My best friend’s grandmother passed away at the beginning of June. Nani had been unwell for some time, suffering the cruel effects of dementia. She had been an enormous part of my friend’s life (I envied her having her grandmother for so long, both of mine had passed away by the end of my first year in college), even though her family could see that Nani was slowly fading away. She was still there. Most of the time.
But the uncertainty would creep into her eyes more and more as time went on. It frightened her that she didn’t remember names or faces, but she would never let on. I remember visiting with her three years ago with my daughter Annie, who was three at the time. Nani had no idea who I was, though her family reminded her, but I could see it in her eyes. She spoke to me as though she knew me, deeply interested, trying to cover up the lapse in her memory, admiring my “beautiful child.” She tried very hard not to let me see that she didn’t know me. That would hurt my feelings. That would be rude. Nani was never rude.
I was both saddened and relieved to hear that Nani had passed. Saddened because it marked the end of a generation for my friend’s family. Relieved because her struggle was over. She was at peace, and truly in a better place.
I remember Nani driving us around in her huge pale yellow Cadillac Seville, a tiny woman in a gigantic yellow car. We called it the Banana Boat. I remember her infectious laugh, no cocktail laughs for Nani with her grandchildren, no, a great big, warm, wonderful laugh that came from the heart. I remember she had a lot of style. But the thing I remember most vividly about her were her hands.
Nani’s hands. Magnificent hands. Always beautifully maintained and bejeweled, but also in them the story of Nani’s wonderful life. Hands that had worked. Hard. And hands that had loved, supported, cared for and comforted. Hands that nourished. And expressed. Fluttery hands, but not in the restless or ill at ease sense, and certainly not in the bored sense, but rather in the sense that she often seemed slightly surprised that she had reached a point in her life where constant action on her part was no longer required. And so they became hands that taught. Her children and her grandchildren (and, luckily for me in a very small way, her grandchildren’s friends.) In her stories. In her jokes. In her dances (which I only heard about). In her instruction. In her incomparable cooking.
Nani had rather large hands for a small woman. Strong hands. Powerful hands. Hands I think she did what she could to minimize and diminish. But her hands were the physical manifestation of her very great love for the people around her. I think she had the most beautiful hands I’ve ever seen.