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Debi Krengel


Debi KrengelArmistice

Summertime is a season of bare arms.  The magazines that arrive in my mailbox in June guarantee that I can tighten and shape my arms in just twenty minutes a day.  Women in halter dresses and tank tops stare out from those magazines, their toned arms suggesting confidence, comfort, and freedom.  My own arms have never been svelte and defined, regardless of how thin or strong I am.  Instead they are solid, formless. For too many summers, I lamented that shapelessness. I sweltered through hot days in short sleeved shirts, uncomfortable about baring the whole length of my arms in a sleeveless shirt.  I kept that troublesome elbow-to-shoulder region covered up.  But a couple summers ago I had a realization: I have my grandmother’s arms.

Her arms were strong and tan, both characteristics cultivated through hours outside in the gardens, lugging pails of vegetables up and down the big hill on the farm.  By the middle of July Grandma’s arms were leathery brown from the sun.  I can still see the contrast of her dark skin against her faded flower-printed housedresses.  Grandma’s arms could roll out cookie dough with force, her forearms flexing with the effort of moving the rolling pin across cold, stiff dough.  She lifted wet laundry from the basket up to the clothesline, again and again reaching for the line with a clothespin and a corner of quilt or blanket.  Her arms pulled pans full of goulash and chicken out of the oven.  She pressed her steaming iron over sheets, dresses, my grandpa’s button down work shirts. Grandma had functional, everyday strength.  Her arms weren’t sculpted and toned.  They were thick and wrinkled.  Her underarms sagged.  But she never asked for help to lift or reach or pull.

My own arms turn the same shade of brown in the summer sun, reminding me of her.  I don’t carry bins of vegetables or hang laundry, but I do carry boats down to the river and pull oars through the water.  In rowing I discovered that I too have strength.  My arms lift boats overhead.  I reach for the water, stroke after stroke, trying to drop my blade in with both power and grace.  And yet, even after months of rowing the shape of my arms remains the same.  I am stronger, I know it, even if my muscles refuse to reshape themselves to my more perfect vision of them.  Like my grandmother, I have my own functional strength.  My arms are her arms, and I no longer cover them up.  I set them free: to reach and flex unencumbered by extra fabric, to bask in the warmth of an August afternoon.