The hands of my family
Written by Mary Alice Kohler Christman
Her hands show the years of labor,
Were strong enough to lift a bale of hay, hoe a garden, milk a cow. Yet gentle enough to form a fragile pastry,
or brush away a tear.
In browsing through my scrapbook, I found a poem Mom had written prior to her death in 1987. She had it tucked, with other notes, in her dresser drawer with her funeral dress. Reading it through I couldn’t help but recall, as a farm wife, the many times I saw her hoe the garden, or move a large piece of furniture in the house. I couldn’t possibly count the times she wiped my tears, let alone my nine siblings. And then, as reverie goes, I remembered things about Pop’s hands, my siblings, my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Mom’s short poem made me realize the importance of the hands in my family.
One of my earliest recollections of Mom’s hands was kneading dough in a large bowl on the kitchen table. I’d watch as she stretched and pushed a mound of dough. When she’d press it in, it sprang right back up. Her hands, up to her elbows, were strewn with flour. Once she seemed satisfied, she’d cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, and place it on the radiator (in winter), for the heat to help it rise. It was a fascinating task to watch with my young eyes.
The last remembrance I have of Mom’s hands was in her 80s, after her stroke. She was childlike in her manner. She didn’t always know her children’s names, but she always knew she was “the mom.” During the six years, my family of ten, did care-taking for her, I’d stroke her hands often. I felt it helped calm her so she could fall asleep at bedtime. Her hands were like wrinkled tissue paper with blue veins seemingly ready to pop out of her skin. I knew, then, one day my hands would look like hers.
Pop’s hands were large and rough looking, like a farmer’s hands were supposed to look. He was ambidextrous, so if you were in trouble as a kid, you’d never know which hand would reach out for a needed smack.
As the youngest in my family, my siblings insisted I didn’t work on the farm. I always denied this, but it is true, I wasn’t much of a worker. I was a people watcher. When Pop came in from the fields at the end of the day, he’d head straight for the small sink in the kitchen. He’d roll his sleeves up to his elbows. With soap and water he’d scrub the black soot off his arms and hands. After he was done scrubbing, he’d fill the sink with spring water and splash both arms.
I can’t neglect my four brothers’ hands. As a young mother, with a growing family, my brothers build an addition to our home for free labor. When I moved another brother carried and moved my furniture three times, with no pay. Indeed, men’s hands were a welcome sight in my life.
My five sisters and I had a special relationship. After our children were raised, in the early 70s, and until recently (2015 only 3 are living) we each celebrated overnight birthday parties at our homes.
Unlike me, my sisters were all talented in the cooking and sewing field. With their hands they created special gifts. Jannetta tatted bureau scarves for us. In addition, when I turned housewife into working girl, she sewed up a number of slacks for me. Gladys was not only crafty, but she had a talent for painting. I still have her crafts and paintings hanging on my walls. Mary Alice was the quilt maker. When I married again, at forty, my husband presented me with one of her quilts. Dorothy was the one with the heart-filled crafts. After our mother died, she made all of us a small stuffed pillow out of Mom’s favorite dress. In addition, she made a heart-shaped wall hanging out of Mom’s old apron. At one of Dorothy’s birthday parties, she had each sister place their hand print on a piece of material to take home. I treasure this six “loving hands” print that I have hanging in my study. Anita had a stroke at a very young age. She had to learn to do everything all over again. With her right hand, she soon learned to do cross stitch again and made table cloths for her children. Although I wasn’t a recipient of her cross-stitch work, I did receive something more pre-
cious. Once she learned to write again, I received and kept her hand-written thank you note. My sisterin-law, Millie, presented all of us with our names crocheted for a wall hanging. Gifts, created with hands, are much more valuable than any store-bought item.
With my own children, when they were babies, I loved their tiny fingers clutching one of mine. I have the same privilege now with grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Another thing I liked to do, when my children and the next two generations, when they sat next to me, was to just twirl their hair in my hands. Touching is meaningful to me.
Although I didn’t save every birthday card over the years, I made it a point to save the hand-written “I love you” or any kind of short note that came from my children’s hand. I even saved the thank you notes from two daughters, whose husband died young.
Also, in my scrapbook, are recent hand-written pages, some short or long, from my family. They were asked to write up a fond memory for my 70th birthday party. I was ribbed big time about trying to park a car, making funny noises, and getting lost easily.
I love to be stroked like a kitten. I’ve never been stroked on my arm or face as much as in the 33years I’ve been married to Harry. I have to admit there are times I scream if he tries to stroke me with cold hands! Not a day goes by that his hands don’t reach out to give me hugs.
Hands from my family have been a blessing to me, whether in hand-written notes, crafty items, touches or work. I treasure each and every one of the hands of my family.