there was this tug in my heart and I knew he was gone. I was grateful for a stranger’s socks, so that I could care for my grandpa. And I was grateful for that moment I had to tell him how much I loved him and his hands and the way he always cared for me.

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