Grandma’s Hands: An Ode to Black Grandmothers everywhere

Alexis Oatman
3 min readFeb 4, 2021


I remember being amazed watching my Nana while sitting in our family kitchen as she would gallantly float across the floor with a spring in her spine, switching from side to side. It was magical watching her. She would know if something was off by just one taste.

“Pass me the salt,” she would say.

Me being her eldest grandchild and assistant, I was always happy to do so.

We would sing and dance around like nobody was watching, sampling the food, trying not to think about the days that lie ahead of us, just focusing on that present moment.

Her hands, round and thick, covered in gold rings could do everything — cook, sew, and handle business, all while juggling me on her lap.

She was probably the first Black superhero that I witnessed.

Like most hardworking Black women of the baby boomer era, she was the Matriarch of my family, our “Big Momma,” you can say. Everyone came to Ruby Lee with their problems. She was like the roots of a tree, giving us the strength to stand on our own.

Not only was she my chef, but she was also my hairstylist. From bobos and barrettes to cornrows and later my perm, she handled it all.

Hours upon hours, we would sit in front of the TV together watching some of her favorite movies as she parted my hair softly, cascading grease down my scalp. I remember the cool, tingling feeling of the sulfur 8 radiating across my freshly done head.

“This will keep that dandruff down baby,” she would say.

At one time, my family owned a dry cleaner, and my Nana, like with everything, was in charge of running it. Sometimes after school, she would pick me up in her white Lincoln and take me with her while she worked.

We would run through the mountains of clothes behind steamers and irons, and she would chase me around the building.

But then one Christmas, everything changed.

While cooking her famous pineapple upside-down cake, hands covered in flour, she sat down in a chair and began to look at me. She couldn’t move her lips, and her face was sagging on one side. She dropped to the floor, convulsing, and had wet herself.

What has happened to my superwoman?

At nine years old, I didn’t realize she was having a stroke. I ran to my uncle Mike, and he called 911.

When she finally came home from the hospital, she was no longer the Nana I knew.

She didn’t smile or dance the same. She could no longer cook like she used to, and because of the stroke and early onset Dementia, we didn’t necessarily trust in her the kitchen by herself anymore.

When she would sneak and try, it wasn’t hard to quickly figure it out when a burning smell would pierce the air forcing my mother and me to rush to the kitchen to see what she had done while she has all but forgotten while tuning into Young in the Restless.

Her hands were too shaky to braid my hair anymore, so I had to refer to my mother from then on.

But how could the woman that helped raised me turn into this other person right before my eyes?

I was too young to understand then. I couldn’t imagine what she must have been feeling like in that hospital, lost and confused. Wires hanging out of your body while strange people poke and prod at you all day.

All the sacrifices she had given for me, all the gifts, all the laughs and hugs, and I couldn’t help her. My heart broke one hundred ways watching her like that.

I’m thankful to still have her with me now, and although her hands are still shaky, she can still snap them when Al Green comes on, and she might even dance a little. Sometimes I can still see that old glimmer in her eyes like I used to.



Alexis Oatman

Writer, social media junkie, and journalist. Covering everything from pop culture, race, women’s issues, and more. Follow her on Twitter @ iamlexstylz.