69: My Mother’s Hands

69: My Mother’s Hands

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

My Mother’s Hands

The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rocks the world.

~William Ross Wallace

I always loved my mother’s hands. They weren’t particularly beautiful, but I always envied her long, thin fingers and oval fingernails filed smooth. We used to joke that I somehow inherited my father’s hands instead, with fingers that were meaty and masculine in their shape.

When I think of holding my mother’s hand, I always recall a memory of when I was about five or six. It was summer, and a heavy rainstorm had left steam rising off the sidewalk.

“Let’s go for a walk with no shoes or socks on,” my mother said.

She held my hand as we walked down our street. Always yearning for me to use my senses to embrace the beauty of nature, my mother called my attention to the warm, wet concrete on the soles of my feet. I marveled how she didn’t seem bothered by the small pebbles that occasionally pierced the bottom of my foot. My mother’s hand felt warm that day, although usually her hands were cold, a condition she jokingly blamed on poor circulation.

My childhood memories of my mother frequently include her hands. I’d often fall asleep to the sound of her in the next room, typing on a typewriter, the clicking of the keys lulling me to sleep. When she wasn’t working, she’d inevitably be outside in the garden, digging in the dirt and planting her tomatoes. She’d come inside, dripping with sweat, and I’d notice the black dust around her fingers, with more of it caked under her nails. When she’d drive me places, I always stared at her hands curled around the steering wheel. When she got older, she would occasionally flex her fingers while driving to keep them from feeling too stiff and arthritic.

As an adult, I’ve become addicted to weekly manicures. I do what I can to make my hands look prettier, and more frankly I simply enjoy the thirty minutes of relaxation while someone dotes on my hands.

My mother always took care of her hands by filing her nails herself. I believe the only manicure she had in her whole life was the day before my wedding, when I insisted she come to my neighborhood manicure salon. I know she enjoyed the experience, and although she had the means to continue to treat herself each week, she never went to another nail salon again. I suppose she thought her in-home manicures were sufficient and didn’t crave the spa-like escape like I did.

Shortly before her seventy-fifth birthday, when she was battling pancreatic cancer, she landed in the ICU, the chemotherapy wreaking havoc on her insides. Each day I visited her, trying to make her as comfortable as possible, in the same way I would nurture my own kids when they weren’t feeling well. I’d offer her water or food that I snuck in from the outside, but usually she was in too much discomfort to want anything. But one day, she had a question: “Do you have a nail file with you by any chance?”

I didn’t, but that night I went straight to the drugstore and bought her a two-pack, which I brought back with me to the hospital the next day. I watched her file her nails in her hospital bed, seemingly content that she could make them smooth and oval, the way she liked them. I smiled at the absurdity of what made her happy at the time, but it made me happy, too.

When my mother passed away a few weeks later, I lay my head sideways on her chest and grasped both her hands, which felt the way they always did: graceful, strong, and cold. I stayed that way for several minutes, until my father told me gently that it was time for us to say goodbye. I stood up and took one last look at her still body. I didn’t want to look too closely at her face because I wanted to remember her smiling. So, I looked down at her hands and did my best to memorize them, knowing their image would continue to bring me comfort and beautiful memories.

~Emily H. Cappo

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