To date, this is my favorite photograph. I took it as a senior in high school on a Nikon 35 mm SLR. These are the hands and feet of my late grandmother, Myra Lee Pullis.
We called her “Granny” and I have the sweetest memories of her and the pure and simple love that she lavished on me. I remember spending the night at her house and eating canned chicken soup for lunch (Granny did not care much for cooking) on old bronze and wood veneer TV trays, picking ripe blackberries on our neighborhood walks, and savoring the nectar of the honeysuckle that climbed the back of her chainlink fence. I remember curling up in her soft, thin lap in the evenings while she sank into in her cushy, brown, ribbed fabric recliner watching Wheel of Fortune and scratching my back, then bathing in rose scented bubble bath in her turquoise tub, and sleeping in her cozy full-sized bed with her and my little sister while a box fan whirred all night on a nearby dresser. She didn’t have a lot of money and our activities were rarely extravagant, but she cherished us and always made time for us. I will never forget that. Or her.
She thought I was a certified pistachio when I asked her to take her shoes off in my mom’s backyard so that I could photograph her hands and feet for art class. But this was not a novel sentiment for her to express or for me to inspire, and though I attempted to reason with her about the beauty that I saw in her aged appearance, she did not understand or require such explanations and proceeded to comply in trust and good humor.
But the beauty I see in this image still makes my heart ache.
I see wisdom and the marks of a long life granted to a sweet soul. I see the wear of grief, joy, worry, work, accomplishment…of life. I see skin stretched thin with toil, bones that protrude slightly in remembrance of all the long walks she’d liked to take, the heads full of curls she’d taken such pains to brush gently. Her blood vessels, swelling in reflection of their long use and faithful service to a woman who’d spent herself caring for others.
That is beauty. To love. To spend yourself loving God and people. To know and to see the gift in a life well-lived, however lengthy or brief it unfolds to be. And all the scars, wrinkles, imperfections and reflections of our journeys – to embrace that they represent the opportunity we’ve been given to live and to love at all.
*Photograph by Cristina Howell