I’ve been looking at my hands a lot lately, comparing mine to my siblings and my Mother’s hands. For the most part, my siblings have wonderful hands. Long, tapered fingers, beautiful nail beds and great half moons with healthy cuticles. My Mom’s hands are strong and distinguished. She bears scars from surgeries, her palms show where some lumps needed to be removed to prevent her fingers from permanently curling into her palms. Her knuckles are beginning to show signs of arthritis and some of her fingers are going wonky near the top of the fingers, pointing either this way or that. I imagine she must be in pain but she rarely says anything about it. Most often she quietly gets up to go do a task that involves having her hands in hot water or wrapping them around a hot cup of coffee or tea. Her hands can still emphasize a good scolding with a swat or a pinch... but they can also soothe the hurts of a crying grandchild and they can teach anyone a craft or give them confidence with a “thumbs up” and a smile to brighten their day again.
I don’t really remember my Dad’s hand as vividly as I did when I was young. He had one finger on his left hand I think, that he’d lost the tip off of. His favourite thing to do was to engage someone in a conversation and then place that missing finger against his eye. The optical illusion made it appear that he’d stuck the end of his finger in his eye. He always enjoyed the reactions he received when he played this prank.
I recall watching him tend his honey bees one afternoon. He never wore protective clothing so he’d check his bees with his regular clothes, a smoker that calmed the bees down, a hive tool that pried bee frames apart so he could assess how well the bees where making honey or if they needed a food supplement and he wore his customary red hard hat. One afternoon, as he returned to the house, a bee flew from him onto me. I was terrified, which only increased my chances of being stung as bees sense fear and respond the only way they know how - a bee sting. I’m not so much scared of bees as I am to the reaction I have to the bee sting. I have an epi pen that I can use if I’m stung again. But when I looked at my father’s hands that day, they weren’t big and clumsy like he claimed. They were as graceful as a ballerina dancing Swan Lake. His hand cupped the bee as it buzzed near my shoulder, his fingers effortlessly scooped up the tiny insect, oblivious to the way those little bee wings were scolding me and threatening me merely by intimidation and a dramatic dance that included plenty of waving of its’ behind and several threatening “test stings” as it brought its loaded behind near my skin then lifted its butt again. I was nearly ready to pass out from the sheer agony of watching it toy with me. And I felt like I just wanted that little bee bully to get it over with already. But my Dad was there. He plucked the bee from my shoulder as it neared my collarbone and he turned away from me. When he opened his palm, there was the bee, unharmed and suddenly calm. It crawled up his palm to the top of his finger and flew away. I was never more relieved with the turnout of events as I was in that moment. At the same time I was in awe of my dad. I’d seen his hands when they were working in the garden or creating inventions to make his life a little easier, I’d seen his hands raised in angry fists and I’d felt his hands when I was disciplined. It had been a really long time since I’d seen his
hands so graceful and delicate and it’s a memory I’m so happy to have held in my heart, especially as he became ill then passed away.
My hands show a lifetime of work and accidents, love and strength. When I was four or five I begged to be included in the annual work my family engaged in when Commercial Fishing. I wanted to do more than help Dad string out the net across the dining and living room floors and tie floats to the top of the net and pound lead sinkers to the bottom of the net. I wanted to be out where the action was! Soon my wish came true. One of the wooden fish boxes was turned upside down and I stood on it wearing an apron and a rubber glove, both incredibly too big for me and I didn’t care a bit. I was the “official” fish scraper - each fish that was gutted was passed to me and I scraped the blood off the backbone on the inside of the fish. I ensured all the entrails were removed and then passed it on to be packed. I guess even then I was already a little morbid. To entertain myself, I collected fish hearts and I’d time them to see which would die first. My older brother was bothered by my past time and complained to my Mom, who in turn warned me I’d get a swat next time I practiced this activity. I played with fish eggs with my spoon for the longest time after, and they became distracted, and I started a new collection of beating hearts. I got a slap on my hand with a hard bristled cleaning brush for my efforts - well worth it, in my opinion.
I look at my hands and see the scars adorning my left hand. My job was to start the fire when I was fourteen and we had just left home to move closer to town. I didn’t like our new abode. And no one asked me if I wanted to move and I didn’t have a choice. So lighting the fire became my solace and comfort. The flames licked at the wood, igniting it and turning everything to ash. It felt like a metaphor for the life I left in Candle Lake and the life I would learn to get used to now. One day, I decided to use a bag of paper and cardboard refuse when my fire wouldn’t light. The wood was dry, as was the garbage, but the fire just didn’t want to take and I was becoming frustrated. I should have walked away and I didn’t. I lit three matches and held the flames against the paper until it caught, then moved my hand forward, repeating the process. The matches were just burning out and I dropped them into the furnace; at that exact moment burning plastic dropped onto my hand. I watched it harden onto my skin, just below my first knuckle on my left hand. It turned black and the pain made me mute as I fought the urge to cry. By some miracle, and I say that because I’d never seen this before that day or after, there was a five gallon pail half full of snow set next to the indoor woodpile. I stuffed my hand into the snow and eventually made a snowball that I placed over the burn. I refused medical attention and made sure that my fire burned. I look at the scars on my hand from that experience and I’m grateful that I learned to have respect for fire that day. Prior to this I’d been a little too cocky about my fire making ability. I enjoyed being “one match Janice” and having the nick name of “fire keeper” amongst my family and friends. I learned to be more cautious and to use my head when lighting the fire, to start it from the bottom and not the top. And also, to open up the draft so air can help the fire breathe and grow.
My hands have neuropathy so that means my fingers are often afflicted with a burning sensation that is both painful and numbing at the same time. I can’t feel when I am picking an object up so I have to look and consciously instruct myself how to pick something up. I sometimes have a spasm go through my hand and I drop whatever I’m holding. Writing, typing, beading, crocheting, bread baking and other favourite past times have fallen to the wayside. Something as simple as reading a book now means holding it with both hands so I don’t drop it. When I feed one of my boys or hold a cup to his lips, I need to use both hands so I don’t feed his cheek or chin and also to avoid spilling the beverage on him altogether. My hands are showing the telltale signs of working from the time I was a little girl. Arthritis has crept in and is making life more challenging, particularly when my hands are swollen. And my fingers are too short for my liking. I can’t always close my hand into a tight fist and my habit of cracking my knuckles as I grew up did NOT result in my having arthritis in them. The knuckles I DIDN’T crack all have early onset arthritis. It’s only painful when I try to sew, or bead, or give the children a bath, or read a bed time story....
My hands tell a lot about me and my work ethic. They give a glimpse into what I’m passionate about and how quickly a simple task can become an accident complete with blood and bandages, just because I became distracted and hit my thumb instead of the nail. I have a bruise on the nail of my index finger that I earned while breaking soil as I transplanted tomatoes. I bent back the nail but didn’t break it and now it has a deep bruise that is painful but not so much so that I can’t still work and do what I need to get done... such as fold laundry, wash out a sink or clean a toilet. I look at my hands and I’m really grateful for the story they tell about me. And when one of my children come and take my hands, wrapping my arms around their body so that I can gently squeeze them infusing them with love and security, my heart definitely feels what my hands can not. And that is an unexpected story I didn’t know my hands would tell. No one has to remind me, I know I’m quite blessed.
Take care and have a great week, everyone.