My Mother’s Hands

Isn’t my mom a babe?

I have my mother’s hands.   That’s not something I’ve ever taken as a compliment – no offense, Mom.

When I was a teenager measuring each and every body part against the impossible standards of Seventeen magazine, this was one area that always came up short.  Literally and figuratively.

Our hands are broad and short-fingered.   A network of lines criss-crosses both palm and back.  I had more lines on my hands than a New York City map even in my 20s.   The adjectives “sturdy” and “capable” come to mind when you see them; milkmaid hands in search of a cow.

My mother’s hands were always busy when I was a kid.  I remember them…

wrist-deep in noxious substancesAs the mother of 9 children she handled more than her fair share of disgusting stuff that is best left to the imagination.   Fully 4 little bottoms might be diaper-clad at any one time.  She progressed from cloth diapers to the first-generation disposables which were supposed to dissolve in the toilet (can we get a plunger here?) and finally to the modern disposables.  Dad helped, but as a stay-at-home mom, the lion’s share of the doody duty fell to her.  Mom was a one-woman bomb squad, at least until us “big girls” were old enough to be sent to work in the doo-doo mines.

defrosting broccoli.  It’s not that Mom was a bad cook; it’s just that the unrelenting drudgery of putting breakfast, lunch and dinner on the table for that many people, day in and out, sucked most of the joyful creativity out of the process.  Her go-to menu consisted of hot dogs, frozen broccoli and baked potatoes.  In the summer she switched to my Dad’s favorite: corn-on-the-cob and BLTs for almost every meal.

up to her elbows in a laundry tub.  With 11 people in the house, the mountain of dirty clothes never really wore down.  All she could do was take a little off the top when the peak threatened to hit the ceiling.  Mom spent so much time in the dank basement she should have been a troll.  She never complained about this, surprisingly.  The basement was the only place in the house where we would leave her alone.  If we ventured down there we were sure to be pressed into service carting clean clothes up two flights of stairs.  Mom cherished the solitude she could find only in this damp, mildewed sanctuary.

ink-stained, clutching the edges of a newspaper. My mother is a voracious reader.  The Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News, the local paper, the Wall Street Journal – she’s read them all for years. Her fingers are the only hint that there is a person hiding behind the paper wall barricading her in her chair.  Back in the day, sticky little hands were sure to rip that wall down before she ever finished an article.  Although she’ll tackle the occasional work of fiction, her passions have always been politics, biographies and history.  She has been a proud member of the AAUW and their book club for almost 60 years.  Some of her newspapers may have scaled back operations, but not my mom.  She is still one of the most widely read people I know.

slapping at my Dad’s hand as he absent-mindedly raised it to his mouth to chew on a nail.  Mom is the eternal optimist.  She remains confident she can break him of this detested habit, even though she’s had no luck in all the years they have been married.

wielding scissors.  Her passion for current events and politics leads to a need to share.  Rarely do more than a few weeks go by without a familiar manila envelope showing up in our mailboxes, chock full of articles cut out of her endless newspapers.  The salient parts are underlined and extra commentary written in the margin.  Mom is Jiminy Cricket to all of her little Pinocchios.  Hers is the voice of our civic consciences, exhorting us to stay informed, to write our congressmen, to DO something to right perceived wrongs in the system.

writing notes.  My mother rarely forgets a birthday, a holiday, or a special occasion.  She takes the time to pick out just the right card (usually mushy), and then underlines the sentiments that really speak to her.  With 9 children, plus spouses, plus grandchildren, brothers, sisters, in-laws, friends – the task is never-ending.  She casts her net wide to keep the far-flung edges of our extended family together.  No matter the card, no matter the occasion, the message she is sending is clear: you are special to me.

bandaging boo-boos.  Over the years Mom has handled more injuries than the local emergency room.  Not all of these were physical.  I remember being home from college one weekend and being pressed into duty to help change the sheets on their bed.  My little sister Judy interrupted the task.  Struggling to navigate the shark-infested waters of junior high school, she dissolved into tears at the betrayal of a “friend”.  I slipped quietly out of the room, but the image of the two of them seated on the half-made bed remains with me to this day.  Judy sobbed on her shoulder while Mom cradled her awkward, adolescent baby in her arms.  Her capable hand gently smoothed her daughter’s hair, over and over again.

There, there.  Mommy’s here.

