Gero-Punk Ditty: Grandmother hands, grandmother feet

Holy holy! Whose hand are those typing away on my laptop keyboard? I could swear that the vintage star sapphire ring on the left middle finger and the wedding band on the right middle finger belong to me. Hey! That watch looks identical to the one Isobel and her dad gave me for my birthday a few years ago! What the hell is going on?

As I observe the hands move across the keyboard making words on the screen I see tiny little creases and pleats on the surface of the skin. I see some evidence – little variations in color and texture — that the person to whom these hands belong usually remembered to wear sunscreen but sometimes didn’t. They seem to be pretty agile hands—I’m impressed with the smooth and confident fashion with which they fleetly slide from letter to letter on the keyboard. But I’m even more certain that these hands can’t be my hands because the hands I’m watching write these words look unmistakably like grown-up hands. By which I mean they could even be the hands of one of my older female family members. Except that many of the women in my family have some arthritis or tendonitis in their hands and they certainly can’t type as fast as I can (well, maybe my mom can).

Either something really weird has happened — some partial body-snatching situation — and these hands are able to tap into my mind, accessing and then typing every secret though I’ve been thinking about them, or….YIKES!…these hands are my hands!

When did this happen? And more to the point, how did I miss it? I’m Ms. Gero-Punk, the close observer of my own and others’ travels through the life course, so how did I miss the fact that time has inscribed itself upon the back of my hands? To riff on a question posed by the authors of one of the articles I use in my Embodiment in Later Life course, how do we know we are aging when we can’t see it happening in real-time?

Well, one way we know  we are aging is that suddenly we see our hands-in-motion in a certain light and realize they are no longer new hands. They are mother hands. They are grandmother hands.


Sometimes it is my feet that take me by surprise, though the surprise they give me has less to do with where I am in my particular travels through the life course and more to do with reminding me about a kind of embodied legacy of which I am a recipient.

I’ll be ambling along with Happy-the-dog and I’ll look down at my feet and feel confused because instead of my feet, I see my grandmother’s feet. My gramma and her daughter, my mother, are both known for their extraordinary walking talents.  There’s a particular way their feet look, clad in their “tennies,” when they are perambulating. Not every time, but sometimes as I’m walking along my feet look exactly like their feet look, like how their feet have looked during the many walks I’ve taken with each of them since the time I was a little girl. I can’t really describe the jarring immediacy of the experience, nor can I tell you how their feet look; it is a feet-in-motion thing, it is simultaneously physical and energetic and spiritual. It is as though generations of women in my family are matrilineally connected in this way, through our feet.

But as I realize once I’m over the shock of seeing my gramma’s feet attached to my legs, the truth is that one of the ways in which we – my gramma, mother, and me — are connected is through the pleasure we get from the simple activity of walking for no other reason than to be out in the world, in our bodies, moving.

About Jenny Sasser, Ph.D.

I am a freelance educational gerontologist, writer, community activist and facilitator. I am former Chair of the Department of Human Sciences and Director of Gerontology at Marylhurst University. I joined the faculty as an adjunct member of the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program in 1997 and since that time, I've been involved in designing many on-campus and web-based courses and programs for adult learners, including in Gerontology. As an undergraduate I attended Willamette University, graduating Cum Laude in Psychology and Music; my interdisciplinary graduate studies at University of Oregon and Oregon State University focused on the Human Sciences, with specialization areas in adult development and aging, women’s studies, and critical social theory and alternative research methodologies. My dissertation became part of a book published in 1996 and co-authored with Dr. Janet Lee--Blood Stories: Menarche and the Politics of the Female Body in Contemporary US Society. Over the past twenty (or more!) years I have been involved in inquiry in the areas of creativity in later life; older women's embodiment; sexuality and aging; critical Gerontological theory; transformational adult learning practices; and inter-generational friendships and cross-generational collaborative inquiry. I am co-author, with Dr. Harry R. Moody of Aging: Concepts and Controversies (now in its 10th edition!) and first author, also with Moody, of the recently published Gerontology: The Basics, as well as author/co-author of several book chapters, articles and essays. I am on the Portland Community College Gerontology Program faculty.
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2 Responses to Gero-Punk Ditty: Grandmother hands, grandmother feet

  1. rogeranunsen says:

    This one deserves a HAND! And a thank you.
    Again and again, I wonder how to we can GET CONNECTED with our family’s elders both here and not. Hands – we see them but we don’t. We recognize our own when we really look at them but can we draw them, life-tracks and all? Maybe. I couldn’t have until I began reading your post. When I read “I observe the hands move across the keyboard ” I stopped and put on my deerstalker cap. NOW, I remember them. After some focused moments I think I really could draw them, divots and all.
    As I was inspecting my pair, a long-sealed treasure chest opened to reveal images of my Nana’s hands and my Dad’s. I was flooded with the many, many times that I sat talking with Nana in her apartment honoring her request that we visit while holding hands. Whew!
    Dad’s hand image, however, was limited and very late in the game. I had just found an (f)MRI study that revealed that a gentle comforting human touch lowered some of the brain’s stress markers. With this study as a darn good excuse to hold his hand, I explain the study while holding his hand. I was also trying to visually drill through his eyes into his mind and it worked. His smile told me that he knew that the study was right. We held hands a few more times.
    Thank you.

  2. Helen says:

    Wow!! You hit this one on the head – or should I say hand! I look at my hands (oh, and my neck) and wonder how they came to look so “old”… Oh wait! I’m almost 60! I am?? When did that happen?? Yep, it certainly does sneak up…….

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