To escape my mother and three younger sisters when I was in child growing up in northeast Detroit, I’d often run next door to Mrs. Penny’s house. At the time, I thought she was old, much older than my mother, but she must have been in her mid-fifties. How perspectives change.
What I remember most about Mrs. Penny is her hands. I loved them. If I’d even mentioned it, she’d have wiped them on her ever-present apron, patted my head, and said they were old and wrinkly. But I thought they were the most beautiful hands I’d ever seen and much more interesting than my mother’s younger hands.
Mrs. Penny was a small woman and the skin covering the backs of her hands was delicate and nearly transparent. I’d watch her hands reaching into her precious knick-knack cabinet, cuddling each pair of salt and pepper shakers as she handed them to me to dust while she wiped the shelves, then gently replacing them in the same spot they’d been before. In her tiny backyard, I’d sit on the grass, clipping clothespins to the handle of the tomato carrier that held them, watching her nimble fingers hang laundry on tightly stretched lines.
I’m older than Mrs. Penny was the last time I saw her and for the last few years have been bemoaning my aging hands. But yesterday while holding them up to admire my fresh manicure, I thought about Mrs. Penny. How exquisite her hands were with their short strong fingers and clipped unvarnished nails, and I looked at my hands with new eyes. Yes, they’re aging like the rest of me, but they’ve been through a lot during my life, wiping tears from the cheeks of nieces and nephews, grasping the hands of friends, moving briskly along my laptop keyboard and touching my husband’s face. I’ve decided to look at my hands and body as evolving, recording the life I’ve lived–the life for which I’m supremely grateful.