I wrote this piece some time ago and it has never found a comfortable place in the book. However, it has resonated with many people and so I have chosen to put it here. If you feel able to share your thoughts and reflections on this passage I would love to hear from you.
My Grandmother’s Hands
My grandmother had beautiful hands. They were nut brown, with long, slender fingers and elegant nails. She kept a manicure set in a drawer under her chair. As I child I was fascinated by her nails and the manicure set. It was a half moon shape, with a zip around the curved edge and opened out to reveal a display of tools held in a cushion of peach satin. She would sit with me and demonstrate the function of each of the items; the files, the cuticle pusher, the buffer. Although she had working hands, her nails were scrupulously maintained, perfectly shaped. Part of the reason I marvelled at her hands was because they looked like mine. My family would remark that I had Granny’s hands, her long fingers and elongated nails and it made me feel proud to look down on them, performing tasks and going about their business. She would never have neglected her hands like I do even though hers spent a good deal of time in the soil, as mine do. But I still look at my hands occasionally and think of her and it is a sort of physical connection which we share. Some years after she died, my mother started to search for relatives. I went with her to various cafes in various towns to meet distant cousins. As these strangers poured the milk and stirred their tea my eyes were drawn to their hands, our hands, an outward sign that we shared a genetic history.
I don’t suppose I ever really thought about passing my genes on to another generation until I realised that I wouldn’t see my grandmother’s hands on my own children. I wouldn’t see those long, slender fingers curled around mine and be comforted that our genetic line was being continued for another generation.
Now I look at our two adopted children and marvel at their beauty and characters and skills. My husband and I may be raising a surprise bundle of genes, but our own heritage, our characters, interests and talents provide some structure which shapes them nevertheless. We have had to get to know our children in a way that parents of birth children maybe do not and there have been and will continue to be some surprises along the way, but as we have given a little of ourselves to them, so they have brought so much to us.