I have my mother’s hands. That’s not something I’ve ever taken as a compliment – no offense, Mom.
Our hands are broad and short-fingered. A network of lines criss-crosses both palm and back. The adjectives “sturdy” and “capable” come to mind when you see them. They’re milkmaid hands in search of a cow.
When I was a kid, my mother’s hands were rarely still. I remember them…
wrist-deep in noxious substances. As the mother of 9 children she handled more than her fair share of disgusting stuff. Fully 4 little bottoms might be diaper-clad at any one time. 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 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 of the pile when it threatened to hit the ceiling. Mom spent so much time in our dank basement she should have been a troll. She never complained about it because it was the only place she could go to get away from us. We kids never went down there for fear of being pressed into service carting baskets of clean clothes up two flights of stairs.
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. Back in the day, sticky little hands would rip down the newspaper barricade she tried to hide behind before she ever finished an article. 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. 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 61 years.
wielding scissors. Her passion for current events and politics leads to a need to share. After we grew up and moved away, rarely did more than a few weeks go by without a familiar manila envelope showing up in our mailboxes, chock full of articles. The salient parts are underlined and extra commentary written in the margin. 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. Mom is Jiminy Cricket to all of her little Pinocchios.
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. 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 them physical. I remember being home from college one weekend when my little sister Judy interrupted us while we were making up a bed. Struggling to navigate the shark-infested waters of junior high school, Judy 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 celebrated 61 years of marriage last summer.
A stroke some years back has slowed her down a bit, but at 86 she’s still a force to be reckoned with. She worries that her handwriting is illegible since the stroke, but we all reassure her: “No, your handwriting was always horrible, Mom.” 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 Restaurant. Going out to breakfast is her favorite sport – another of her features I inherited.
When I look back on life with my Mom I realize I will be lucky if my hands accomplish ¼th of what hers have done. And if mine can hold even a fraction of the love that hers have, I know I will have been blessed beyond measure to have my mother’s hands.
It has been a little less than 9 months since my Dad died. Mom “missed her sweetie” and her poor heart couldn’t carry on anymore. With all 8 of us pitching in to care for her at home in her final days, she passed peacefully in her sleep. Nobody could ask for a better death.
I love you always, Mumma.