Grandma’s Hands


My grandmother, Nan, has shared and given more to me in this life than I really even know how to write about. At all really. There’s simply no measure on which to gauge, or even come close to expressing gratitude for the learned things we carry in a fine way, in this life. They are more than tools or skills hung from an ever-stretching belt of time, and carry more weight than our sentiments of what it is to be a person. They are an exponentially greater value of all the values we value, and are the very root and soul of who we are become. I am an accumulated mass of perception of all my living experiences. And that said, I owe very much of what is good in me to my Nan. Especially my love of cooking. Nan taught me many things about what it means to be a good person, and to think, and to get pissed and ask questions sometimes. To say it straight, and to try your best to do good by others.

I try my best to visit the Great White North every summer; when it’s not at all white, but still totally great. And north. And far. So we were at the cottage in 2016, and while Nan has always had the hands of a farmer, a master seamstress, a writer, a lifter and mover of heavy stones, a chef, a cleaner, a builder, a reader, a scrabble and just about every board game hustler master; she’s got some tough hands, that lady. Strong as all the work and more, and yet soft as the mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, sister, teacher, aunt, cousin, colleague and friend of many, that she is. Her hands were different this time. They were swollen, and they were starting to slightly close upon themselves, pulled by strings on pulleys from somewhere else. They ached, and they were visibly a pain in the ass. Not so much because of the aching, but because they were clearly making her daily 8000 jobs more cumbersome. Not impossible, but they were bugging her enough that she took it upon herself to improve the situation, without the help of all the little tic-tac pill suggestions doctors are all too happy to make.

It started in a pot. Water at a gentle boil. And cabbage. Regular plain old cabbage. White, round, green, long, whatever. The cabbage was not so much cooked as it was softened. Made pliable. She then wrapped long leaves of it around each finger of one hand and bound the wrapped leafy mass in plastic wrap. I was not there at the time to watch her do it, so she explained it to me. At one point, she also mentioned that she chose a time to do it when no one was around, so she didn’t have to look like an idiot, her hands all wrapped up in cabbage leaves. She also made it pretty clear that she didn’t have the time to explain its effectiveness to us disbelievers. The true healing magic of the cabbage poultice.

Predictably, she had another zillion jobs to do, so she chose to go one hand at a time, leaving one hand free for lugging timber and heavy stones around the cottage grounds. For rolling dough for pierogies, pies; for her Sudoku puzzles, for calling her loved ones, or maybe watching a game of ball on the tube. I guess I was in Toronto for about a week at that time, but when I came back up to the cottage, her hands were clearly not the same. They weren’t nearly as swollen or contracted. Her eyes were shining as she demonstrated the renewed mobility of her fingers, and it was obvious that the pain of the arthritis had also eased up considerably. Being pretty skeptical of a lot of homeopathic stuff, I was quite amazed. Also, I had no prior knowledge of cabbage being used as a topical healer.

But grandmas are full of these little tricks. I remember once as a kid I got a pretty nasty sliver in my finger. It was lodged in there so good that plain old needle and tweezer torture would not suffice. Nan cut a small square of bacon fat, put it on my pulsating finger, bandaged me up, and sent me to bed. The next morning she had this knowing little twinkle in her eyes as we peeled off the band-aid. Sure enough, there was the sliver. It had risen to the top of my skin, and was painlessly plucked from my finger. Raw bacon fat.

There’s a lot online about the cabbage poultice. It’s a powerful anti-inflammatory and disinfectant. It works. And it costs as much as well… cabbage. No prescription needed. It works quick, not at the snail’s crawl of a lot of other homeopathic remedies. A day or two. I’m serious. If you’re busy, apply it at night and sleep on it. Slightly boil the leaves until they are just soft enough to be wrapped. Remove the vein of the leaf if necessary. Apply a few layers around the swollen area. Secure it all with plastic wrap, and keep it on for at least a couple hours, if you can. Repeat as necessary. I’ve used it a few times. Once on a swollen ankle, and another time on a finger I badly jammed. I’m also going out to get some today as my wrist is still pretty swole. If you’re interested in reading more, here’s some additional information on the healing properties of cabbage.

That’s all. Have a swell (unswollen) weekend.


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