The Story of Hands

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I’ve always been fascinated by hands.

Sitting on Grampa’s lap in the big recliner, I remember the feel of the bump along the edge of his thumb. He’d been in a boating accident years before, and the bones never smoothed after the surgery to reattach his thumb.

Watching Great-Grammie Shaw knit in the sunny den, her veined hands flashing the metal needles. You’d never have guessed she didn’t have full-use of her right hand – that a car accident in 1927 left her to relearn how to write, how to knit, and how to sew. The only thing she couldn’t re-learn was how to type. It scared me a little, the shape of that hand, but when I grew older, I marveled at how she held her coffee mug every morning, the tilt of it towards her mouth right up to a month ago.

My Dad’s hands in church as he held the Bible, the fine blond hairs of his fingers, the shortness of his nails. How those square hands held me and gardened and played card games. How the freckles came out in the summertime.

And Mama’s hands, small and brown from the sun. Her wedding ring stopped fitting me when I was a teenager and I thought my hands must be huge. But it wasn’t that, really, it was the smallness of Mama’s, like her thin wrists.

That time I was driving along 1-A and realized my hands would die. That I looked at them and finally saw how deeply fear ran in me.

[“You know what I remember, Catherine? Having a sleepover when we were like fourteen, and we were all talking about boys. And you said he had to have good hands, that you always looked at his hands. I’ll never forget it.”]

Sitting across from a man and thinking No, no, because his hands looked like a woman’s and he was eating salad. Because his nails were too long and his laugh was too high and all I could think was no.

Hands tell stories without words. Like a timeline, they trace the beginnings of life all the way to the grind of your day. The scar on my right hand from that broken mug my senior year of college, how it bled and bled and seemed to stand for more than just my clumsiness. The freckle on my thumb that’s only recently appeared – proof of sun and age. The writer’s bump I got in second grade writing an essay on keeping chickens (in cursive). The way the veins in my left wrist protrude just a little bit more than my right – a reminder of blockage and breaking free.

Even now, as I think of different people in my life, I see their hands. The half-moons of my aunt’s nails, the wedding ring my Gramma has never taken off, the slope of his trimmed nails and the way my hand feels small inside his.

Who knows why hands are what I see? I wonder what it is other people see: ears? noses? eyes? There’s so much character in a hand, though, the kind of character that makes you feel like you know a person long before you do. I try not to read bodies, but it’s hard, ignoring the reality of truth right in front of you.

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