I dreamed of my grandmother’s hands. It was an odd dream since Granny Leona has been dead a long time now.
Even when she was alive, my days spent with her were few. I grew up in Georgia, a good day’s drive from where Granny lived in Church Hill, Tennessee. The town gets its name because it is just what it says it is – an Appalachian hill town with a church sitting upon its tallest spot.
Granny Leona was a cripple woman. That’s what folks in East Tennessee referred to her as: “Do you know Mrs. Spears? She’s the cripple woman who lives at the bottom of the hill.” Most of my memories are of her in a wheelchair, always painfully, slowly shuffling about the dusty wooden floors, in search of her snuff jar and her Bible.
Granny’s Bible was a big, black-leather book. The words Jesus spoke were highlighted in red. She would sit with that big Bible on her lap, reading by the morning light that drifted in through the window near her bed. I don’t know how Granny knew to read her Bible. Most of my kin of Granny’s generation were illiterate. Pap, which is what we called my grandfather, only knew how to sign his formal name: Howard J. Spears.
I bought Granny a birthday card once for Pap to give to his bride of over 50 years. He signed the card: Howard J. Spears. I realized later that Pap didn’t know how to write “with love” or “Happy Birthday” or even “thanks.”
It would make Granny and Pap proud to know they have a granddaughter who writes books. Some people even say I write real well. But it’s not my writing that I am most proud of. It’s that I took to heart Granny’s teachings.
She taught me to cherish the Word of God.
A lot of educated people might think my granny unsophisticated. And, I suppose, they are right about that. But given a choice between hanging out with sophisticated people or spending the afternoon in the presence of my grandmother, I would give back my college education for one more hour with Granny.
She might not have been educated but Granny was a wise woman. She birthed eight children. She understood people and their ways. And Granny’s faith in Jesus was beautiful in its sheer simplicity.
The Immaculate Conception and the Resurrection were not topics of debate for her. They were simply the facts. Granny knew that Jesus, born of a virgin, was a man who lived his life helping others. For that, he was crucified. Three days later, inexplicably, Jesus rose again.
Granny and I never attended church together, save for the day when we buried her son, my father. Granny never took me shopping for Easter clothes. She never filled an Easter basket full of eggs or plush stuffed animals for me. She never told me stories of the Easter Bunny.
Faith is the Easter gift my granny gave to me.
I would watch as she’d pull a dollar bill from her change purse she kept in her dress pocket. She’d send that dollar off to whatever TV preacher had ministered to her that week. Educated people sometimes laugh at people like Granny. They think TV preachers use that money to sleep with harlots. They are right about that, some do.
I never laughed at Granny though. I thought she had one of the purest, most trusting hearts I’ve ever come across. Sometimes, my own daughters look at me with that kind of trust and it makes me want to be more like my granny.
In my dream my hands, which I rely upon daily to type out the words within my heart, were gnarled. As hard as I tried I could not get my fingers to open up. They curled into my palms, just like Granny’s had.
As a teenager, I used to sit for long spells with Granny holding her balled-up hands. I would rub her translucent skin and listen to her stories about her son, my father, the boy she lost in Vietnam.
Granny had the most remarkable hands. Her crippled feet didn’t work like she wanted them to, but Granny’s knotted hands could still turn the pages of her Bible as she haltingly read to me the Easter story:
“And behold, there was a great earthquake, for the angel of the Lord descended from Heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door.” Matthew 28:2.
Pap & Granny Spears. East Tennessee
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Mother of Rain, Mercer Univ. Press.