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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hand Me Downs





Dishpan hands







Shelves. One. Two. Three. Four. Five.

Filled with lotions, potions, aloe, rose water, glycerin, beeswax and shea butter elixirs. 

Hydrating, age-defying, moisturizing, intensifying, skin repairing, lubricating, healing, enriching, spot concealing butters, balms and essential oils.

I hold up my hand to the pictures on the jars, bottles and tubes. 

A nice idea, but these hands of mine are an inheritance.

A gift from my mother, passed down from hers. 

Working hands. 

Freckled, speckled, ropey with age and an ever present reminder for those days when I need a dose of my mom, and her sweet face is out of reach, a distant blur. 

I gaze down at my hands and I am standing next to her in the kitchen, up to our elbows in hot water and soapsuds, washing and rinsing, heads close together in comfortable conversation. 

At eye level is a small strip of wood beneath the cabinets. It is covered with pages torn from books, magazines and newspapers. Words of wisdom. Little snippets of truth she wants me to remember. So, as we wash, rinse, repeat, I read and remember. Read and remember. To this day I can quote almost every one. 

Working hands. 

My mother had working hands. 

Sprinkling water onto freshly laundered shirts, rolling them into simple tubes, until the iron was hot. Reaching into the laundry basket, a clothespin between her lips, flipping sheets and towels to dry in the sun. Beating sugar into butter until it frothed, then icing a cake with swift, smooth strokes. Toweling my wet hair almost dry, then slipping bobby pins into little X's and O's across my scalp for my, tomorrow is a school day, curls. 

And most tenderly, on her knees, weeding and planting in a corner near the porch, her roses. Her lush pink roses, hardy climbers that would in summer, twine around the beams in spiral curlicues, their full-throated scent released into the air on a hot humid summer night as we sipped lemonade and watched the heat lightning scissor the night sky. 

She and I would sit together. A jar of Pond's cream on a small table between. I would take one of her hands in mine and massage the cream into each of her fingers and the palms of her hands. 

Women I have met since that time. Women with working hands. Healing hands. Hands put to good use. Hands that held me up and hands that held me steady. Hands that showed me how and hands that let me go. 

Even now, I find that in times of stress, I am calmed when my hands are working. Cleaning, sorting, polishing, washing, rinsing.

Dishpan hands. 

But of the garden, soil beneath my fingernails, weeding, planting, digging, here I find peace. In this gentle caretaker's role, I narrate the story of the roses to myself as a reminder that these hands do good work.

Here in the garden, the scent of roses brushes my cheek, and for a moment, I lean in and feel a comforting presence. I glance down at my hands and my mother appears...

To all the remarkable women, who stand by the sink, up to their elbows in soapsuds, solving the big and little problems of the world by using their hands to do good work, this little rose was planted in your honor and for all the moms who showed us the way. 

Beauty is not skin deep.

Beauty is in the "I" of the beholder. 

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