My Grandmother’s Potholder Hands


My grandmother had hands like potholders. She could touch anything hot, pull it right out of the oven. When I see something floating in the almost boiling rice water, I stick my fingers in and pull it out. I think about Mama Chelo’s hands. And I think I’m like her.

The fried egg I cooked this morning, over easy, was perfect. My mom taught me that. She never used words to teach me. She just stood in front of the pan. Hers were always sunny side up.

My Aunt Peggy always said if you can read you can cook. I make her sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving. Orange juice, brown sugar, butter. Butter. Butter.

One day I thought I’d own a restaurant turned night club. Now I’m picking something floating in my rice water with my potholder hands.

I know the women in my life all gave me something even if I didn’t see it then. They picked me at one point or another.

My Aunt Connie hugged me with her bottled sexy lady scent and her nicotine and hair spray. She gave me as many maraschino cherries as I wanted in my Shirley Temple.

My cousin Jennifer gave me a pair of black mary jane-like shoes with beige stitching. They had heels like Frankenstein. They were too big and I loved them. I loved running down Connaroe street without shoes and with those shoes, no socks. Just the clomping and my heels coming out and falling back in again.

What I know for sure is that getting picked and watching and running made me feel love. And that made me give love.

And what I know is that the bad stuff made me too. The bad stuff made me learn to plan and anticipate. Find some light even when there’s barely a crack in the dark to show me.

I know you got picked once too. I know you have that cup in your heart filled up by someone that smiled every time they saw you. Or pushed a bowl across the table and told you to eat.

I hope when you feel the darkness, you can remember to dip your finger in that cup and taste the love of being chosen at least once. Then I hope you go out and choose someone so they can fill up their cup too.

With thanks to Benjamin Alire Saenz for writing Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, the most beautifully written, tender book I’ve read in the last twenty years. The book opened up a space in my heart again. I have nineteen pages to go and I don’t want to finish because I don’t want to leave Ari and Dante.

Photo credit: Ellie Seif