When I was young, I didn’t appreciate my hands. They are not silky smooth, even on the best of days. They are small. Fingers short. And tough. Working hands. Hands made for hoeing weeds 40 hours a week all summer long. Weeding a half acre garden. Petting horses and cows and dogs. Climbing trees and picking fruit. Rapidly slicing pizza with a giant chef’s knife. Turning thousands of pages of hundreds of books over the years. Typing and English degree’s worth of essays on an electric typewriter.

As I grew older, I learned to appreciate their strength.

They are not gloved or protected hands. They are feeling hands.

Today, the same as then, these hands like to feel the dirt, even if that means it gets in between my fingernails or stains the recesses of skin over my joints.

Nor are they slender, tipped by long, smooth, shaped nails.

The moment the nails grow long enough to block the sensation of feeling from the rounded pads of my fingers, I reach for the clippers and cut then back.

They are feeling hands.

Hands made for holding babies, stroking cheeks, wiping bottoms, wiping away tears, doing up buttons, tying shoes, combing hair (although that was usually the first to go when life was too crazy), holding toddler hands as long as I could before my hands were abandoned. Writing notes. Turning more pages of books–fewer this time–until I fell asleep first over Mercer Mayer’s “Just Go To Bed.” Smoothing back fine, bath-dampened hair as I kissed my babies goodnight.

They usually dry hands. No amount of lotion seems to help. Dry from the desert air. Dry from dozens of washings throughout the day. Water hot enough to disinfect dishes disinfects these hands.

Hands made for washing and scrubbing and cutting and chopping and stirring and pressing and stitching.

They are scarred hands.

Invisible scars from when I went to week-long Outdoor School in 6th grade I tripped on a tree root and pierced my palm with a knot protruding from a tree stump I hit as I reached out to stop my fall. I started to get an infection and remember the red trail working its way down my palm towards my wrist. When the camp nurse told me how serious it was, I passed out for the very first time.

Visible chicken track scars trailing down the center bottom of my right palm from carpal tunnel surgery I had done on my right hand, but never got around to having done on my left hand. That hand still goes numb at night if I sleep wrong.

A few years ago I noticed knots on some of the joints of my fingers. I used to think they were Bouchard’s nodes, but, in fact, they are Heberden’s nodes. A symptom of osteoarthritis, it is, apparently, untreatable and incurable. I recognize them from my mother’s hands.

Hands made for lifting my mother, helping her settle into bed, rubbing–at least when I remembered–lotion into her hands. Smoothing back her hair as I kissed her goodnight. Dressing her body, just as I had her mother’s–before we laid her to rest.

[Day 111 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

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