Mom doesn’t wear nail polish.  Her hands’ only adornments are her engagement and wedding rings.  These are sparkling testaments to her good taste in both diamonds and men.  She and my father will celebrate 56 years of marriage this summer.

A stroke a few years back has slowed her down a bit, but at 81 she’s definitely not out.   Dad attached a bicycle horn to her walker and she gives it a brisk squeeze if she needs to clear dawdlers out of her path at Big Boy.   Going out to breakfast is her favorite sport, another feature I have inherited.

She worries that her handwriting is illegible now, but we all hasten to reassure her: “No, your handwriting was always horrible, Mom.”

When I look back on life with Mom I realize I will be lucky if my hands accomplish ¼th of what hers have done.  If mine can hold even a fraction of the love that her hands have held, I know I will have been blessed beyond measure to have my mother’s hands.

p.s.  Mom spent the last few days in the hospital and hopes to go home today.  I wish I could be there on Mother’s Day to tell her in person:

Hope you’re feeling better.   Don’t scare us like that again.   WE LOVE YOU, MOM!

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About pegoleg

R-A-M-B-L-I-N-G-S, Ram...Blin!
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80 Responses to My Mother’s Hands

  1. mary i says:

    That is a wonderful post. I miss my mom daily(R.I.P.) I just fell in love in yours…Adore her with all your Heart… You also made me rethink “hands” Thank You 🙂

    Like

  2. I love this! Happy Mother’s Day to your mom and you. What a role model. A bicycle horn on her walker? Too cute. I could relate to your memories of your mother’s laundry duty. In one house we lived in a split level…all the living area was on one level but the garage and laundry room were below the house which was built on the side of a hill. I remember Mom walking down stairs to take baskets of laundry and then bring them back up. And AAUW? It was a wonderful organization that kept my mom sane raising 4 kids. It is scary when our folks land in the hospital and I hope for all of you she comes home soon.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Georgette, the AAUW was the same for my mom. In a time when women HAD to stay home, no matter what they wanted, it was a life-line to exercise the mind.

      How’d you get out of schlepping that laundry for her?

      Like

  3. misswhiplash says:

    Hands are part of a person’s character…I would love to think that I have hands like my Mother. She was such a wonderful person but my hands are short , dumpy, with short fingers and short nails. I have always wanted long elegant fingers with beautiful nails. Now they are old and wrinkled more like the surface of the moon…but they are the only hands that I have and I try to make good use of them

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Hi Miss P – nice to hear from you again! Sounds like you and I have the same hands. I share your attitude now, but when I was younger I longed for those elegant fingers.

      Like

  4. bigsheepcommunications says:

    Happy Mother’s Day to you and your mom!

    Like

  5. Oh, this was absolutely wonderful, Peg! I can see you in your mom’s beautiful face. What an amazing woman. Nine children! And just look at how great you all turned out. I certainly hope she comes home very soon and has a lovely Mother’s Day (and you too!)

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Thanks Darla. I hope she comes home today.

      My big girls are coming home for the weekend so I know I’ll enjoy it (except in order to get my baby home we’re going to have to go with the pickup truck on Sat and move her home from school. Oh, my aching back!)

      Have a super fab Mother’s Day yourself, and enjoy those little ones.

      Like

  6. Sara says:

    Wow, your mom really was a babe! I bet she’s still really cute too! This is a nice tribute to a woman who obviously put June Cleaver to shame. I hope she recovers from whatever put her in the hospital and has a lovely mother’s day. Yay moms!

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      I don’t ever recall her vacuuming in pearls and heels, but that might just be my bad memory – I’m sure that’s just how she looked every day. Yay moms for sure!

      Like

  7. Margie says:

    A wonderful tribute to your mom, but also to all moms! Happy Mother’s Day to all of them!
    My mom left this world 25 years ago, and while the memory of her face sometimes grows dim, I really do remember her hands and all the things they did!

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      25 years! I’m sorry for your loss. I think the mother/child bond is perhaps the most important of our lives. I hope your fond memories are a comfort.

      Like

  8. i mayfly says:

    A wonderful slice of your heart shared. Thank you and all the best to your mom.

