My Mother’s Hands

[This piece is based on a prompt from the memoir-writing class I took.]

The way they’ve always been there, to smooth back hair, to take my own hand to cross the street, to spread peanut butter on my Wonder bread for lunch. I don’t remember what they looked like physically when I was a child, just the actions that brought comfort.

I notice them more now that they’re eighty years old-the thin skin freckled with age spots, lying loose over veins that stand out in relief, tunnels that lead back to her her center, her heart. The yellowish fingernails that split sometimes, which she’ll cover with nail polish, light, silvery hues that shimmer. The rings passing over swollen knuckles-the diamond engagement ring from her recently deceased companion that she only sometimes wore; the ring my sister and I bought her years ago with all of her children’s birthstones on it; the ladybug ring that my daughter loves because it’s also a watch.

Those hands that pull me in almost greedily for a kiss on the cheek; that loop through my arms as I steady her while we walk; that thrust the money toward me with no particular reason. They organize her collection of pill bottles, screwing and unscrewing the caps, dividing, sorting, counting the pills that keep her alive.

Those hands that fuss and poke around her silver hair that’s thinning in the front. It’s always been short since childhood, it was thick and curly and unruly and so easier to tame with scissors. Brown her natural color, and then, as she began to gray, dyed black. As a child I’d only known her with black hair, and remember the dyeing sessions: the messy bottles of dye, the stained towels, stained skin around her neck and hairline, the black water like ink rushing down the drain as she rinsed it. Stark against her light skin, a bit unnatural. In her mid-forties, she let the gray grow out, and it turned a silvery-white, a snowy cap on top of her head, and I can only hope my own gray will take on that dazzling brilliance. It never dulls, just that tiny bit of dark edging along her neck, a reminder of youth, before color drained. Even her eyebrows are gray, above eyes that look out with increasing bewilderment and dissatisfaction.

She’s always looked young for her age, but now I can see the years catching up, overtaking her as she slows and gets tired-the wrinkles around eyes and mouth that often laugh, but her cheeks always so smooth, borne of no smoking and years of Oil of Olay. The mole on her upper left cheekbone, a small dot that mirrors the one I have on the same cheek, only mine is lower down.

We have the same bone structure, the same shape of hands, and I want to take those hands in mine and kiss the years away for her, the heaviness, the losses and disappointments, to squeeze the age out of her. I want to hold on tight to those hands, because in truth I don’t want her to leave me, I can’t imagine a world without those hands that held me up.


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