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My Mother’s Hands

August 22, 2011

Servant’s hands:  they fed the family and so many others, coaxed beauty from the soil, felt for fever and gave medicine, kept her spaces spotless and her tools like new, sewed when needed and crocheted for stillness of mind.  As a child, I was fascinated by the ropey veins down their backs.  Did it hurt her to be reminded of their, and her, long life of labor?  She wore gloves, not stylish kid gloves but canvas for gardening and Playtex for dishes and scrubbing foul places (separate pairs).

A little milk-glass jar of lotion with a pump lived in the kitchen, near the garage door, and it was her habit to take a little protection against the world whenever she went out.  It was a vignette so cleanly pasted in the scrapbook of my mind, the action of the pump, the familiar motions, always the same, her way of working in the lotion by wringing her hands together.

When I was very young, I remember being tucked into bed, wishing she could leave one hand with me for the night, like a favorite stuffed animal.  Looking back on that, it’s creepy, but at the time, with a child’s imagination ~and perhaps too much exposure to the Addams’ Family~ it seemed almost reasonable.

Sometime, long after the days when I would roll the veins around on the back of my mother’s hand, I was lotioning my own hands and I saw it.  They were her movements and for just a moment, I knew I was feeling the same things, the squish and squeeze and slide, as she had always done.

My hands are no longer as they were.  They have been going about the business of living and working, and somewhere along the way the blossom of youth dropped away and left behind protruding knuckles and ropey veins, snaking across their backs.  They have become my mother’s hands.  They haven’t the skills she had, but as I prod a vein or don the yellow dish gloves or work a nourishing potion into them, I share her memories, the actions and feelings of her life.  Some part of her remains in me, lives on, and comforts me with the sight of her own hands.

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