Tuesday, April 18, 2006

My mother's hands

My mother died in December 1999. At her funeral my aunt, in an effort to comfort me, told me to touch her one last time, not to be afraid of her body now that she was no longer in it. So I did. I went up to the coffin and I touched her hand. I don't know why people use the word "cold" to describe the dead. Mom wasn't cold; she was hard, stiff. In the act of touching her hand I knew that she was gone completely, that I would never have her with me again.

Those hands should not have been stiff. My mother's hands were where she expressed her life. From my earliest memories those hands were on the move. She "worried" them all the time: moving them back and forth, gently wringing them, turning small objects over and over in them. Her favourite worry object was the humble bread tie. When we were kids and she was doing her damnest to raise us on her own, we would snuggle into bed with her and find hard plastic bread ties scattered all over the sheets.

She also had her own way of pointing at objects. Instead of holding her hand like a gun and pointing as most people do, she held her hand flat, parallel to the ground and gestured with a curve to her pointer finger and a curve to her arm. It's hard to describe this action of hers but it was all hers. No one had hands that moved like my mother's.

Until now. My daughter was born with my mother's hands. I noticed it right off when she was still making fists that she constantly stuck in her mouth. At seven weeks, I took her to meet my family and some of my brothers and sisters noticed it as well. Miss M has my mother's hands, their shape, their movements. The pinky finger is curved, almost as if she were missing a knuckle. This biological quirk was detected inutero at 18 weeks gestation. But it's not just the pinky that's curved. There's something about the shape and movement of her hands that is best described as "curvy".

Now that Miss M is eager to expand her vocabulary, she has discovered the utility of pointing. She points at everything, hoping that I will give it a label. And yes, she has my mother's flat-hand, curved-movement, finger-point. I don't know much about who Miss M will be yet but I do know this: her life and her birthright are in her hands.

The Sorting Shelves (for a description of what the Sorting Shelves is all about see the March 15th post)
The Frog Prince and Other Poems by Stevie Smith. Longmans, Green and Co. 1966.