I have a vivid memory from childhood.
A memory of my mother and her hands, a conversation we had about a woman’s hands. I was probably five years-old, at home in the afternoon with my mother following morning kindergarten. The t.v. was on, some glamorous soap opera star filling the screen.
“Would you just look at her hands? What beautiful hands,” my mother says in my memory, a hint of disbelief in her voice, of longing.
I look at the t.v., at those Hollywood hands and I don’t understand.
“I bet she hasn’t had to do dishes with those hands a day in her life,” my mother says, folding laundry into a faded yellow plastic laundry basket.
In the memory I look down at my mother’s hands and run my fingertips across the tops of long, feminine fingers. At five years-old, I cannot imagine anything more beautiful than my mother’s hands that hold fast and cool fevered foreheads like a drink of cool water. She wears a gold wedding band-a promise-and my mother’s hands are beautiful.
In my memory, I grasp her hand in mine and kiss the top, breathing in the scent of Joy perfume and Ivory dish soap. Because my mother did do dishes. 425,294 sink loads of dishes I’m sure and at five years-old, I couldn’t imagine she had a desire for anything else. A desire, if even for the most fleeting of moments, for the manicured hands of a woman leading a completely different life. A life without the dishes and the fevers and the hair of three little girls to french braid day after day. For maybe the first time in my young life I realized that the world had it’s own idea of beauty and that it had nothing to do with hands that serve and a precocious curly-haired little girl who thought those hands of service had hung the moon and set the stars apart.
I get it now.
Twenty-eight years later I look down at my own hands so strikingly similar in appearance to my mother’s hands and I despair of broken nails and wrinkles and the fact that I have hadn’t had a proper manicure since my wedding day. The world has taught me well, shown me over and over what is beautiful and I have to search my memory for the five year-old and the truth she held undisturbed like treasure.
Today my mother-hands rock my nursing babe and stroke the downy fuzz on his precious head. And that five year-old, she rests her head on my shoulder, looks admiringly down at the baby in my lap. She places her girl hand atop my own and I could weep in gratitude. I am so thankful she is with me. She and her treasure-truths.
“How beautiful,” she whispers in wonder.
Her eyes take in how I soothe my sleeping baby, blinking, her lashes flutter on freckled girl-cheeks.
“Such beautiful hands,” she says with longing.
And her sincerity makes me believe.
“Yes,” I tell her; assuring.
“A mother’s hands are the most beautiful hands in the world.”