It's time to start choosing some body parts that I'm less fond of and make the most of them. After all, it's not much of a challenge if I only give a shout out to the things that I've actually always loved about my appearance, right? I mean "hair"? Really? Hair was my first entry. Hair is the one talent I have. Lame answer.
You know what is not my talent? My legs. And this is largely due to my cankles. Did you know that the word "cankles" was the July 26, 2009 Word of the Day according to Urban Dictionary? I didn't either. But if you are one of the two people on this earth who do not yet know what a cankle is, I will give you the official Urban Dictionary definition:
The area in affected female legs where the calf meets the foot in an abrupt, nontapering terminus; medical cause: adipose tissue surrounding the soleus tendon, probably congenital, worsened by weight gain and improved in appearance only by boots. From the English "calf" meaning wide portion of the lower leg, and "ankle" meaning slender joint of leg with foot.
Call them what you want, but I have them. My leg is pretty thick all the way down but my cankles are why I don't wear dresses often. They are not my best asset so I cover them up. But they come with a lot of history.
I'm an only child and my mother had me very young. She raised me on her own but there were times when she needed help and because of that we lived with my grandmother for awhile. My mother's younger siblings that were still at home were more like brothers and sisters to me than anything else. In fact, I have one uncle who is actually twelve days younger than me. Try explaining that on the school bus.
As much as I was exposed to the "big family" experience, I never quite felt like part of the family. I was never entirely included. I viewed them as my closest of siblings but in reality I was never more than a niece to them. I was devastated when my grandmother got remarried and moved the remaining younger kids out of state. I felt like I lost my whole family. And then again about eight years ago when the two aunts that I cared for so deeply completely cut me off after telling me in no uncertain terms that I was never actually one of them. It took me a long time to recover and I still find myself struggling to get really close to people at times.
It didn't help that while growing up I didn't look like anyone in the family. I really don't even look like my mother. I've only seen a few pictures of my father here and there so I can't even comment as to whether I look like him. Do you remember that Sesame Street sketch with the song, "One of these things is not like the other...". That was me. "Belonging" is not a feeling I ever remember growing up.
Oh, but I digress. Back to cankles. In addition to this huge extended family was my great-grandmother, Pauline. I can't remember a time when she wasn't around while I was growing up. I remember going to her apartment when I was little and she would give us circus peanuts (um, worst candy ever) and tell us not to rock in the kitchen chair or we may "upset something". She saved all bacon fat in a can by the stove and she made the best cinnamon rolls in the entire universe, a recipe she took with her when she passed away.
Pauline was born in 1909 and later was pretty much raised by a single father, unheard of at that time, after her mother left, taking only one of the kids with her. From what I've been told, she adored her father, Hamilton. She married a little late, too. I believe she was in her late twenties when she married and had four daughters.
There were days she would open up the mysterious trunk in her room and show me pictures from when she was in her twenties and the one thing I always noticed were her cankles. She had them in the most literal sense. There was no difference in her leg circumference starting just above the knee and going all the way down to her foot. It was actually pretty amazing.
Pauline moved in with my mother and me after my grandma moved away with the other kids. (Ok, by now I'm sure you are confused. In my world my grandmother was "Grammy" and my great-grandmother was "Grandma". Does that help?) I'm sure it worked out well sometimes for my mom because Grandma Pauline could always be there for me before and after school but I know she was hard to handle sometimes. You couldn't appear to be looking for anything in the house without her asking, "Whatcha huntin?" She couldn't sleep much at night and would wake us up with the sounds of shuffling cards on a glass table so she could play solitaire. She started nearly every story with, "When I worked at the state school..." (She worked at a state mental hospital in her youth and the stories, though I'm sure she held some back from me as a kid, were amazing.) She also worked at a hatchery and I'll never forget the time she told me about the three legged chick that was born with it's third leg coming out of where it's butt should be. It would run around like crazy and then sit back on that middle leg, the other two "normal" legs sticking out straight in front. Of course it died because, you know, it couldn't go to the bathroom. But I still wanted a three legged chick for my own.
Grandma crocheted while she watched her "programs" and she even taught me how to crochet a little. I still have a couple of zig-zag afghans that she made for me in that Charlie Brown pattern that she preferred. I can still hear the way she said afghan. Af-a-gan.
Pauline had the thickest, strongest fingernails and she would file them to nearly a point. It's really no wonder the babies would never come to her when she waggled her fingers at them to get their attention. Unfortunately her thick fingernails meant she also had thick toenails. Literally, it took two hands squeezing on the clipper to get through them. Guess who got asked to trim them for her? Have I told you how I don't like feet? Yeah, I don't. Perhaps this is why. I also used to roll her hair in curlers for her. She had the softest, whitest hair that I've ever seen.
I got the call that Grandma passed away at about 6:30am one morning, literally moments after peeing on a stick and finding out that I was pregnant with Ethan. There was a lot of emotion that day. I was so sad that my children would never meet the grandmother that I had spent the most time with. They would never hear her crazy stories. I wanted to do something to give her some kind of tribute but I just couldn't think of naming my child Pauline. (Actually her name was Mattie Pauline but she hated the name Mattie.) And if we were to have a boy the name was already chosen anyway.
We drove out to Missouri to go to the funeral and while there we went through all of my Grandma Pauline's old photos. So many pictures of her with her dark hair and cankles. One picture in that box stopped me short. There was a picture of her father, Hamilton, whom she loved so much. Only it was my face staring back. Here was the missing link. Finally, I had proof that I did actually belong in this big, dysfunctional family.
We decided to name our second son Sean Hamilton in honor of my grandmother and her father whom she loved so dearly and whose face I share. I had no clue that he would grow to have the same face, further solidifying our place here in this world. We do belong and we do have history.
I can't wear heels with ankle straps and the whole ankle bracelet fad of my youth was frustrating as hell. But today I am grateful for my cankles and the connection it gives me to my family history. And there is always extra-wide calf boots so life isn't so bad.
I still want a three-legged chick, though.