At Beltane: Grandmothers’ Hands

At Beltane: Grandmothers’ Hands April 28, 2020

Spider Woman Rock photo by Ron DeKett

The Navajo, the Hopi and other tribal nations of the southwestern U.S. honor Spider Woman or Grandmother Spider as the weaver of the great web of existence. The photo above shows Spider Woman Rock at Canyon de Chelly in the Navajo Nation. Navajo lore says that Spider Woman lives there. Their story is that in the beginning from chaos, Spider Woman’s fingers flew to create shape and balance, regularity and order.

Today, cosmologists call the fundamental structure of the universe, the cosmic web.

Beltane reminds me of grandmothers’ hands, weaving – weaving their strength and wisdom into our lives. If you are fortunate enough to swing round a maypole this Beltane with many-colored ribbons in your hands, weaving, weaving, remember Grandmother Spider’s hands creating beauty.

at the Hubbell Trading Post, Navajo Nation photo by Ron DeKett

I was fortunate enough to have known both of my grandmothers. Each of them would come to stay with us at our Iowa farm for a one-or two-week visit quite often. My German-born paternal grandmother knitted hundreds of mittens for children in need. Her strong hands, even though she was just a little bitty grandma, kneaded rye bread, and quilted. She sewed the wedding ring quilt that made our downstairs bedroom festive with its colorful beauty. And she couldn’t abide dirt in any form! Here’s a poem I wrote about her:

Gritty Teakettle

Our gritty teakettle

bears the brunt

scrape dig scrape

elbow bent with stone-like intent

Grandma Bliesmer scours

mottled white and brown lime

she first lays


to with boiling vinegar.

Her bony body

bears down

and I watch her

with a kind of awe.

This woman doesn’t square

with the Grandma I know

whose gnarled hands


at a ball of yarn—

a gut red, ja?

A hundred mittens pour

from her needles;

she tucks

a white hair daring to stray

from the tight bun

that rides her old neck

like the cold she tolerated

from Henry long dead

but not before she bore him

ten babies and grew them up

on an Iowa farm.

Widow of many winters

nerve pain


her cheek

but even her wrinkles


her deafness

leaves us all shouting in her ear;

up close she smells of Lifebuoy.

My maternal grandmother followed The Old Farmer’s Almanac faithfully. Gardening was all about timing. We set in the onions early and planted carrots during the dark of the moon. When it was time to pick cherries, it was time to pick cherries!

An Assault Against Prudence

Tart against blue sky
cherries quiver
when she plunges
her ladder high
climbing past her daughter’s
Ma! get down, you’ll break your arm.
Leading the assault
against birds and prudence, Gram
presses on.
Determined those black birds will
not have pie,
she pitches cherries
pinging into a pail.
On the back porch
Gram’s fingers nimble
and callous from thimbles
and needles
tweak the pits
until they pop
from faded red shells,
wounded pulp
to be jammed into jars.

Gram, whose parents immigrated from Sweden, kept her small fingers moving. I can’t remember a time she wasn’t sewing quilts or ironing clothes or peeling potatoes.

She was my confidante.

When I was about 10 years old, our hired man/family “friend” tried to kiss me when my mother had him drive me to the village store for ice cream. Terrified, I fended him off with threats to tell the whole roomful of people back at our farmhouse who had gathered there for a birthday party.

My parents thought I must have mistaken his intentions. When I crawled into bed with Gram that night and told her my story, she said, “That *****!” She was my protector.

Right now, we’re living in a pandemic when it’s risky for grandmothers to hug their grandchildren. Some visit through windows or on the internet. Here is a virtual flower for all grandmothers everywhere:

Baja fairy duster photo by Ron DeKett

Blessed be.

About Nan Lundeen
Nan Lundeen is the author of Gaia’s Cry, Black Dirt Days: Poems as Memoir, The Pantyhose Declarations and Moo of Writing. Visit her at You can read more about the author here.

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