Saturday, July 21, 2012

Hands: Speaking, Singing, Loving, Laboring

As I grow older, I become increasingly fascinated by hands--my own included.  Hands seem to me to communicate a great deal about the kind of life a person has led.  Hands speak, sometimes more eloquently than they realize.

When I catch glimpses of my own hands, unaware that I'm doing so, sneaking unexpected peeks, I often see the hands of my grandparents.  I can measure the advancing of my years now as I discover that I have the hands of my grandparents, hands I remember from my childhood as they prepared a meal for me or caressed my forehead when they laid me down to sleep.

These are the hands of my paternal grandmother in the last picture we have of her.  It was taken three months before she died.  She was a fabulously good cook, and I remember those hands preparing and serving delicious meals all through my childhood and into my young adulthood.

These are the hands of my mother and her mother--again, in the case of my grandmother, the photograph was taken not very long before her death.  I remember her hands holding fans she used to fan herself with on sultry days, or to flirt coyly with when an elderly gentleman paid her a visit and they remembered the courtships of their youth as if the courting days were yesterday.  I also remember her hands brandishing a warning paddle if we interrupted her shows, as she called the daily soap operas to which she was addicted.

I also remember my grandmother's hands teaching me to snap and string beans, shuck corn, make baskets out of coils of modeling clay, sew buttons onto scraps of cloth, and break and butter my rolls piece by piece rather than biting into the whole roll like a person without manners.

These are the hands of that grandmother's parents.  I never knew them.  They were long dead when I was born.  From what I know of their lives, there was much struggle to feed a large family on a small farm, with insufficient money.  Their hands tell me how hard they both worked.  My great-grandmother also used these hands to deliver babies in her rural community, since she was a trusted midwife called on by neighbors to deliver many children.

These are the hands of the mother of my paternal grandmother.  I didn't know her, either.  As I look at them, I'm struck by how much they look like the hands of her daughter, my grandmother.   The hands have the same expression in repose.  She, too, worked hard to feed many hungry children when her husband left her for another woman.  And she, too, was an amazing cook, from all I've ever been told, famous especially for her butter-laden baked corn.

And for what it's worth, the hand of my paternal grandfather taken on the day he and my grandmother married.  He's someone I definitely didn't know, since he died when my mother was only a little girl of 7 years.  He was spoken of with great love by all of his children, though.  They remembered how his hands prepared them for bed on cold nights--how he would rub Vick's salve into their feet and set them by the fireplace, telling them to bake their feet before he carried them to bed and tucked them in under piles of quilts.

Hands.  More eloquent than words.

Hands without which I would not be here today, and therefore hands whose contributions I should honor, whose hard labor I must remember, whose devotion and determination to make life better for children and grandchildren I cannot forget.

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