As mothers and daughters, we are connected to one another. My mother is the bones of my spine, keeping me straight and true. She is my blood, making sure it runs rich and strong. She is the beating of my heart.
Mom would have been 79 years old today.
I was feeling melancholy, remembering her special day would be coming and I found myself thinking about her hands.
Mom’s hands were strong. She could open up any jar in the house. She was a dental hygienist for 40 years, so her hands were battle worn. They worked in tight places all day long with sharp instruments and lifted heavy x-ray aprons.
Her strong hands were the only ones I wanted to rub my back when I was sick. When I had severe asthma growing up, her hands would pound on my back. This was not an abusive situation. These were the 1970s where there were no inhalers like we use today. Mom’s hands methodically thumped on my back to release the pressure in my lungs and allowed me to breathe.
One day in elementary school, my teacher called me “dummy”. Although this condemnation would hurt any child’s feelings, the wound was deeper because I had always liked this teacher for her hands. They were like my mother’s. When I cried that night in my mother’s arms, I remember her saying, “No, honey. Our hands are different. Mine are the ones that are smacking her in the face for saying such a thing to a child.” Always the fierce Irish mother.
I am not the only one that reveres her mother’s hands. Fanny Singer, daughter of renowned chef Alice Waters, recounts memories of her mother’s hands in her memoir, Always Home:
“One of the most distinctive things about my mother is her hands, though I would imagine that the hands of anyone’s mother would seem distinctive to them. Those are the hands, after all, that soothe us through so much of our childhood, that change our diapers, and swaddle us and hold us, and comb our hair, and apply unwanted sunscreen and antiseptic and band-aids.”
Singer also commented about the strength of her mother’s hands, “But, there is also something in the strength of her fingers – whether it is innate or from the years of kitchen work – that I find especially unusual. In this, her hands are a sort of mirror of her determination.”
The author’s reverence for her beloved mother’s hands are surprisingly the same as mine: “But if there’s a portrait of my mother’s hands that is most etched in my mind, it is the way she holds a piece of fruit as she deftly slips the skin from its flesh….The finger-feel, the knowledge in her fingertips, strikes me a singular, though I know it is the gift of many chefs: determining the difference between lusciously yielding flesh and a fruit that is over the hill.”
My mother and I had similar hands and feet. A bit of useless trivia, for sure. But when we were in hospice with Mom and the nurse asked us to continuously check to see if her hands or feet were turning blue – that would be an indication that the end was near- I couldn’t help seeing my own hands and feet. Part of me was dying in that bed right along with her.
That scene lead me to write this poem:
Heartbeat (Hands, Feet in Drumbeat)
Kneading meatballs together
Walking in the sand
Waving goodbye, leaving for school
Strolling through London
Admiring wedding bands
Fatigued from dancing
Holding chubby baby hands
Running through the grass
Full of IVs
Running through the ICU
Different hands, Different feet,
Different hands, Different feet,
Saying this final farewell
Different hands, different feet
Happy birthday, Mom. I will miss you and love you forever. You and your beautiful hands.
Excerpt from: Singer, Fanny. Always Home. Knopf, 2020.
Drawing: Special Bunny from Gail Adinolfi