Growing up in a family of older people, I was accustomed to seeing hands that were wrinkled, twisted and callused from many years of hard work in the fields, woods and houses of country home places. The hands of many were also full of ugly dark splotches on the backs where bangs and scratches caused the thin skin of the aged person to form purple bruises at the slightest touch. One active great aunt in particular had hands more purple than tan. I’ve often wondered what all those hands I’d seen had done over the years, especially in the “old days,” when times were different. My father, who passed away at age 59, had just gotten to that stage where his once tough skin had turned thin and sensitive to bruising, though his hands were still as large and strong as ever.
I turn 59 in a couple weeks myself, and my hands too, have gotten to that stage where the slightest pressure or bang makes a purple spot. Just yesterday, I was pulling the studs from my rear tires and got a good bang against the fender well. Instantly, my skin oozed blood and a purple spot about the size of a dime appeared on my left hand. A few minutes later, when I remarked to my wife about having “old man’s hands,” she reminded me that gloves were designed to protect those appendages. I’ve gotten unaccustomed to wearing gloves since I left the woods and factory work behind me. The calluses of years past are gone now, replaced by soft palms and knuckles. My hands could pass for those of a city-slicker…….almost.
I took a good look at my hands today; in fact, I even took a picture of my left hand to show you. It’s not a very good picture, but the most obvious thing is the wedding band, I suppose. I’ve gained enough weight over the years that it now sits in a deep grove on my finger. I’ve spent 36 of the last 38 years married, the last 31 to the same woman. I just tried, for the first time in a few years, to take it off and it appears that it would come off, if I so desired. That means my once meaty paw has shriveled from lack of heavy work, because for many years, it wouldn’t have come off without a major effort.
You really can’t see in the photo that most of my thumbnail and the top of that knuckle are missing. I tell folks that I fought the saw and the saw won (the 52,” 40-tooth mill saw, that is.) (Note to sawmill owners, shut the blade down before adjusting the guides, UNLESS they’re designed for it.) The small donut-shaped mark barely noticeable a couple inches above the knuckle of my index finger, and the two small whitish-looking parallel lines just above my little finger are from jumping off a horse while going down a steep gravel driveway at a canter. I’d made the mistake of thinking I could control my first horse well enough to ride him with only a halter and lead-strap. It turned out that I was mistaken, so when he was on the verge of running across the county road to see the neighbor horses across the way, I decided that he could risk his own life, but not mine. The blood loss was minimal.
That got me to thinking what all my own hands had done over the years. I remember holding my parent’s hands when I was little. I remember feeling the differences between catching grasshoppers and tadpoles. They helped pull calves from cows struggling with giving birth, and they’ve carried day-old calves a half-mile to the barn, where we could keep a better eye on a heifer and her first calf. They stroked the coat of many a dog over the years, both mine and those that belonged to others. They also held the head of my first girlfriend as we shared what was the first kiss for both of us.
They’ve grasp many an axe handle, and the handles of sledge hammers, splitting mauls and even a couple foot-adzes. They’ve held chisels and mallets, handsaws, crosscut saws and chainsaws, and have sharpened all those tools and more, even doing it for part of my living for a year or two. They’ve honed knives, axes, hatchets, machetes, Christmas tree knives, scythes and sickles. They’ve carried many thousands of feet of lumber and uncountable truckloads of slabs and firewood. They’ve shoveled tons of manure, sand, gravel, creek gravel and dirt, and carried thousands of cement blocks and bricks. They’ve forked several loads of hay and raked hay with a wooden rake made by an elderly neighbor.
They’ve fed domestic animals of several varieties and butchered squirrels, rabbits, grouse, groundhogs, muskrats and coons. They’ve skinned fox, possum and mink as well. They’ve baited hooks, unhooked fish, threw some fish back and dressed others for the skillet. They’ve whittled sticks, carved wood and kindled fires. They’ve curried horses and cattle and trimmed horses’ hooves. They’ve plaited ropes and leather and grafted fruit trees. They’ve restored antiques and torn down dilapidated houses. And, they’ve written thousands of pages of script and printing.
They’ve grasp the hands of young and old. They’ve carried many people to their waiting grave, and they’ve dug part of at least one (my father’s). They’ve hugged no small number of girlfriends in the day, lit cigarettes that I shouldn’t have smoked, and whacked about a dozen fellows up alongside the head (most of whom got in their fair share of punches themselves). They’ve stretched barbed-wire, hammered nails and served as an owl call to make turkeys gobble.
They’ve held most of those I’ve loved, including a little nephew that I “lost” when I got divorced many years ago. (He liked to sit on my knee to eat his breakfast cereal.) One of my favorite things to do with them these days is to hug my little granddaughter. All these things are just the tip of the iceberg of what my hands have done over the years. The Lord has blessed me with a couple of really handy tools on the end of my arms. Think for a minute of all the things your own hands have done over the years; it will amaze you! © 2014