My mother’s hands

Before they moved to Montreal two years ago, my parents spent their last night in Vancouver in a hotel. I shared one of the double beds with my mother. I’d been coughing badly that week, and it always seemed to get worse at night. I remember my mother stroking and patting my back as I lay there coughing. Eventually I fell asleep with her hand in mine.

My mother’s hands are part of my earliest and dearest memories.

I remember lying together in her bed on hot sticky afternoons, the room made cool by the tangled jasmine vines screening her bedroom window, and her hands turning the pages of story books as she read aloud.

I remember watching, fascinated, as she put on her make-up in the morning. Afterwards she would brush my hair and do my pigtails. Once, my father suggested that I learn how to do my own hair, to save time in the morning. We both ignored him and went on contentedly watching each other in the mirror as she made a perfectly straight part in my hair and fastened the pigtails with hair elastics that had shiny pink balls on them. This was our special ritual and we weren’t about to give it up.

Another ritual was giving me my Vitamin C. She would take a tablet of ascorbic acid, fold it into a napkin, and crush it with a table knife. Then she’d scoop the white powder into a spoon with some water and put it in my mouth.

I remember her hands tying my shoelaces…typing letters and marking papers…covering my schoolbooks with plastic…wrapping gifts…crocheting doilies…arranging our pictures in photo albums and punching out labels with her little Dymo machine…sewing my party dresses…putting make-up on my face for the first time…changing diapers on my siblings, bathing them and giving them their bottles…baking bread and stirring soup…digging out weeds and planting roses…replacing light bulbs, unclogging sinks, and painting walls…constantly occupied in the countless acts of loving service that mothers all over the world perform day after day, often without being asked, or thanked, or praised.

My mother doesn’t think her hands are very pretty. But she has used them well, and while they are not exactly the soft white hands of a lady of leisure, they are the hands that raised me, and they are the hands that hold me together. I think that next to her heart, her hands are the most beautiful part of her.


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