Tuesday 21 October 2014

My Mother's Hands

I have my mother's hands.  She had small hands; far too tiny and delicate for the hard work of caring for a home and raising six children. As a child, I thought they were beautiful and admit I was a little bit vain when I grew up and found I had inherited that feature from her. I remember my daughter calling to ask how much salt Grandma and I put in our pastry.  I told her to use the amount that fit in the indentation of her cupped palm.  She said that was not a good enough measurement for her because, "You and Grandma have impossibly small hands!".

There was no vanity today, though, as I looked at my hands.  The nails were ragged, chipping polish on uneven lengths and cuticles in need of a manicure.  Worst of all were the raised veins and dark patches on skin that was lined and wrinkled.  Age showed on my hands and no cosmetician was going to be able to change that.

Just as I was grieving the loss of pretty hands, I remembered sitting with my mother when she was about my age and her looking at the hand that held her ever present coffee mug.  She sighed and said she was sorry that they had become old lady hands.

I remembered how shocked I was. They were still beautiful hands to me. These tiny hands had rubbed my back when I was sick and cracked the shells off hard boiled eggs to make my favourite sandwiches. They had picked enough miniature wild strawberries to make jam for her family for a year and extra to give to her parents.

They had polished our white baby boots and my dad's shoes every single night.  She said it made her feel good to see the polished shoes all lined up ready for the next day.

They peeled so many potatoes, year in and year out, that the blade of her paring knife was worn thin and half the width it had been when she bought it.

They were helping hands to friends and family in need.  They were loving hands that painted old bedroom furniture and kitchen cupboards to make a pretty home for her family.  They taught Girl Guides how to tie knots and wrap food in foil to cook over an open fire. They turned the pages of books as she read them to her children.  They drove the car for miles in the middle of the night, while I held my screaming baby, to get her to sleep.

I remember them darning socks and sewing perfect, little stitches with a needle and thread.  While all her kids had new winter coats, she took an ancient coat of her own and cut it down to a more practical car coat length.  She didn't have a sewing machine and wouldn't have known how to use one if she had it.  It was done with a needle and thread.  I remember being amazed as she fashioned a jaunty pill box hat out of the leftover fabric.

As Alzheimer's ravaged her mind, she became quite dressy.  I think she was reverting to a time when she was young and had a closet full of fashionable clothes.  She wanted her nails done each week and it became a routine for me to give Mom her manicure. Together we sorted through the colours in her makeup case to find just the right one for the week.  We are not a touchy, huggy, feely family and the manicure made it okay to hold her hand and fuss over her.  The same hands that had held me as an infant and made me feel connected and safe were letting me connect with her again and make her feel safe.

No matter how much she ate, the disease was making her body evaporate in front of my eyes.  Her wedding rings had to be re sized until they were no larger than my baby finger.  Eventually, they kept falling off and getting lost and we had to put them away.

I thought of all these moments in my life and how much my mother's hands had meant to me.  I was ashamed of myself for rejecting them when I saw them on myself.  She taught me how to use them well and they have earned their veins and wrinkles and age spots.

I will get a manicure and, while it is being done, think of those last years when Mom and I talked over our coffee as I did her nails.  I will look at my hands with pride and think how lucky I am to ...


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