My mama’s hands

When I was growing up, and even into adulthood, it bothered me to no end that I didn’t look like either of my parents. My twin brother Mike is the spitting image of our dad, right down to his mannerisms. And my younger brother Robert shares my Mom’s ears, nose, and square jawline. Both inherited their wavy hair from my mom’s dad and grandfather. Though I had been told I looked “like an Odette,” I couldn’t see it, and I knew I definitely didn’t look like my mom or anyone in her family. I’d even go so far as to point it out, once posting a photo on social media of the two of us and saying, “We may not look alike, but we can both wear cheery yellow,” or something along those lines. Perhaps a year ago, though, I saw a photograph of my dad’s mom (and one of his sister) that I’d never seen before, and I was thrilled to finally see something of myself in Grandma Lee and Aunt Janet, to finally feel some origin and identity.

My dad’s mom, Alma Lee Brewer Odette, whom I’m told I favor.

I have always been fascinated by my mom’s hands. They are small, with slender fingers and fast-growing beautiful nails. And they are capable and strong. On the occasion of her 76th birthday this past November, I paid tribute to those very hands with these words and a photo I had taken in April of 2014.

These hands have baked thousands and thousands of cookies for scouts and others. They have crocheted baby booties and layette sets and afghans and shawls. They have prayed for church members and friends and strangers. They have taught and disciplined and guided and comforted. And they have held mine more times than I can count. They are the hands of my sweet mama, who on this occasion of her 76th birthday, begins a new chapter in her life in a strange new place.  Happy birthday with all my love, Mama J — we reach out our hands in welcome, and to hold yours.

I can’t remember if it was this past September or February, but on one trip to visit her in Missouri last year, my mom and I were holding hands, and almost simultaneously recognized that we were looking at nearly identical hands … hers, still lovely though starting to tremble and to bear the wrinkles and bruises of time and medication, and mine, beginning to show their 50 years. It was a wonderful moment, for me, at least, but I think for both of us. There it was, the unrecognized familial connection I had been searching for with my mom.

I didn’t realize as I began to photograph my mom after she moved to Louisiana that her hands began to play a dominant role in the photographs. In one, she clasps a cup of hot cocoa. In another, she holds some cards as we play an evening game of cribbage. She and Brian sweetly hold hands on a restaurant table. She clasps her hands in front of her, almost as if in prayer, while she sleeps during a nebulizer treatment. In still another photo, she is waiting for a haircut, her hair just washed, her hands clasped in her lap, and somehow despite all the elements of that photo, the light shines down on her hands.

I don’t know what I am trying to capture, consciously or otherwise, in these repeated images. Is it the proof that I came from her, that we do, after all, share the bond I could never see? Am I searching for my own future? Or am I trying to hang on to these moments to treasure when I will no longer have her hand to hold, or to caress my head, or to grasp my arm as I now provide support to her? Wendell Berry, the wonderful poet to whom I often turn when words of my own are simply insufficient, might say that she and I are part of the larger circle, of a lasting line of hands to hold and be held. Whatever the reason, I know that as long as we are both able, I will keep holding my mama’s hands, and letting her hold mine.

The Larger Circle

We clasp the hands of those that go before us,

And the hands of those who come after us.

We enter the little circle of each other’s arms

And the larger circle of lovers,

Whose hands are joined in a dance

And the larger circle of all creatures

Passing in and out of life

Who move also in a dance

To a music so subtle and vast that no ear hears it

Except in fragments.

–Wendell Berry

Next post: Blur


6 thoughts on “My mama’s hands”

  1. I can relate sooooo much to this post, Gail! My mother had beautiful hands, and the memory of her soft, firm grasp of my fingers in her final days is what I turn to often, and it will always bring me to tears. I can’t believe it’s been a year, now, since we lost her. Love to you and the whole family!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Love to you, too, sweet girl. Has it been a year already? I can’t even begin to process what it will be like when that day comes. Thanks for being such a special part of our family for all these years. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Like our eyes are the windows to our souls, I believe our hands are the windows to our hearts. Sometimes they say what we just cannot find the words for. Like you, I always admired my mothers beautiful hands. At the end of her life, they spoke what her heart wanted to say but knew that we did not want to hear. Your writings are so beautiful. Thank you for allowing us to share this journey with your.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t think my hands much resembled my mom’s. I have trouble, in fact, seeing hers in my mind. One of my sister’s, however, has hands which are identical copies of those of our dad and, in turn, our paternal grandmother. My father has been gone for forty years, my grandmother about three decades, and I never see my sister’s hands without experiencing an actual physical shock and a slight trembling.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s