Thursday, March 3, 2011

My Father's Hands

 "Jesus Christ, these hands," I hear my father mumble as he picks pills out of bottles, depositing one after another into yet another bottle. This single bottle is where he gathers his day's worth of medicine, where he'll again pull them out in a schedule known only to him. I trust him to take them when he should; the numbers add up at the end of the month.

 Usually, as he combines them, one or two will drop into the wooden drawer of what was once my grandfather's smoking stand, now a personal pharmacy of sorts. Dad would line every pull bottle up around his chair, cover a nearby stool with them if he could. But he can't; Mom says so. "They're better in the drawers," she will tell him. "Hidden from view. All in one place."

 But it isn't the pills which commands my attention nearly so much as my father's hands. They are gnarled and disfigured with rheumatoid arthritis. He first noticed the aching when we was in his mid-30's, after he had taken his first dose of the polio vaccine. That's what he blames. But who knows?

 From the late 1950's, when those pains began, to now, time has twisted his fingers, gnarled his knuckles, literally bent his hands sideways. When he tries to pick something up and can't, he'll turn to me and say, "Look at these hands. They're not good for anything."

 He used to love playing the piano. I tell him we could have one custom built, with keys angled to fit his hands. He laughs when I say this. He knows that it's true.

 It was these hands that first held me over six decades ago, that pointed to right and wrong, that pet our beloved dog, that caressed my mother with love. I clasp these "good for nothing" hands when I take him to the doctor or help him to the garage or assist him into bed at the end of every day.

 They're not pretty to look at. The don't work well any longer. And yet seeing those hands reach out to me for help are one of the grandest sights I see each day. They remind me of perseverance. Their soft touch is still magic.