The last time I saw Helen, she read my hands, of course. I'd returned to the farm for the summer of 1995, lost in the way of those living at home in their 20s, seeking something in the past that might mend me. My sister Clara was there, too, seven years younger but an old soul, and we were on a pilgrimage down the path to see the woman who'd been a symbolic grandmother to us.
Clara and I found Helen in the greenhouse, age 91, active as ever, onion-skin hands still in constant motion, pruning and tying up tomato plants, continuing to work even as she took stock of us, these few remaining children from the past. As a way of greeting, Helen reached out and clasped my hand in a leathery grasp so similar to the one in her old kitchen 20 years earlier. There was still the dusky smell of books in her short granite hair, the puffiness under her eyes and chin as she looked down, the clucking of her tongue on the roof of her mouth.
"How old are you?" she asked, pressing the pad of my thumb.
"Twenty-six," I said, feeling quite ancient.
"Young," she said. "Young for your years. At that age I'd already met Scott-o, was already started on my life. What are you doing now?"
"Not sure," I confessed, lacking the skill to bullshit someone who would surely see right through it.
"Well at least you're in possession of yourself." She nodded and gave me back my hand, again leaving the reading undone.
So she read Clara's instead, commenting, I think, that her career line was rather weak. Clara rolled her eyes, resigned to her current fate of joblessness. She would go on to have a family and a successful organic farm of her own, but that was still years away.
Helen simply clicked her tongue.
"Your life is only just begun," she said to Clara. "The lines of the hand can grow and change, you know."
I didn't fully understand what she meant then, but I do now.
Life is not just about the lines we've been given, but what we do with them. By looking back, I can see a pattern in the lines of my hand, the threads of my life. Within that pattern lies the secret to weaving my own future.
Adapted from the memoir This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone, by Melissa Coleman, to be published by HarperCollins this month.
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