My Mother's HandsI remember my mother.
Most especially, I remember her hands; the soft wornness of them, weathered driftwood smooth, eroded by the endless washing of dishes, socks and rags. Skin nearly translucent, stretched soft, like material that has long ago lost its cling.
Velvet and ropes.
I remember the scent of Jergens, how she continually smoothed the cream into her palms and then wrung her hands together, washing in the lotion with the twists and turns of her wrists and fingers, twirling her wedding ring to include the skin covered by its band.
I remember her touch on my forehead at night, cool and strong, smoothing back my hair and reminding me, "I love you. Good night."
That same strength twisted my ear and pinched the back of my arm with such violence that tears rose instantly in my eyes though my voice remained silent; Church was no place for crying. One needed to be still. While her voice, alto and sure, sang, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."
I feel her hands on my shoulders, pushing against my resistance. "Kiss your sisters goodbye. They're going to school. You never know what might happen. Kiss them."
Not even slicing gave away its secrets, revealing only a bland and acceptable whiteness. The loaves sat next to the cookies, buns, the pies and tarts all piled on the dining room table covered in the brown heavy parcel paper. Paper, no longer dull. Instead, amber-shiny, oiled and wax-like from years of use. Folded every week, sliding between the cupboard and stove for reuse again on the next baking day.
Baking day was never on Monday. Monday involved the whipping and snapping of sheets, shirts pinned and stretched to the squawking clothesline. And, in the later years, tumbled to warm wonder in the electric dryer - but always, always on a Monday.
The copper and cream coloured radio tuned to CFVR with the hog market report, the funeral announcements, local events and news. Sometimes Mom standing at the sink, staring out past the cherry tree, tears on her cheeks, blank. Were those the nights where she seemed to come down from a far-off distance as I lay so tiny, tiny in my bed?
Baking day wasn't Sunday either. Sunday was for Church and visiting, for the good dishes, the good shoes and the good clothes and for pin curls from painful Saturday sleeps with bobby pins that poked and cramped and pinched.
Baking day wasn't Saturday. Saturday was family workday. All the Sunday shoes lined up on the garbage can lids at the back porch and always rubbed with the same rag, thick with years of polish and then buffed with the brushes, ready for the next day's presentation. Saturday was the day to drive to the dump or up to Stave Falls to get more sand for the sand box. It was the day to wear the after-school play clothes - the clothes that were put on and taken off in the porch all week to save the school clothes from becoming too worn.
Though somehow the chicken lunch was served, eyes averted from God, rationalized and justified by details. Since it was not a meal that involved stirring or additions, it could be argued that it nearly cooked itself. As if, in fact, it was barely work at all. Chicken, potatoes, carrots and prunes placed in the darkened blue enamel casserole - lid on and baking while my sisters and I squirmed in our pews at Cedar Valley Mennonite Church. And then, after the last amen, we returned to our chicken-scented home where the bounty was removed from the oven.
I remember my mother's capable hands, big and strong, using her frayed potholders to lift the cover, releasing the steamy-fragrant cloud of warmth and comfort. The toasty-brown potatoes split with the heat, revealing powdery soft interiors, the carrots caramelized and the prunes reduced to smear their molasses-coloured butteriness on the chicken.
"For this we are about to receive, the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen."The power of my father was never doubted.
All of it served on our Sunday dishes, the Dogwood set, the Royal Albert, the finest dishes for the best day. And the Bohemian cut-crystal glasses, with their stickers still affixed proclaiming their Genuine Lead Crystal-ness. Everything washed so carefully and placed back in the hutch in the dining room. Dried with tea towels embroidered with either fruit or vegetable motifs, or the days of the week or floral baskets. Tea towels releasing whiffs of Javex from their ironed crispness, ready for the next week's work - artifacts from a time where details mattered, where pride of place was an accomplishment. Tea towels as trophies. Bread as proof. Hands as reminders. I look down at my own hands now and see my mother's hands; the soft wornness of them, weathered driftwood smooth, eroded by the endless washing of dishes and the passage of time. Skin that is becoming translucent, stretched soft, like material that is losing its cling.
And I remember.
I remember my mother.