My Mother’s Hands

”No,no. Like this…” Mom delicately slid her index finger around the base of the weed and gently eased it out of the ground. The neat maneuver brought out all the tiny hairy roots, insuring the garden would look fresher, longer.

My unschooled approach to weeding had been to grab the plant from the top with my chubby 5-year-old hands and tear it viciously from the ground, leaving a stub, the roots and a few savaged stems.

Decades later, weeding my perennial bed to ready it for nasturtiums, the memory came back to me; and I wonder, ”How many lessons over the years?”

How many big things and little things did Mom teach me altogether…not to mention all the lessons that went by the board?

I rarely do a load of delicates without recalling the underwear lesson. Nope! Not that underwear lesson. The one in which you learn how to put your undies on the right way.

”See, look, like this,” Mom said.

She demonstrated by holding my undies up to her own hips.

”See, before you put them on, you hold them against you, like this,” said Mom. ”See how this side is smaller than this side? The front is smaller than the back”

I don’t recall the events leading up to this lesson. Prior to that, I assume I spent some days in baffled discomfort.

Could you ever sort out all the tiniest lessons, the myriad skills that get you through your day intact – and find one your mother didn’t teach you?

What usually prompts one of these memories is that I have my mother’s hands. So often while I’m making a pie crust, or washing dishes, or folding a handkerchief, I see my mother’s hands and I remember.

”Let’s make a design!” That one I heard quite often. We’d drag out big pieces of paper, markers, crayons, paint sets and we would lose ourselves in trying to make the paper in front of us match the vision in our heads. Manifestation – the coolest skill.

There’s another, which may have only happened once, but I think of it as something we did all the time. There was a huge family get-together at my grandmother’s house; there usually was on any given weekend, on holidays, on birthdays. It was warm weather. There came a moment when Mom and I realized we could slip out the door undetected – and we did! I felt so devilish and special – just Mom and I! We left and drove all over the island, feeling so wild and free. And then we eased back into the gathering a little while later. There is a lesson in that one too – basic survival skills for the introverted human.

When life gets to me and I’m thinking too much, sometimes I remember another lesson: poetry. To me, poetry is a reminder to think my thoughts and feel my feelings. Occasionally when I’m repeatedly walking into the wall of trying to think my feelings, I remember! Go dig out a poetry book and read. Why does it work? How is it that a poem can shoot right to your heart and give you what you need right then? I may never know, but I hope that lots of moms teach their kids that one. It’s a ”doozie”.

I know how to do my very best with dignity. I know how to make almost anything I want to make – a dress, a house, a sketch, a loaf of bread, a sculpture; it never ceases to amaze me how handy my particular set of hands are – my Mom’s hands.

Who, or rather what would I be without all those lessons? Who would I be if I’d learned every one? I know this: I’m glad I haven’t gone through fifty years with my undies on backward!

Click PLAY to hear ”My Mother’s Hands”.

Originally posted in May 2017.

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