Monday, August 8, 2011

My Mother's Hands

 This morning I was sitting on the sofa reading a book about the Alaskan wilderness and while concentrating on the words, I hear the constant click-click-click of knitting needles. Mom and I will visit my aunt and uncle soon and Mom wants to be able to say she's working on her knitting. It is a ruse somewhat.
 Mae (her sister) is a great help when Mom is bogged down in the complex instructions of this sweater. She's threatened many times to quit, tear it all apart and throw the yarn away. And yet there she sits, fingers delicately passing yarn around stitches that I cannot fathom (and which part of the time neither can she) but intent on making progress. She can honestly tell Mae "I am working on it" though this is the first time in a week.
 Back in March, I wrote about my father's hands. He had just two and a half months to live when I posted the words and I was thinking about that as I watched my mother's hands tend the yarn.

 "OK, you can take a picture of me working," Mom replies, "but what will people think of these old hands?" They are worn from years of use ... wrinkled, purple where she has knocked them against something or other, cut and thin to the very bone.
 I've thought of the meals these hands have cooked and how they stretch back beyond my own time. Oh, and the beds she's made, something she insists on doing daily. An unmade bed is a sign of laziness in her eyes. Say from age ten to now (nearly 86) if she has made a bed a day (my guess is that the average is considerably higher), she'd have smoothed out nearly 28,000 sheets. The meals? At three a day, surely from age 20 onward, that's over 72,000. The numbers are staggering.
 But books, that is where her hands have logged the most mileage. These fingers have turned pages beyond belief, surely numbering into the millions.
 These fingers, too, have dealt gentle touches and not-so-mild coercions. I love to hear them tapping the knitting needles yet. I love to hear them rattle sauce pans and cutlery. When I help her out the back door, steady her balance while she dead-heads her beloved roses, caution her on steps, she reaches out these petite hands, now cool to the touch, but still soft and mild.
 I know now, after losing Dad, that it is the loss of touch that hurts the most. When we say we have "lost touch" with someone, isn't this what we truly mean?