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.


Nothing seemed out of the ordinary when I hugged him and told him goodbye. He probably told me to be careful on my way back home, but I don’t remember. I climbed into my car and pulled onto the highway, making a mental break from my brother and preparing for my long drive home. My mind was filled with all the events of the weekend — seeing my old classmates at the reunion, driving past the the house where I grew up and seeing the inside warmly lit, visiting with my extended family. It would take me quite some time to process the deluge of emotions swirling around inside my head from all that had happened that weekend. These emotions were so intense that my relationship with my last surviving brother was not of much importance at that moment. I didn’t know it then, but we would let years pass by without so much as a word to each other. In fact, today marks four years exactly since I last saw or spoke with my brother.

I had felt it creeping up on me. These four years have not elapsed without weekly and almost daily realizations that more and more time had passed since our last conversation. For the first year or two, each time I would think about it I’d say to myself something like, Yes, I really should call him. We are flesh and blood after all. We shouldn’t go on like this without having at least some kind of relationship. I would often picture myself several years down the road, stressing over finally calling him after such a long time. I never wanted to become one of those middle-aged adults you see on TV who reestablishes contact with a brother or sister after decades of separation.

family-of-originHowever, for the last year or two, I haven’t cared so much. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as an  adult, it’s that time has a way of softening painful emotions. The importance of difficult situations and their attending emotions seems to diminish ever so slightly with each passing day, week, and month. Now when thinking about the the whole situation, I have pretty much resolved myself to the fact that I no longer have any siblings (my sister is a whole other story), a condition that I anticipate will in all likelihood remain the same for the rest of my life.

Of course I feel some guilt for this situation. I could easily have picked up the phone and called him at some point over that last 48 months. I never did, however. I’d say this is mostly because the thought that he never bothered to call me either showed exactly how much worth he had placed on the relationship. Why should I bother to go out of my way when it is quite apparent that he has no desire to maintain a relationship with me? I would very conveniently put my apathy for him out of my mind.

I regret not maintaining a relationship with him. The concept of a strong family unit was always important in my family of origin. My mother used to say, “Family is all you’ve got. Girlfriends and boyfriends will come and go, but you’ll always have your family.” Also, I remember the day she told me that biologically I’m closer to my siblings than to either of my parents. She explained that we siblings all came from the same two parents, making us biologically as close as possible.  But for that same reason (that we’re a product of both parents), we’re not as biologically close to either of our parents individually as we are to our siblings.

As for my father, his way of encouraging tight family connections was to tell us when we were going out for the evening, “Don’t do anything to disgrace the family.” There is no telling how many times I heard that appeal to my siblings when I was younger, and then to me personally when I reached my teen years and began going out regularly. My guilt over not calling my brother makes me feel like I’ve let the family down in some way, like maybe I’d still have a brother to talk to if only I’d called him at some point.

Perhaps, after all these years, the time is right to reach out to him. I can’t help but wonder about his spiritual state. If he died today, would I have any assurance that he’d experience eternity with God instead of suffering and eternal isolation from Him? No, I don’t.

I guess I know what I need to do.