The other day, I realized…
… that I have my mother’s hands. They are small, thin and the veins show. They are frequently bruised because I have a tendency to move quickly without calculating the time/space ratio in my vicinity!
My mother’s hands were magical. They smoothed back the wet hair of a feverish little girl and turned the pillow over to the cool side. When days were just kind of tough in those small child years, at night she would pull the covers up to my chin, fold the sheet over the edge of the blanket, straighten out the rest of the covers and kiss my forehead. My world became right again.
Those hands helped me with sharpened pencils and calculations on scratch paper when I came home in the 7th grade with math homework at its worst… the dreaded math word problems. You know the ones I mean. The ones where trains leave stations and when will they meet. I still can’t do those problems and don’t care if I ever learn. There are math people and apps for that. I know now they were meant to teach critical thinking, but all they did for me was to send me into a panic. My brain just didn’t work that way. My mom’s hands would fix a snack to get my blood sugar back up, sit me down and quietly explained how we were going to tackle this together. My mom, who got married at 16 and had no higher education, had a math brain! She sketched out train tracks and trains, formulas and numbers and showed me the way through the weeds.
They were also the hands of discipline. My mom was a believer in the “pee-snawtch”. I think it was a German word, and I can only reproduce it here phonetically. It consisted of a thump on the lips with the forefinger and thumb when a child got sassy and talked back. There was a certain skill involved. The hand had to move lightning fast. When our daughter heard a cousin back talking to her mother, she told this cousin that I had the fastest hand in the West! I only had to use it a few of times for the message to get across.
When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, the role of our hands reversed. I took over things her hands could no longer do because of the neuropathy that was a result of the chemotherapy. One of the things she could still do and was a joy to her, was to make me a sandwich for lunch during the work week. Even if I couldn’t stay, she would meet me at the door with it and send me on my way, just as she used to do when she sent me to school with my lunch box.
During her last days, I would sit by her wheelchair or bedside and hold her hand. It brought comfort to both of us. And when that last day came, I sat by her bedside and stroked the small hand with the veins that showed. I hope that the magic of my mother’s hands has passed to me…