Eyes of a Stranger: Steel Hands, Post #16


May 4, 2014 by Renee Griffin

He shuffled in on quiet feet.  
Years of hard work had curved his stature, but silent power remained in his steps. Steel blue eyes set their gaze directly into mine as my birthmother’s father and I spoke our first hello. He’d come 90 miles to my home to join the birthday celebration planned by the hubs and my birthmother.  
I was his only granddaughter born & married on his wedding anniversary. God had aligned the calendar so that we shared this date not only for my birthday and his wedding anniversary, but my wedding anniversary, too.  The air between us was unsteady.  I reached out to hug him, welcome him, and invite him in as I pushed past the questions between us hanging like heavy clouds.
Until this moment, he had never laid those icy blues on me.  
It was a big day.
Way back when time was another day, young, unmarried, pregnant girls faced difficult choices.  For many southern women, giving their babies up for adoption was the only option.  They made these decisions out of love for their children and oftentimes with direction from their families.  Sometimes young girls were hidden away in maternity homes until delivery with ultimatums from their parents.  Don’t come home until the baby is gone.  It was simply another culture.  Families were not able to accept these young mothers.  They all did what they had to do and what was deemed right to them at the time.  
It’s just the way it was.  They did the best they could.
What I never figured into this cultural equation was the long term impacts of adoption on my birthmother’s family.  
As time marched ahead and cultures changed, families changed, too.  After many discussions with my birthmother about my life story, she had told me about the role her parents played.  
She had come back from giving birth to me and never talked about it again.  She’d especially never brought it up to her daddy.  Their relationship had been strained with the news of the pregnancy even though they loved each other fiercely.
The day she told him I had found her was not an easy day.  I have said many times that she is a brave woman. When she decided to tell him I was back in her life, the enormity of his possible reactions loomed high.  He was in great health, but she worried about telling him. News like this could cause even a strong heart to take a shock.  I listened to her tell me about their conversation with eyes wide.  
He hadn’t forgotten a thing.  
Not one thing…
When she gave him the news, a handkerchief grasped by strong, steel hands wiped away silent tears. He wasn’t a man who cried much.  Emotions stayed tucked away in secret places veiled behind hard labor and integrity.  He didn’t talk much either so you knew if he said it he meant it.  
He said wanted to meet me.  
I’m holding back quite a tsunami of tears as I tell you about him because I have a soft spot for grands.
Growing up, I only remember one granddaddy.  My mama’s daddy died when I was very young.  I have a few pictures and the stories she’s told me, but I have no memory of him.  My daddy’s father was the only granddaddy I remember.  He was a quiet man, too.  In denim overalls except for Sundays, he would take me to the country story down the road and buy me all the candy I could fit into a little brown bag.  My sister and I shoved as much as we could into space of that paper sack.  
He was always smiling at me.  
I could sit beside him on the porch swing and lean against his big round belly.  Something happens in a little girl’s heart when she feels totally safe and completely loved by her granddaddy.  
My heart was tied to him.  
He passed away suddenly when I was in middle school.  On his last night on earth, he took out a picture of my sister and me and stuck them into the wooden tail of a rooster figurine sitting on the fireplace mantle.  He told my grandma how much he loved us.  
The next day he was gone.  
In the old white church across the road from the graveyard where he would rest, I gazed out the window feeling my first empty hole of death.  Frozen in my mind are the hay bales standing in the field like angels guarding that moment.  
Losing him wrecked me.  
The wails of pain in my grandmother’s cries echoed the tremendous amount that this man was loved.  
I’d spent more of my life without a grandfather than with one, and God knew how much I needed another one.  
This beautiful, gentle soul came walking into my home on a hot summer day.  My birthmother and my husband had planned a birthday party for me.  (That is a story in itself.)  I wasn’t sure what to expect from him.  He probably wondered the same thing about me.  After normal pleasantries had passed and we’d all gotten comfortable, he and I went into the living room to talk alone.  Sitting side by side on the sofa, he began to tell me things that took my breath away.  In his words, the pressing of pain and regret pressed into my heart.  He wanted me to know that he was sorry.  He’d spent my lifetime wondering about me and regretting decisions passed. The weight of blame he’d put on himself had followed him.  And I was not prepared…  
It was hard to listen.  
Even though I held nothing against him, I never considered that he would hold things against himself.  
I never considered that he would think of me.  
Never once.  
For 34 years, he’d kept the memory of me and nobody knew.  
Here on a plaid sofa next to his only granddaughter, he spoke words of sadness from his heart and tried to accept all the blame.  
Oh, Jesus, only You know these things…these heavy weights lugged around in hearts…
I did my very best to explain to him that nobody was to blame.  My search was not one of accountability.  It was one of family.  
I didn’t want him to apologize.  
I only wanted to know him if he was willing.  
I told him that God had given me a wonderful life with loving parents.  I tried to ease his hurts the best I could.  I am not sure I made any difference that day because he was hard to read, but what I do know happened that day is we both fell in love with the other.  I mean it.  
On that sofa in those moments, that sweet old man became my Papa.  The name rolled off my tongue like it had always been there waiting to be said.  
I noticed his hands that day during our visit.  Steel hands formed by mountains and valleys of flesh and bone attached to strong arms had plowed many fields and carried heavy loads.  I loved those big hands.  He wrapped them around me as we hugged goodbye that day, and I kissed him on the cheek.  
I said, “I love you, Papa.”  
He said, “I love you, too.”  
I felt the air change around us as the look in my birthmother’s eyes intensified.  
I found out later why.   
He didn’t say those words often.
Every single time I saw him after that day, I would kiss his face and tell him I loved him, and he would do the same.  We didn’t need a bunch of words because we’d found what mattered.  
Thank You, Jesus for allowing me to know this beautiful man.  He was one of the best surprises of my journey.  
I keep a picture of us on my desk so I can look at him every day.  We are on the sofa in my birthmother’s house.  Our arms are linked together; hands intertwined like our hearts.  
It reminds me that I serve a faithful, loving God who loved us both enough to put us together.  In Psalm 136:12, scriptures describe God’s love like this: “with a mighty hand and outstretched arm, His love endures forever.”  
The hands of the Father are always wrapped tightly around His children.  Although God’s Hands are beyond earthly comprehension, I wonder what they look like.  I won’t know until I get to Heaven, but I think I got a glimpse of them with Papa.  

2 thoughts on “Eyes of a Stranger: Steel Hands, Post #16

  1. Diane McLendom says:

    I have been catching up on your blog. This one really touched me since your Papa was one of my favorite uncles. This has brought back sweet memories of him.


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