    Like

  9. What a lovely and heartfelt tribute to your mother…and with 9 kids she deserves every word! Yes, she is a babe. She obviously had at least 4 of you when this picture was taken… she looks like she must have started the family at age 12!! So young and yes, hot!! Be proud of those hands. They are broad and sturdy to hold all of that love! Happy Mother’s Day.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      There were just 4 of us when this was taken. It’s hard to think of one’s mom as hot, but there’s the proof! Thanks for the kind words Carol, and Happy Mother’s Day to you!

      Like

  10. joehoover says:

    Great write up, she sounds like wonderful mum.

    Mothers Day in May? Quick google search reveals you started the tradition so fair enough. We do it in March.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      When I was in Ireland with my sister a few years back, we discovered it was Mother’s Day there. Mom was a bit confused at first when we called to wish her a happy day. 🙂

      Like

  11. What a lovely tribune, what a great photo!

    Like

  12. k8edid says:

    Oh, Peg. This made me weep. You mom sounds a lot like mine. I also have my mother’s hands and I wrote about it a post I did about her final hours (http://k8edid.wordpress.com/2011/06/08/its-june-8-and-my-mom-is-still-gone/

    I miss her terribly, and Mothers’ Day to around the middle of June is always a melancholy time for me. I hope your mom goes home today, that her Mothers’ Day is filled with joy, and that you enjoy the day, too.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Thanks Katy. I’m so sorry for your loss. I don’t know how much longer we’ll have our parents and I’m trying to come to grips with that reality. Have a great Mother’s Day yourself.

      Like

  13. Running from Hell with El says:

    This is lovely Peg. I have a series of images in my mind thanks to your well-written post. The one that really sticks in my mind is when your mom is rubbing your little sister’s hair and comforting her after a junior high school betrayal. I hope your mom is feeling better soon!

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Thanks El. I know you did not have an idyllic childhood, but you’re doing all you can so that Mother’s Day is a joyful thing for the next generation. Have a great day!

      Like

  14. carol russell says:

    fabulous!

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Carol, thanks so much for stopping by! Hope this is a wonderful weekend for you and your family. We can’t wait to see you next month for the big family reunion!

      Like

  15. Seasweetie says:

    How beautiful. Your mom reminds me of mine in some ways. I miss her every day.

    Like

  16. Oh, Peg, that was a great homage to your mom. I have to hand it to you… 😉

    Hope all is well with her.

    Like

  17. What a heartfelt piece, Peg…
    a wonderful tribute to a very impressive lady!
    My very best to your mother – I hope she is feeling much better and will be able to get home as soon as possible!
    🙂

    Like

  18. I hope your mom gets out of the hospital soon!

    Like

  19. gojulesgo says:

    This was beautiful, Peg! What a perfect way to pay tribute to an amazing woman. I LOVE the picture, and the part about the cards spoke to me especially. What a wonderful mom you have!

    I hope she comes home soon 🙂

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      I kind of felt bad not putting up a picture with all the kids, but I love that shot of my mom. The doctor wants to keep her one more night to get the blood pressure stabilized, so hopefully home tomorrow. Thanks, Jules.

      Like

  20. notquiteold says:

    Your Mom is amazing!

    Like

  21. Tar-Buns says:

    Very poignant, Peg. I actually sneaked a peek at work and saw your post. Thanks for sharing one of the crappy pictures of me!
    Since they’re holding Mom one more night and I couldn’t get over yesterday, I’m going to drive over for a quick visit with Mom and dinner with Dad and Lib. And, I printed a copy of your post so Mom and Dad can read it. Love ya!
    T

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      That’s a great picture! Tar is the one in the middle with the, um, “interesting” expression. But it’s a great shot of Mom, isn’t it? Give my love to all at home – thanks, sweetie.

      Like

  22. lexiemom says:

    What a wonderful tribute to an obviously wonderful woman!

    Like

  23. brennagrimes says:

    Terrific post. Happy Mother’s Day to you & your mom! She sounds amazing!

    Like

  24. Lovely post. And funny too. Posts about moms always make me teary eyed:)

    Like

  25. pattisj says:

    What a sweet post of devotion to your mother. She must have done a great job, ’cause you’re pretty special. This explains why my mom spent so much time in the basement! lol Happy Mother’s Day to both of you.

    Like

  26. Sandy Sue says:

    What a beautiful tribute, Peg. I laughed and cried at the walker horn after the slow build-up of your Mom’s incredible life. Blessings to her and to you.

