Crescent shadows of dirt showed beneath ragged fingernails. His fingers were on the short side, tanned, and strong. They were also gentle when it counted. The skin on his hands was rough and landscaped with callouses thickened from hard, punishing work.Â Iâ€™m thinking of my fatherâ€™s hands as I write this, and yet realize the same descriptions could fit memories of my momâ€™s hands, Grandmaâ€™s hands, and most of the farm folk I knew as a child.
Dadâ€™s hands were always busy.Â He was a masonry foreman, and worked side by side with his crew.Â Cement is hard on skin, as is lifting heavy bricks and blocks, hoisting wheelbarrows of whatever was needed up on the girders, and building scaffolding.Â When he came home on weekends he worked the farm with equal vigor and sweat.Â Although fastidious about his hygiene and appearance, Dad never owned soft hands. His work ethic wouldnâ€™t allow it. In fact, I suspect a firm handshake with another person who did own doughy skin would have dropped Dadâ€™s opinion of that man, or woman, rather quickly.
Still, I have a blurry childhood memory of Â Great-Aunt Margaret telling my mom that my hands would be ruined if she kept having me to do farm work.Â â€œDonâ€™t do that to her! Look at your hands. Is that what you want for Gail?â€Â I didnâ€™t understand then because I thought everybody had hands that showed the merits of working the land, tending animals, and being productive.Â They were as much a part of the farm wiveâ€™s attire as were aprons and olive-green rubber barn boots.
Good intentions aside, Margaretâ€™s words fell on deaf ears. Mom could care less if I had soft ladylike hands.Â There was work to do, and everyone earned their keep in our household.
I thought about hands this weekend as I watched my husband â€œmake sawdust,â€ as he likes to say.Â Whenever he has a lot on his mind working with wood calms him.Â He needs to stay focused on the task or the table saw will do irreparable damage to the wood or to his appendages.
My husband is a dentist, and as such has to wear gloves when he sees his patients. His hands should be soft and unblemished, but they are not. Like my father, my husband believes in working with his hands.Â At any given time he has assorted cuts, bruises, and callouses. When I ask where this or that cut came from he usually shrugs and seems surprised they are there. His nails are short, with ridges from misaimed hammers, drill bits, and dropped boards.
I love my husbandâ€™s hands.Â They are hands with a story…masculine, and yet like Dadâ€™s, they are gentle when it counts.