Thursday, August 19, 2010

Grandma's Hands

When prompted by my sister, again and again (“Susanne, will you please write something for the blog about Grandma’s hats?”), to write a blog entry about my memory of my grandmother’s hats, it stumped me. While I know my grandmother was seldom seen without a hat in the later years of her life, for some reason, this facet of her character does not bring her readily to mind. It was later, after rummaging through old pictures in search of a grandmother-with-hat photo, that I realized the key to unlocking the memory of my grandmother: her hands.

Though there is no denying her hats were an integral part of her style, it is my grandmother’s hands that link me to her. Even as a child I remember marveling at how soft and small, yet capable her hands were. Just thinking about them seems to bring me back to being 8 years old, wondering if there was something in the chocolate her hands spent so much time in that made them extra soft. Her hands were her livelihood, her creative expression, her way of showing affection. She did so much with those hands.

With her hands she molded chocolate bunnies, crosses and chicks for Easter. I remember standing in the Molding Room (or “Bunny Room,” as some may say), watching her quickly and carefully shaving off the excess chocolate, amazed at her speed and dexterity. She would pull the back of a small knife up the edge of a bunny with a quick flick of her wrist, wipe her knife on her apron and discard the chocolate shavings in a matter of seconds. Years later, when I would learn the same skills and method, I would wonder at her even more. How did she move so quickly?! And how did she not melt the chocolate?! (Now I know to run my hands under cold water every few minutes. I wonder if she used the same crude trick.)

With her hands my grandmother dipped chocolates as well. In the dipping room she would reign in a quickly spreading pile of melted chocolate, then run it through her fingers to check its consistency. (I would play in mud puddles outside and pretend to do the same.) I watched carefully as she covered nuts, creams, fruits, and chewies in a layer of thick chocolate and marked them appropriately. The ability to read chocolate marks is one thing – the ability to write them is another. To this day I am in awe of dippers who can do the latter.

With her hands my grandmother also loved. Whenever I would see her she would pull the strings on the hood of my coat and tickle my face with them. I can still feel her delicate skin brushing my face when I think of her hands.

Sometimes I wish I could have learned to do all these things from my grandmother, but I think being able to work in a building that holds such strong memories of her for me is almost as good. All I’ve got to do is think about her hands.

- Susanne Violet Anderson, fourth generation candy maker

NOTE: The picture above was taken in the fall of 1997. Violet Anderson is seated at a table in a restaurant in Richmond, Illinois. She is wearing one of her signature hats. Susanne, at age 10, is seated next to "Grandma Vi" probably chatting with her sister, then-11-year-old Katie.