I look at the backs of my hands and wish that I had used more moisturizer.
I noticed in my thirties that the tip of my index finger on my right hand was permanently turned in from years of school work and my own extracurricular writing in spiral notebooks full of stories. Crayons, pencils and pens. Today the first knuckle on that same finger seems to have a knot on it even though I switched over to typing everything twenty years ago. I could not write as fast as my mind strung together words, thoughts and images. I could almost type that fast.
The tall finger on my right hand was stoved twice in one week in failed attempts to learn to catch a football in high school. The swelling in the first knuckle never completely left that finger, especially after that wasp stung the very same joint on a visit to Notre Dame College in South Bend, Indiana years later. I’d driven over to visit with a man about a magazine project we were trying to get off the ground. It was a beautiful Spring day to sit outside at the college and chat. I hadn’t even seen the wasp. But I felt it. Poor finger turned to stone and would not bend. For several weeks it appeared I was flipping people off indiscriminately.
I can still see the scar from the tiniest cut right at the base between the middle and ring fingers on my left hand. I was putting away a bowl of tuna fish salad. I had too many things in both my hands and was trying to hold the fridge door open with one foot when the salad bowl began to tip. I hated to clear the table and I hated to make extra trips. I was always carrying too many items at the same time. I flipped my hand to catch the bowl against the door and the slight impact caused the glass to break and one piece sliced my hand. I didn’t feel it, that is how slight it was. Suddenly there was just blood mixed in with the mayonnaise, eggs, onions and tuna. That certainly isn’t appetizing. The scar is that slight too. No one would ever notice it, except me and my memory.
There is some arthritis in both hands, I suspect. When I clench them into fists out of frustration, I feel it, the fluid that builds up in the joint and keeps the fingers from closing into an effective fist. Not all of them, just the two pointers.
I once had my palms read in a booth at the Renaissance Fair. It was not what I expected sitting down at her table the wind blowing my hair that I had just had braided at a booth nearby. The braids were too tight and starting to pull on my scalp, but I loved braids, so the headache later would be worth it. What had I expected in a palm reading? I was thinking there would be identification of lines and projections based on them. That is not what this was. She took my hands in hers and started to rock back and forth. She looked at them and began to mutter over and over the same words.
“You never done nobody no harm. You never done nobody no harm.”
It started to freak me out a little and I wanted my hands back. I got them back and thanked her, getting up and moving to the other side of the fairgrounds as quickly as possible with her words echoing in my head. They still do. I think I feel I have done people harm, but then, my idea of harm could be a negative thought. Perhaps she was right.
My mother’s hands were soft and caring, but misshapen from decades of hard work. She helped
when my father built our house in the fifties: a two-bedroom cape for a large family to come. She helped
him build the garage the year I was born: 1961. She worked inside and outside the house nearly every minute that she was awake from before the sun came up until long after it had moved beyond the horizon. She gardened vegetables that her hands cleaned and canned for our table. Her fingers organized three meals a day, every day, then cleared and washed the pans, dishes, silverware and counter-tops. Her fingers managed all the typing work she did on a used and very heavy old Royal manual typewriter. Her typing supplemented our family’s income especially when my father was laid off. There was laundry, sewing, mending, painting, scrubbing floors and walls, weeding the garden, cleaning fish, peeling endless piles of potatoes. The list goes on.
Hers were soft from constantly moisturizing with a heavy though luscious looking hand cream called Pacquins Hand Cream. “For Dream Hands, Cream Your Hands” read the ad from a late 1940’s magazine I saw on eBay. It sounds a bit suggestive today, as all old advertisements have a way of sounding.
My mother was very specific in her preference for the original one in the jar with the purple lid– not the Pacquins Plus one or the fancy one with Aloe (both of those had “funny” textures to her). They just didn’t work the same. She was constantly washing her hands, so the heavier creamy lotion was essential. It became hard to find as the beauty industry exploded in the eighties and nineties and it wasn’t considered hip enough for the shelf space at local drug stores. Then it disappeared altogether. The only product I ever found that was comparable was the Lubriderm with the pink cap. Well, it was pink at the time, they may have changed it.
My hands do not look like hers, like my mother’s. I took in typing to make money during college. I sewed until I realized I would never be as good as she was. I have not done nearly as much work as she had to do to raise a family, keep a house. I don’t do either. I worked in offices. I have always lived alone and was never quite as concerned with clean walls and food stores for future as perhaps I should have been.
I look at the backs of my hands and wish I had used more moisturizer. The cuticles around my nails are always worried into sore spots and callous. I picked at them with other fingers during classes and presentations and meetings and parties. I picked and drove hard nails into them to remind myself where I was and that there were specific ways to behave and think. I rubbed them to calm their bloodied tips as assurance that whatever event would soon be over. I hid them embarrassed in my pockets or wrapped around each other so that no one would see.
I have been obsessed with hands for some time now. I have a file on my computer with images of other people’s hands. I like to capture their hands at work. Hands are creators, engineers, artists, musicians. They are comforting and connecting and they can be angry and defensive.
My work was fear and discomfort and anxiety. It has shaped my hands the way housework shaped my mother’s hands.
They could all use some Pacquins.