Mama’s Hands

Her hands tell her story. Over the decades they baked countless cakes, changed untold thousands of diapers, prepared meal after meal after meal, and washed enough laundry to clothe an army for a year.

They washed innumerable dishes and had been washed clean themselves. Each day, she wrung them in ever-present worry, as there is no purpose without worry. They only stopped when the rest of her body came to a halt. 

As the decades wore on, arthritis took its toll, adding twists and turns to her slender fingers. Graceful hands became tough, gnarled knots. 

These hands had sorted, fixed, cleaned, and soothed in their long lives, seeing both noble and not-so-noble purposes. 

Although, for me her hands represented mostly love, in my early childhood they were also fearful objects, capable of causing instant pain and humiliation. More than once they had left a hot red impression on my arm or leg, a perfect outline of her fingers molded into the white of my flesh. 

In these moments, it’s hard to say which one I felt more of—physical pain or humiliation. The loud smack on my skin would intensify the experience, drawing hot tears from my eyes and turning my selfish day in a new and awful direction. 

In her later years, the hands themselves endured blinding pain each day from the arthritis that wove itself through them.

For her, her hands’ movement meant she was accomplishing her duty. Hand work kept her sense of guilt at bay. After all, idle hands are the devil’s plaything. Busy hands showed her dedication to her duties as a mother, wife, daughter, friend, and employee.

Never once do I remember her having painted nails.That just wasn’t her style. Too flashy, she’d say. Too impractical. People might get the wrong idea. After all, these hands were born in the depression and we must never forget the lessons we learned during that time. Practicality and sensibility come before anything else. 

Her hands often worked even in her downtime. A bushel of fresh-picked green beans from our garden meant she’d watch “Barnaby Jones” or “Mary Tyler Moore” that night while mindlessly breaking one bean after another into pleasing, edible pieces. 

At the end of the day, she put her eyes and her mind to bed and patiently waited for her hands to finish their work. Their final tasks might include massaging sore joints, rubbing overworked calves, or trying without success to ease a fidgety leg. When her hands finally rested, she could at last rest her body. 

Her hands have at last found their final rest. They are peacefully still, her left one casually draped over her right. They and she lie free from guilt and worry.

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