My Mother’s Hands



The very first memory I have is of my mother’s hands on my forehead. Her cool fingers, long and thin, were pressed to my skin to gauge how much fever I had. I was 4 years old, and we were packing up to move into a new house. That’s really all I remember of that day — the boxes stacked against the wall and the touch of her hand — just single images, like snapshots.

How many more times over my life, I wonder, did my mother press her hands to my face? She used her fingers to smooth my brow when I was worried, to wipe the tears from my cheeks, to cup my face in her hands when she looked at me with pride and to pull me close to hug me.

She also used those hands to work hard. A constant refrain of memory, like a song that loops endlessly, is the sight of my mother standing in our kitchen. She cooked there, stirring food boiling in pots and cutting vegetables, seasoning meat and filling glasses before dinner. She set the table and cleared the table. She filled the dishes and washed the dishes clean. Food was one of her love languages, and she was exceptional at feeding us well.

Every Saturday, she drove us to Kroger, just me and her. I remember watching her as she gripped the steering wheel. She was not trusting of other drivers.

“It’s amazing how so many perfectly normal folks lose all common sense when they drive,” she said more than once.

In the store, she would select our groceries carefully because that’s what you do when there’s not enough money to go around. The meat had to be just right, the cans undented, the vegetables perfectly ripe. She would buy just enough Cokes for every one of us to have a can with our Saturday evening dinner. That was our weekly splurge. Every once in a while, there would be enough extra money to treat me to a magazine or a candy bar. I didn’t know it then, but that extra money came from my mother going without a Coca-Cola that same Saturday night.

In her later years, when money was not scarce, she always had plenty of Cokes in the house. I can’t open a can of Coca-Cola and hear that splash and fizz as it gushes over a cup of ice without thinking of her, raising a glass to her lips and saying, “Ah. Now THAT’S good.”

She loved chocolate, too. Chocolate covered cherries, Hershey’s kisses, Dove chocolate bars and chocolate pie were her favorites. The pie was her own creation, and it was a little bit of heaven right here on earth. She slaved over each pie, with instructions so complicated that I gave up on ever learning how to do it properly.

We’d sit around the kitchen table, my brother and sister, my dad and my mother, and myself, with a slice of homemade chocolate pie on our plates. The only sound would be the scrape of forks and the sighs of contentment. I can still taste the rich chocolate and the light crust. I wish I’d known to savor not just the chocolate but the time itself, spent together around that table.

My mother was not good at card games or board games. Some evenings after dinner, we’d play rummy or Clue, and she would lose every single time. It didn’t bother her, though. She always smiled, a good sport no matter what. I asked her once why she never won. She said she just couldn’t keep up with us all. “But I don’t mind,” she said. “Winning is not what I’m counting on.” It certainly wasn’t because she was not intelligent. She was a very smart woman. I think, looking back, it was just that she was so focused on the rest of us, so involved in our happiness and cherishing all those moments, that the game itself was of no consequence.

I’d give anything to have another night like that, just one more time. But time and life don’t work that way.

Over the years, my mother’s hands became twisted and pained with arthritis. It became harder and harder for her to cook, until finally she’d cooked her last meal. She was resigned to others cooking for her. I can only imagine how much that must have hurt her heart, not being able to do the things she’d done so well for so long. I think she was relieved a bit, but mostly she felt lost.

The day she died, I held her hand for a while. Her fingers were cool. Her hand was limp. I said things I needed to say. “You were a wonderful mother, and you did everything just right. It’s time to rest.”

At her funeral, lovely words were said. Hugs were given. Many tears were cried. As I sat next to my daughter and the rest of our family, I watched my own hands in my lap and pictured my mother’s fingers resting on mine. And just when I thought I couldn’t stand it another moment, my sweet Abbey reached over and touched my hand. Her fingers were long and cool, just like my mother’s. Abbey has learned to make chocolate pie, just like my mother used to. She also held my mother’s hand the day she died … and many other days over the years.

And so, because of my daughter, my mother is still here. Her hands are still reaching out to touch us all. And that makes all the difference.


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