Grampa had sparkly brown eyes that simply shone when he told stories about his postal delivery days, or launched into a dramatic recitation of a favorite poem. He had a full head of hair that he kept neatly trimmed, and he dressed as dapper gentle men of his day did- never leaving home without a hat. But it was his hands, sturdy, strong and wearing the sapphire ring he never took off, that still connect him to me today.
I remember vividly being taught to skip on our way home from the store. My grampa wasn’t at all self-conscious about it, he just showed me to hop on one foot then the other, and holding my tiny hand in his seemingly giant, strong one, we hopped- skipped the whole way home. I was thrilled to show off my new talent over and over again, and he watched with joy each time.
Each spring my grampa would come to our house and help us plant our backyard vegetable garden. He taught us to savor the feel of earth in our hands, the smells of wet dirt being turned, the delicate handling of the roots, the miraculous transformation of the seeds. He would model sitting back and admiring our labor, though in retrospect as young children my brothers and I probably did more of that than actual work. He would compare our growth with that of the garden, linking us to the planet, and connecting us deeply to the natural order of things.
I remember his gentle teaching when he allowed me to butter the morning toast, giving me small sips of his coffee milk, and then gently taking my hand in his and showing me how to spread the butter all the way to the crumbly edges of the golden bread, somehow ensuring that I knew both that I was capable and I had room to learn.
I remember his way of hugging, enveloping you in warmth and affection, with his hand gently scratching you up and down your back- I would feel safe and protected with out a word spoken.
But my most poignant memory seems so ordinary- Grampa helping me on with my shoes before a walk somewhere- his exclamation “Why Jan, your feet are as cold as ice-cubes!” and my giggle, and then those hands, those gentle, loving hands surrounding my chilled feet with a warmth that ran up my legs and right into my heart. He would warm one, then the other, then back again, until he said “I think the ice has melted” and would carefully pull on my socks and shoes.
Using a sacred and beloved aspect of his humanity, his hands, to warm and hold another, offering that immense feeling of being cherished and honored and freely given the comfort of loving touch, in such a simple way, is my grampa’s gift that continues to unfold in me to this day. Hands that work, support, steady, guide, heal and… even let go.