When it comes to being a mother, the good news is that we don’t have to be alone in this journey. We have women around us going through the same joys and struggles. We have women who have gone before us, blazing a path. It is these trail-blazers that we can fall back on, even if they are only with us in spirit. It is the lessons from generations of mothers who have gone before us to help shape who we are now. They may not have been perfect, they probably made mistakes but they did the best with what they had. What is important is finding what is good and lovely in what they pass on to us.
Lessons from Generations of Mothers – Whose Hands Are These?
I started cracking my knuckles sometime in early elementary school. I remember the warnings that it would make my knuckles swollen and grotesque but like most children, warnings about consequences decades into the future were too abstract and felt like they were affecting someone in an alternate universe, not me. So, I contented to pop them and still do today.
Flash forward several decades and guess what? My knuckles are big. I didn’t notice just how big until a few years ago when we had family pictures taken. I looked at the proofs and was horrified to see a woman with hideous, large-knuckled claws clutching my small child. My hand looked like a cross between a scary witch and a crow’s talons. It was then that I realized that my career was a hand model came to a screeching halt even before it had begun. Unless, of course, they needed a hand model for the Krampus 2 movie poster. Ever since I saw those witch-hands-family-photos I try to hide my hands in group photos.
On my desk, I have a picture of my grandmother sitting in ‘her’ chair. You know, the chair that each grandparent seems to live in. It is surrounded by their favorite things and preferred reading material. The chair that when a child climbs into it a parent eventually tells the child to evacuate since it is the grandparent’s designated chair. This picture is exactly how I remember her. Lapis beads, kind smile, cardigan sweater over a silk blouse and gnarled hands. I remember my grandmother complaining about her large knuckles and fingers bent with arthritis. But what I remember more are those hands breaking toast into tiny pieces and mixing it into a soft boiled egg then spoon-feeding me like a little bird. I remember those hands lifting me onto her butcher block with rollers, pushing and pulling me across her kitchen. I remember spinning the rings on her fingers and thinking about how beautiful they were. I remember pulling the skin on her hands and being fascinated that it stayed in the same position before I would smooth it out again. I remember those hands lifting heavy cast iron pots and her crooked finger running across the instructions in Helen Corbitt or Julia Childs cookbooks. I remember those big knuckles and see them in my own.
My other grandmother, my mom’s mom, I called MaMaw. MaMaw lived a country life. You don’t really think about the importance of strong hands until you think about how someone took care of you, their house and the people around them. I remember my MaMaw patiently stirring and stirring over a hot stove until the roux was just the right color. I remember her sitting with the other women in her family and cleaning a freshly butchered chicken. I watched in wonder as those hands yanked out feathers like it was an everyday chore. Those hands scrubbed linoleum and the kitchen sink, hung laundry to dry and gently cleaned feathers and poo off of fresh eggs. In her last years, she succumbed to dementia but loved to be pampered. Her time of hard work was over and her hands grasped a walker instead of a broom. My mom took her to get her nails done on a regular basis and I remember watching her admire her little pink nails. She seemed delighted in how pretty they were and I hope happy that they wouldn’t get chipped from hard work anymore.
My mom has always kept her nails beautiful. Sometimes I would go with her to manicure appointments and watch the technician buff and shape them, paint them to a high glossy shine. When I was little I wondered if I would be lucky enough to have long, beautiful, strong nails like her. I watched her fingers fly over a typewriter doing volunteer work for her church and crisis pregnancy center. I didn’t get her strong nails but my son is amazed at how fast my fingers can fly over a keyboard. When I look at my mom’s hands I see the bone structure of my MaMaw and PawPaw. Even the creases on her fingertips remind me of the creases in my grandparent’s hands and I’m beginning to see them in mine. She complains of the sun damage spots on the back of her hands and does what she can to erase them. Now I’m starting to see them in the back of my own hands and it reminds me of feeding chickens in my grandparent’s chicken yard, helping my MaMaw hang clothes on her line and planting seeds with my mom in the garden.
Whose hands are these?
The love of my grandmother, my MaMaw, and my mom has been passed down to me and is in my bones. I see my grandmother’s hands in these big knuckles and love for cooking. I see my MaMaw’s hands in the creases of my fingers, my short stubby nails, and appreciation for a simple life. I see my mom’s hands in the shape of my fingers, in the sun spots on the back of my hands and my love for making things beautiful.
Whose hands are these that caress my little boy’s face? That prepare meal after meal? That make the beds and type out the words on my heart? That apply sunscreen to sun-kissed little bodies?
These are the hands of a mother.
Whose hands are these?
They are made up of the hearts and bones of generations of mothers in my life. They are my grandmother’s hands, my MaMaw’s hands, my mom’s hands. They are my hands. Strong from the love of the women before me. Strong with love for my own children. I no longer mind seeing witch hands in pictures because these hands have been shaped by love.