    Like

  27. Dana says:

    This is a beautiful post, Peg. Your mom sounds like an amazing woman, and I hope with all my heart that she can come home from the hospital today! My own mother is very close in age to me (only 16 years older), so I pray that we’re in each other’s lives for many, MANY years to come still. 🙂

    Like

  28. Oh Peg, I love seeing your mother’s hands. What a lovely tribute. Your mother’s hands sound like my grandmother’s hands. And she was wonderful. In so many ways. Look at your hands and feel that connection. Especially on Mother’s Day! 😉

    Like

  29. Very very well written, nice piece. Any dope with a keyboard and a few minutes can write something sappy about Mom’s heart, but taking the time to write about her hands shows her in a beautiful light. Enjoyed it thoroughly.

    Like

  30. Elyse says:

    Beautiful piece, Peg. And I loved this line: She worries that her handwriting is illegible now, but we all hasten to reassure her: “No, your handwriting was always horrible, Mom.”

    Like

  31. Lenore Diane says:

    This was wonderful, Peg! I love tributes – especially when the person is still living. Share the tributes – I say! Share the tributes while the person is around to enjoy it! Well done!
    I noticed from above comments, she did not make it home today. Friday is a new day – may she find herself home on Friday.

    Also … The visual with this is priceless: Dad attached a bicycle horn to her walker and she gives it a brisk squeeze if she needs to clear dawdlers out of her path at Big Boy. LOVE IT!

    And you are now an honorary member of our family with this gem: She worries that her handwriting is illegible now, but we all hasten to reassure her: “No, your handwriting was always horrible, Mom.” You TOTALLY fit in with us, Peg.

    Like

  32. Libby says:

    Peg, I’m going to have to buy stock in Puffs if I read any more of these darn family blogs!! 😉 Yes, Mom is a warrior with battle-scared hands, but despite the lack of (nail) polish and primp, we love her dearly… she’s the best.

    Like

  33. Spectra says:

    et tu, peg’e’?

    My mother also raised nine kids, and the basement laundry room also her ‘sanctuary’. She said she did 35 loads of laundry a week down there. Every week. FOR YEARS and years. Much of what you have written about your mother is true of my own – except for snipping articles out of the paper. Beautiful post, Peg.

    Like

  34. Mary Kay says:

    What a masterpiece! Beautiful descriptions of mom’s life and ours too.I’m now teary eyed on my way to work. Thanks.. Happy Mothers Day to a wonderful mother that is you!!!

    Like

  35. Al says:

    56 years! You are one lucky gal to have parents like that and especially a wonderful mom who survived 9 kids. I have to go rest now, the mere thought of it is exhausting.

    Like

  36. Audrey says:

    Beautiful! Your mom sounds like a truly stunning woman and well-worth emulating. I hope I’ve inherited some of my mom’s traits too!

    Like

  37. This is such an uplifting, beautiful tribute! From what I’ve seen, your hands are doing a wonderful job of tracing their own gorgeous path through this world. Happy Mother’s Day to you, and to your mom!

    Like

  38. Angie Z. says:

    What an amazing tribute, Peg. Amazing. I hope you showed/will show this to your mom soon? And the rest of your family too. If only all of us could be so lucky to have a mom like this. I think I am in that same camp, but many are not. The part about her comforting your sister in junior high — I love that this still sticks in your mind still to this day. Not that I’m saying (ahem…cough, cough) that college was that long ago for you or anything.

    My mom is also an avid reader so this part particularly rang true for me: “Rarely do more than a few weeks go by without a familiar manila envelope showing up in our mailboxes, chock full of articles cut out of her endless newspapers.” I’m not kidding that my mom just sent me home with a Reader’s Digest article on Friday about The Top 50 Things Your Pet’s Vet Is Not Telling You. (Dah-dah-daaaaaaah!) My husband saw it sticking out of my purse yesterday and said, “There are two kinds of moms. Those who clip articles for you and those who don’t.” I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      You’re husband is so right – I didn’t know there were other clippers out there. It sounds like both of us were luck in our choice of moms. Hope you had a great, great Mother’s Day, Angie.

      Like

  39. Kathy Welch says:

    Such poetry Peg. I loooove your writings, your perspective and your sentiment! Perfect article describing Aunt Ro. You are so talented…just like your Mom!

    Like

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