The hands of my fam­ily

The Boyertown Area Times - - OPINION - Ca­role Christ­man Koch

Farm Woman

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.

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