Hands


(revised)

Working hands-1509What can you tell from a person’s hands?

He’s been gone for 32 years, but some of the earliest memories I have of my father were of his hands.

Easily able to engulf my little paw in his, my outstretched fingers couldn’t span much more than his palm.

He had a doctorate., and an office job during the week, but when he got home to the little farm he and my mother bought just before I was born, he reverted to his true self.

The white shirt and suit, the thin dark ties, the polished dress shoes all went into the closet, hung and ready, and he’d put on work boots, leather gloves, khaki pants and a shredded work shirt. He’d head out to the garden, or the barn, or to fix a stretch of fencing, or to tend to the sheep. He was at heart a son of the soil, and needed to keep his hands in it to feel alive, connected. It fed him and let him touch real things after days of politics, effort spent massaging egos, and playing with words. It reminded him who he came from, and where he was going to end up.

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In truth, everyone I grew up around had hands like these, battered and worn, but full of self-respect and strength. When they shook your hand, you felt the horny calluses, and the grip was like iron, and the eyes looked into yours to see who you really were.

 It’s a legacy I do not apologize for. People who grew up in cities and suburbs may not understand, or much respect those whose hands wore the marks of heavy use, when if you wanted something, you had to build it, or fix it, or wrestle it into submission, or do without. He tried to show me the honor of hard work, and I confess I did not learn the lesson while he was alive. It must have disappointed him. I avoided work, and missed out on time I could have spent with him. My loss.

I learned later, though. I tried to show my sons the same lessons, and they treated me the way I had treated him. It made me smile a little.

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15 Replies to “Hands”

  1. Wonderfully written salute to your father. My husband is a doc who has rushed home everyday after work to do all the landscape work at our home. He definitely feels more grounded when he is outside in the yard. It took his sone forty years to appreciate that feeling.

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  2. I agree with all the other commentors that this was a beautiful contribution to your father. My husband and I had a lovely guest visiting us in June. They share the same great grandfather who immigrated from Denmark to the states in 1880s. Leah had never been to Denmark or heard of her ancestors. They had been hardworking people. She said that my husband had the same kind of big hands like her father. The roots were found

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    1. Thank you. I’m glad it let you recall your guest, and the shared connection. I’ve often thought that when people like our parents die, one of the first thing to forget is the sound of their voice. If its a parent, that’s a constant thing that’s the first to go. But other things remain. I saw the picture of the hands working with a chisel, and that brought a memory back, and triggered this piece.

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      1. And I had to write a post on the joy she showed by expressing these family traits that have run in Denmark and in the States long time after there had been a connection between family members. The Internet has brought them together again

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  3. For some reason, hands have always fascinated me. I remember a neighbor who worked as an engineer at Xerox, but came home to the residual of what had been his family’s farm. He still kept a couple of cows and about 100 chickens, raised enough corn to feed them all and relished planting and harvesting and working the land. I loved the solidness of his hands, how real they were. He could fix anything he said “with baling wire and a paperclip.” Such a lovely tribute to your Dad. Jo

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  4. I saw this when you posted it but I’ve had – still have visitors in my home. I snuck back and have to say how much I love this. These posts make me appreciate the skill of your writing so very much. I think the shot of your father’s hands is visually representative of “manliness” in its strength and fortitude. This is a beautiful honoring. Thank you for sharing this. Jayne

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  5. Fingers thick as the Italian sausages he threw into the pot – my grandfather. Huge hands matching the power of his deep commanding voice – my father. Hands bigger than mine now – my 13-year-old son…
    I look at hands all the time – works of art really – lines chiseled by life…
    Beautiful post, thank you…
    AnnMarie

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  6. They say the eyes are the window to a person’s soul…
    Perhaps, our hands are the gateway to experience and exploration? We can gleam a lot from the wear and tear (or lack of) evident on a pair of hands.
    Lovely post. Thanks for sharing your memories.

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