My middle son has recently become fond of pointing out my hands. He looks at them, shakes his head, and comments, "Mom, you have old lady hands." I smile, look at my hands, and see my mother's as I remember having the same thought about hers.
I loved my mother's hands. There wasn't anything particularly pretty about them. Like mine, they had faded freckles, the faint scars of knife and grater nicks, a tracing of dark veins across the back, and tendons that moved like second fingers beneath softly wrinkled skin. My mother's hands were strong. She was raised on a farm, learned to cook by feeding threshing crews in the depression, and fed a family on food she bought in bulk from farmers, then peeled, blanched and froze herself. I grew up watching those hands knead bread dough and fashion loaves in movements so quick I couldn't quite follow along. Her hands cleaned, cooked, baked, washed, and soothed all day, every day. I remember the strength in her hands. Mom golfed too - and had a vise grip that felt like it could stack your knuckles up on top of each other effortlessly as she continued her conversation without missing a beat and told you to STOP now, without a single word. I smile again, knowing that I do the same thing when my children misbehave.
I look at my own hands and can see the age there. The skin is not so elastic and smooth as it once was, and I suppose that is what my son notices, but these hands are strong. My own hands have cradled the delicate lives of my tiny newborns and soothed their hurts, body and soul, throughout those lives. At 10 these hands, chubbier and less sure, learned to throw a loop around a needle and create fabric from sticks and string. My mother's hands taught me that. I quickly surpassed her skill though because, for her, knitting was a task to be completed as effeciently as possible but for me it was a creative pleasure to be savoured. It didn't take long before my hands knit for hers. Still, I do have the last thing she did knit - an acrylic cardigan made for my father. My hands can do all that my mother's hands could do. They have baked, cooked, cleaned, sewed, knitted, washed, swept, vacuumed, wiped, and soothed since childhood.
I look at my fingers. Short and stubby, bereft now of their acrylic nails, they are my father's fingers. So much of what his hands could do, mine have done. Drywall and mud, cutting in and painting, hammering, sawing, building, fixing, mowing lawns and trimming branches. My dad taught me to re-finish furniture when I was a teen. I loved to reveal the beautiful wood buried beneath layers of paint and spent hours in the garage hand-sanding a piece to satin smoothness. I learned to splice wires when I learned to cut the lawn with his electric mower, and cut the power cord in the process. Dad taught me to paint with him. I remember the cramps in my hands from holding a 4" brush just so and carefully cutting in for him to save him from climbing the ladder. Working with my Dad; watching his craftsman hands smoothing plaster with three strokes of his broadknife, sanding, rolling a coat of paint on a wall, hanging wall paper or whatever it was are some of my happiest memories. He taught me the pride of a job well done, and gave my hands new and lifelong skills. Remembering his hands holding my newborns with such gentleness makes my breath catch in my throat. I wonder if they remember holding his hands as they took their first steps.
Mom and Dad never saw my hands on the wheel of a race car, or grinding out welds with sparks flying. I like to think Dad would have been impressed when my hands learned to use a wet saw and to set tiles. Mom would have relished the cozy handknits my hands would have made for her and would have watched, with some pride, as my hands prepared a delicious meal.
Yes son, I have old lady hands. I earned them, and I'm very proud of them.