When I was a little girl, say four or five, I got to see my Grandpa Douglas three or four times a year. And when we had alone time, I remember so clearly sitting beside him, his hand on his knee. I would reach over and take his knuckle between my two fingers and squeeze the skin hard. It was amazing! It formed a little peak, like a wave, and it stayed there. For a long time.
His Masonic ring was on his left hand and I’d always begin with his middle finger, making that tent with his skin, then moving to his ring finger, and then his baby finger and then the index. Those little peaks just stayed there, permanently squeezed into little packets of skin. I left his thumbs alone.
He tolerated my interest in his knuckles and didn’t say a word as I went around to his other hand and did the same thing. Eight fingers, eight peaks. Then I’d push them all flat and start again.
Now and then I’d try to squeeze my own knuckles but no luck! No peaks out of that skin. At the time I didn’t know a thing about collagen and elasticity and aging… I just knew I could make great peaks with Grandpa’s knuckles.
(Isn’t it a shame that the ipod, ipad, gaming generation doesn’t get the chance to do this?)
The slowness of this kind of visiting gave Grandpa and I lots of time to talk. He took lots of time. I don’t remember ever getting my own Dad to slow down enough to let me make peaks with his knuckles… too much to do, always. And then, shortly after he became a grandpa, he was gone.
And so, you can imagine the trip back in time last week when our two-and-a-half year old granddaughter and I were studying the clouds. She’s just learning about clouds and how to say the word and look at the shapes. We were lying on the grass. We rolled over onto our tummies.
She reached over and squeezed the skin on one of my knuckles. The peak she made stayed right there. No collapsing. And then another peak, and another as she worked her way down my fingers. I made myself stay very still, remembering how important it was to be able to see how long the peaks would stay. When my fingers finally returned to normal, I reached over and squeezed one of her knuckles. Pop! Right back into being a knuckle. Lots of collagen in her little fingers. Very little in mine, apparently!
But there is that child-like fascination with something simple. And somehow, knuckle squeezing has completed the circle with her, me and my Grandpa D.
It’s making me think about Grandpa D. a lot … the day the mailman arrived at our house and plunked a very heavy parcel on our doorstep… it contained my Grandpa’s 1914 Underwood typewriter, the one from his office. He had retired and bestowed this piece of equipment on me. I was in heaven to have my own typewriter. When he and I were much older, and I was a working journalist and he was managing his domestic life without my grandmother, I’d still reach over and squeeze his knuckles. He’d smile. He’d pinch mine…a link between us that stood the test of time.
What is it that grandparents have to give to little people? Well, we can dance and sing and tell stories and build forts. We can make interesting lunches. But I think the greatest gift is to go slow and give them time.