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Hands of Time

  By Ida M Rowlands    The old woman sat rocking back and forth in front of the fire. Her grandson, who was a virtual clone for his dead Daddy, stood at her elbow staring thoughtfully up into a face that had long since seen the blush of June. “Gamma, why are your hands all curled up like that?” There is no rancour in the question, just a child’s curiosity. The old woman eyes soften and she gathers him to her bony breast.  For a brief second, she cannot find her voice as her thoughts wander to a place far away and long ago. A tiny tear forms in the corner of her eye as she glances down at her hands; hands that were once so powerful and strong, now withered and gnarled with age, the knuckles bumpy and misshapen. Never one to succumb to self-pity, she lifts her head and begins to speak, gazing lovingly into the oh-so-familiar eyes of the child of her son.  “Ah, my pet, when I was a young woman and my body not yet my enemy, I toiled from dawn to dusk. Do you see those shelves over there? They hold all your Mama’s fancy china and crystal now, but once they were filled with jars of food prepared by these old hands. Hard work and I were constant companions. Your Grampa and I built this very house, beam by beam, brick by brick.” The child’s eyes widen as he studies the heavy, overhead wooden beams that run the length of the room; he screws up his face in consternation. It is inconceivable to him that this tiny, frail woman could possibly lift anything heavier than a cup. Why, didn’t he have to carry her plate over to her chair at suppertime? Gamma was very unsteady on her spindly legs and sometimes she dropped things or spilled something on Mama’s spotlessly clean floor. Whenever that happened, Mama would roll her eyes and her lips would form a thin, hard line, like a crack in cement; and though she never said a word, Mama would always give a tiny, disapproving sniff. Gamma always pretended not to notice, but Seamus wasn’t fooled. He knew Mama’s impatience and fussiness made the old woman feel embarrassed and upset. He adored his Gamma and was happiest when he looked up into her warm, smiling eyes and then felt her touch, gentle and soft as silk, as she fleetingly brushed the hair from his eyes whenever he brought her meal or her tea.  “Gamma”, the child’s voice raises an octave higher, “how ever did someone so small ever lift those heavy beams?” The old woman smiled, the lines on her face softening as she gently patted his head.  “There was a time, a long time ago when I was healthy and very strong. Love is a strong and committed power and it can create miracles. My love for your Grampa and for our life together made even the most gruelling task a joy. And with your Grampa’s strength and our mutual love and determination we were able to build this house and our future together.  “My hands were pretty then, the skin as soft as a powder puff. Your dear Grampa often told me he fell in love with me from the instant he first held them. And from that very first moment, I loved him too. Before too long your Grampa and I joined our hands and our hearts. Though my heart soared through life with the ease of a dove, my hands were grounded to the earth and they weathered many a task over the years. They sawed wood in the morning and suckled your father at night. Winters, they cracked and bled from the cold and in summers they were stained with dirt from the garden, the fingers dyed red from all the berries they crushed. They sewed clothes, cooked meals and pushed the plough. Your Grampa adored these old hands and he clutched them tightly until he drew his last breath. When he went on to heaven he took their beauty and softness with him – a gift I gave willingly with eagerness and joy. And so, little one, my hands, once my pride and joy, shrivelled with sadness at his passing - becoming bent and misshapen, with skin like parchment – a constant reminder of how dry and fragile my heart has felt without him by my side.”  “Oh”, the child said with an understanding far beyond his years, “that sounds more like the truth.” Glancing around to make sure mama couldn’t hear he whispered conspiratorially into the old woman’s ear, “Mama said it was art-er-itis.” The unfamiliar sound of the old woman’s musical laugh brightened the room. It reminded the boy of the melody of water gurgling over rocks in the creek out back. His own smile reflected her joy at their shared confidence and he gazed lovingly into her gentle, rheumy eyes as she drew him close and ran her fingers softly through his hair. Sighing with contentment, the small lad reached down and gently clasped his Grandmother’s thin, bony hands and folded them warm and safe within his own.    
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Upload Date: 31/12/1969

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