Handful of memories
Hands that have touched your life — from your mother’s delicate ones, your grandad’s leathery ones to the ones that steered your school bus… and, of course, the ones that bless you
When I was nine or ten, I remember being enthralled with my mother’s hands. They were delicate and slender, sweetly scented and rose petal-soft — so completely unlike my own nicked and scraped, callused and chafed boy-like hands that were better suited for wielding a hammer and throwing a fastball than anything else. Mine were distinctively earthy, too, largely bec-ause remnants of dirt and grass simply refused to be removed. Or at least that was the sentiment I held for much of the summer. It was a by product of being a kid, literally immersed in a world of sod and soil from sunup to sundown. Never mind my fondness of forests and rocky places, typifying a deep and abiding bond with nature — one that I’m not quite sure my mother ever completely understood.
At any rate, my hands told who I was at the time — a tomboy given to tree climbing, stealing second base and collecting large and unwieldy rocks. Everyone’s hands, I’d daresay, depict them to a certain degree, having a story to tell and a role to play at every time and place on the continuum of life. Traces of our journey remain there in the folds of our skin — from the flat of our palms and knobs of our knuckles to the very tips of our fingers.
Hands are the tools with which we shape the world. They define us to an extent — as sons and daughters, providers and professionals, labourers and learners. That said, I’m intrigued by people’s hands and the volumes they speak — whether they’re mottled with the tapestry of age, vibrant and fleshy or childlike and impossibly tender. Moreover, I find that which they whisper difficult to ignore.
Likewise, I’m fascinated by the notion that ordinary hands routinely perform extraordinary deeds day in and day out, ostensibly touching all that truly matters to me. Like the hands that steer the school bus each morning, the hands that maintain law and order throughout the land, the hands at the helm in the event of fire or anything else that smacks of unspeakable horribleness, the hands that deftly guide my children through the landscape of academia, the hands that bolster them on the soccer field, court and poolside, the hands that bless them each day and the hands that brought immeasurable care and comfort to our family pet in his final hours. Strange as it sounds, I think it’s important to stop and think about such things. Things that I might otherwise overlook when the harried pace of the world threatens to consume me.
If nothing else, giving pause makes me mindful of the good that has come to pass and grateful to the countless individuals who continue to make a difference simply by putting their hands to good use. For whatever reason, this serves to ground me and helps me put into perspective how vastly interdependent and connected we are. Indeed, we all have a hand (as well as a stake) in what will be.
Equally important is the notion of remembering what was. There’s nothing quite as memorable as the hands of those I’ve lost — like my grandfather’s. His were more like mitts — large and leathery, weathered and warm. Working hands with an ever-present hint of grease beneath his hardened nails, and the distinctive scent of hay and horses that clung to him long after he left the barn.
And although decades have passed, I can still see him pulling on his boots, shuffling a deck of cards and scooping tobacco from his pouch — his thick fingers diligently working a stringy wad into the bowl of his pipe, followed shortly thereafter by a series of gritty strikes of the lighter and wafts of sweet smoke mingling reluctantly with those from the kitchen.
Not surprisingly, I can still summon an image of my brother’s hands, too. They were handsome, lean and mannish-looking — yet something suggestive of the little boy he had once been lingered there. Needless to say, I am grateful for such delicious memories — the ones indelibly etched upon my heart.