Her tears salted the bowl of water filling fast with the blood of my middle finger, slashed in a whirling bicycle wheel, teased there by an irresistible orange paper flying round the spokes and the boy’s taunt:
“Just put your finger in, Gloria” … and I did, I was three years old. Her hands folded mine in her own, commanding the red flow to cease.
It is the earliest memory of my Mothers hands.
I often watched her hands gracefully skim the keys of the piano; sat on her bed while she painted the tips of her fingers red; lightly powder her face (only a little; she never needed much) clasp a necklace in place with a wink toward me as she sashayed around the bedroom, happy and ready for Friday night out with Daddy.
I though she was surely the most beautiful woman in the world.
Eye level with the counter top I waited with saliva filled mouth…alert…knowing I would soon lick the knife and spoon she deftly swirled as her hands conjured up her magic elixirs: pound cakes, lemon imaginations, chocolate drop cookies and “no-names,” always the favorite.
Well…that and the best Mac and Cheese in the South. And, yes, those always-busy, rarely-resting hands on occasion impatiently slammed pots in the kitchen, snapped the air with unequivocal directions, demanding and getting everyone’s full attention — and obedience. But, like the occasional storm, the air was soon clear and the hands returned to shaping the world around her to be beautiful and clean.
Her hands and fingers stitched and sewed the colors and yards, silk, velvet, brocade, cotton, laces, bangles, buttons, beads and embroidery threads as delicate as a spider web. There were clothes for dancing all night or prancing before a band; clothes practical and over-the-moon gorgeous all came together in her hands.
More than not, they ended up on my body in the “ou’s” and “ah’s” of my friends.
Despite a lack of household hard money I waltzed through my school years with the confidence of the well- dressed teen and right into my years of tight budgets and small babies.
Stalking a good fabric in a sea of bad ones, her hands caressed bolt after bolt of cloth until …. ah, ha, she found the one overlooked by those unaware or seeking the ordinary.
Like any champion claiming the hill, she marched to check-out, her hands holding tight her victory, usually savoring an “on sale” signature.
Lizzie of Carolina I called her, a fitting designer’s name, though she was too modest to claim it.
I don’t recall her ever making anything for herself.
I can see her now, hands to elbows, in another’s hair, braiding and brushing, combing, perming, coloring, shaping, patting. And listening, to someone’s pain to another’s dreams. It was her perfect cover for comforting, healing, assuring. In process, it paid the bills and served her drive to put right and beautify all things around her, including hair….
….. Or a garden where her hands could call forth flowers from a stubborn patch of land. She called and they came, into garden after garden, everywhere she lived – dancing daisies and long stemmed lily’s multicolored irises, green or every hue and plants with names so colorful they made you laugh to wonder who called them such in the beginning.
Rainbows of Light flowed through those hands as she massaged a neck, back and a foot, even when, toward the end, she couldn’t name the body part she served.
It didn’t matter. The direct channel was from her heart to her hands and needed no words. Tired, overtime girls, caring for old bodies in the Home, reached for relief from her hands.
“Miz Lizabeth, would you put those hands on my shoulder.” She always did and the blessings poured through her.
She discovered joy in a paint box, her hands becoming as skilled and at ease with brush and color as with the practical arts of the kitchen, colors or garden.
Then came the passage in time when those efficient, confident hands moved cautiously through drawers and cabinets, no longer sure of which went where with what and …. Why? When the brain forgot to give her hands instructions, they were restless, running repeatedly over the colored pens and tubs of paint, knowing they were hers, trying to remember why she liked them.
Near the end, her hands lay quiet as we manicured them. Still, there was a faint little smile when the job was done, perhaps a reminder of her youth when lunch money was paid to the manicurist.
The last week those elegant hands lay aside her body, occasionally fluttering around the top of a sheet, reaching to hold a Teddy Bear or a waiting hand that needed her assurance, her last anointing of love.
And then, after ninety-six years of service,
they were still, at peace