Hands

 

My mother had beautiful hands. Images of them are woven through my childhood memories. Even then I noticed them. Elegantly shaped and graceful, they seemed to me like birds moving through the air.

I remember her swimming, and then I thought they were like fish; strong and supple – agile. They were capable hands. Not just pretty to look at, but useful: cooking or cleaning, gardening, creating…

She painted faces on rocks and put them under the apple tree and in the flower beds to make people smile. She taught me to hold the broom with authority and sweep like I meant it. She combed my hair with her fingers and massaged my scalp. I remember her hands resting easily on the steering wheel; the pressure of her palm turning the wheel and her fingers out straight, floating in the air. Self-assured, unafraid.

But most of the time her hands appeared in continuous motion, busy with whatever needed to be done. They were dependable.

To me, the effortless grace of her hands made the work seem light. But I’m grown now and I know it wasn’t always. I know it was hard and I know she wasn’t perfect, that she faltered at times like anyone else. I also know what she sacrificed for me. I know the work her hands did for me. To make my work lighter, to give me opportunities, to offer me happiness.

When I needed them most, her hands were soothing. Hers would find mine and hold it. There was no need for words. Under the table at lunch, she’d squeeze mine and I’d know she loved me. She understood. There was comfort and relief and rest in her hands. I believe that she has those things in God’s hands now. Comfort and relief. And rest.

I miss her. I’ll remember her hands and what they taught me. I’ll remember their beauty and fearlessness. I’ll remember their love.

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I was lately inspired to visit my grandparents. The cemetery isn’t walled or gated or overgrown and forgotten. Just a not-so-big Methodist cemetery in rural America. Open, sunny, well cared for. Optimistic. It would never be the setting for a scene in a Gothic novel. I’m glad. I’m glad to look out across a field of green and see sun warming the stones. Yes, I’ve cried there. The memory of playing tag between the stones is stronger. The cemetery runs right up to the Sunday School steps. While I waited for my mother I memorized the names on the headstones, making up stories to go with them. When she was late I visited the graves of my great grandparents and my sister, who lies beside them. I talked. I rarely thought to bring a tribute. I’m not good with observances and formalities. My tribute was my words. In my head I talked to them as though they were there. And now, my grandparents. They weren’t famous. They weren’t war heroes or social activists. They were more than that. They were mine.

A huge basket of wildflowers was spilled over the new grave that summer day seven years ago. She’d have loved them. Wild, leggy beauties that looked as if they’d been gathered on a mountainside. It would have been a shame to leave them to wilt and rot. We picked the ground clean and carried bouquets home to remind us of her. She’d have laughed and done the same. And that’s how it was. We each of us carried something of her away inside ourselves.