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My Most Interesting Ancestor - Grandma's Hands

“If I get to Heaven I’ll look for Grandma’s hands.” – Bill Withers            My reflection in the mirror exposed a subtle change in my hands. The skin was shiny, faintly transparent. Soft, almost imperceptible lines ran horizontally down each digit, spiraling out into indistinct patterns across my hand. I could trace the milky blue veins like the lines of a roadmap. They reminded me of Grandma’s hands.            One of my earliest memories is of Grandma getting ready to go out dancing with her friend, Bess. The last touch before she’d go downstairs was painting her fingernails. I’d watch as the tiny brush traced streaks across her nails, one thin line at a time. The smell was sharp but not unpleasant; and it lingered as I followed her downstairs. Bess, a beautiful, mature brunette with a broad red smile waited on the couch. She and Grandma had matching hands.            As she got older, Grandma’s nail polish choice lightened, probably as not to draw attention to her hands. Her fingers were thin, with large, knobby knuckles. No longer long and straight, they curved outward, revealing her life of hard work. In the early 20’s, Grandma raised four children, practically on her own. Her husband, a scenic artist travelled around the country following the vaudeville shows. Grandma ran a boarding house in a tiny Kansas town, with no other help but what her two daughters could give her after they got home from school.            Two decades later, Grandma moved to Omaha and went to nursing school. She worked for the next quarter of a century, emptying bed pans, grabbing sheets to roll patients over and actually lifting patients. Grandma didn’t even stand five foot high.            One of Grandma’s favorite things was looking at all of the old family pictures. She had albums full and stories to go with each picture. She’d flip through the pages, the changes in her hands and fingers betraying her history and her age. Through the years, I watched Grandma’s hands change from how mine look today, just quietly telling the stories of my history, to the work-gnarled fingers carefully, painfully picking at the page corners of her family picture albums. Finally, I remember her pink-tipped fingers with the milky, translucent skin that looked like they were draped in a shear veil as they folded across her chest.