His hands told the story of the long dusty road, of changing tires on big wheels and gripping mugs of diner coffee in the middle of the night. I loved those hands, the hands of my grandpa. They taught me how to play “Johnny Whoop” and challenged me with unsolvable riddles. They refused to shave his chin before a visit so he could greet us with his “Whisker Kisses” sending shivers down our arms and reminding us that we were loved enough to plan for.
His hands turned up the volume on the T.V. so his deaf ears could hear. When grandpa was around it was the only time we could have the T.V. so loud.
His hands mischievously heaped mounds of my mom’s homemade jam onto homemade biscuits while my grandma yelled at him for eating too many sweets. His hands kept heaping on the jam as though they couldn’t hear a thing, completely disconnected from grandmas yelling by his “deaf” ears. Instead they would just pour another steaming cup of coffee from his Stanley thermos to cut through the sweet of the jam, a delightful balance.
His hands saved his life in middle age when he had a hemorrhage in his leg while driving his truck. Those hands pulled his body out of the cab and across the parking lot to find help. He spent weeks in the hospital recovering and every night his or the hands of my grandma would have to rub special lotion on his leg to keep the blood flowing.
Every thirty minutes those hands lit a cigarette and brought it his mouth, the cigarettes that would eventually kill him. I loved the way lighting those cigarettes made him smell like the perfect combination of smoke and coffee. Those hands held the vices that made him smell like my grandpa. I still smell him today when I walk passed a lighted cigarette or bring an especially strong cup of coffee to my mouth.
I went to view my grandpa after he died. They laid him on a table in the middle of a strange room in Cortez, Colorado. He was wearing his usual flannel tucked into belted polyester pants that hung just over the tongue of his work boots. He was still wearing his glasses and his hands were laid neatly by his side. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. These were not the lively hands of my grandpa which would fly towards me as I was causally walking passed, just to see if they could surprise me and get a reaction. They usually did. These hands looked more like a clay imitation. They were lifeless. They would never again point at my grandpas eyebrows as he wiggled them in opposite directions or make a cat’s cradle out of the yard I had plans to crochet into a hat. They wouldn’t roll marbles or toss jacks or pull me in for a hug and an agonizing two seconds of whisker kisses. They would never again smell like the perfect combination of coffee and cigarettes and engine oil and homemade jam. They could never again show me that they loved me, I would just have to remember and believe.