My Mother’s Hands
Special to The Union
Mother’s Day is here. That one day of the year when little kids honor that special woman in their lives with burnt toast in bed, ceramic handprints, or calling out a simple, “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom” as they scurry out the door to play. Us older “kids” will honor Mom with a phone call or flowers. Dinner out is essential. As a matter of fact, it’s a law … no mother has to cook on Mother’s Day! No, really! I think I saw that on “Cops” one night.
Kay became my mom back in 1958. She was 43 years old. It wasn’t until I was well into my 20s and had my first child that I began to wonder why anyone who already had three boys, ages 6, 7 and 8 (Mom and Dad were certainly busy during those 3 years!) would start all over again with the sleepless nights and endless diaper changes.
With the boys now in school she was finally free between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., but with my arrival those free hours would be a thing of the past. When I became an adult, her friends told me that although she was “thrilled” to finally have a little girl, the word “whoops” was probably the sentiment felt at the moment my mom found out she was pregnant with me. (I think the word “thrilled” was replaced by other words such as agitated, frustrated, bewildered by the time I hit puberty!)
Anyhow, she and Dad brought me home from the hospital, this curly-haired, chubby-cheeked, blue-eyed rug rat, to the three boys who were most likely less than thrilled with this new addition to the family.
I can just imagine their reaction, “What!?!? A girl?!?!? Yuck!!! Can you take her back and get a puppy instead?”
Kay was a great mom. I don’t know how she handled the four of us with such ease. It was as though she had a pair of hands for each one of us. Ahhh, and what wonderful hands she had! My earliest recollection of those hands is at the age of 5. That curly mop I was born with had grown into a long, wavy mane of hair all the way down to my hind quarters. Mom always had my bangs cut perfectly straight and then she brushed it, for what seemed like days, into a very neat and tidy ponytail. No lumps or bumps, it was simply perfect.
She also used her hands to make the best chocolate cake in town. Made from scratch, this cake was so light and fluffy, topped with homemade chocolate frosting so rich and creamy. A piece of it would today probably equal 47 Weight Watchers points. No one else’s mom could make a cake like that. And when she’d pack a slice of it in my lunch bag all of the other kids would try to trade me something – anything – from their own lunches for that cake.
“Hey, Peggy, I’ll trade you some saltine crackers for that cake!” Yeah, right. There was nothing I would trade my cake for. Not even for a Ding Dong. It was simply to-die-for good chocolate cake.
Mom would use those great hands of hers to cook dinner for the six of us seven nights a week. Eating out was not a common thing and on the rare occassions we did, we’d all pile into our stylish ’63 Chevy station wagon, and head to, where else, but McDonald’s.
That was our big dinner out about twice per month. My dad would lower the tailgate on the station wagon, my brothers and I would plop ourselves down on it, Mom would hand out the hamburgers and fries and Cokes and we thought that life just could not be any better than this. We were a family of 6 on one salary as Mom was a stay-at-home-mom, so McDonald’s was a big splurge. Yes, that was back in the ice age, when a hamburger, fries and small Coke cost a whopping $.58.
My mom’s hands came in handy whenever I needed a back scratch. Her perfectly manicured fingernails (done herself, never ever professionally) felt wonderful across my back. Nobody could bake a chocolate cake or scratch a back like Kay.
She also kept our home impeccably clean with those great hands of hers. I can still picture her on her hands and knees, scrubbing the kitchen floor. There were no Swiffer Wet Jets back then. She was the human version of a Swiffer Wet Jet. And the human version of a dishwasher. too. She’d clean our camp site at the Shady Rest Campground during our annual summer vacations in Mammoth Lakes. To this day – and I don’t know why – but I would see her, broom in her hands, sweeping up the pine needles that fell endlessly on and around the picnic table. We were camping, for pete’s sake, there’s supposed to be pine needles!!
She kept the camper dirt free, at least until the rest of us returned from a long day of fishing all muddy, sweaty and tired and messed it up all over again. This was truly no vacation for her. She didn’t like fishing nor did she enjoy camping. She went along merely to cook and clean for the rest of us yet never once did she ever utter one complaint. At least none that were audible. She was probably saying, “Stupid *!#~! camping” under her breath.
With her hands she put my hands together and taught me how to pray. This came in handy as I entered Catholic elementary school. I was scared to death that first day of school as she held my hand in hers and led me into the first grade classroom. I begged her to stay, just for few minutes, or at least until I could figure out who on earth this lady was at the front of the room dressed in a black veil, white floor length dress, big black shoes with a gigantic cross hanging from her waist. Mom sat at the back of the room and waited.
When I realized how genuinely sweet that lady at the front of the room was, I gave my Mom the nod that I was okay and she could leave. She now had the hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. free once again. And when I say “free” I don’t mean she was free to go out to lunch with the girls or to the tanning salon (because tanning salons hadn’t been invented yet). She was free to clean and do laundry and prepare the evening meal without the constant interruption of four kids.
Unfortunately, I did not inherit her love of having a perfectly neat and tidy home. I’m not a slob by any means, I have my neat little piles everywhere, but I would much rather work outdoors in the yard. I developed this love of yard work at around the age of 8. Yes, I had three older brothers but they didn’t share this love of yard work with me. They were busy inside, blasting Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin music, (or as Mom called it, “awful noise”). I was the one out there on Saturday mornings mowing the lawn and trimming bushes.
Yes, I was quite the landscaping professional, or so I thought. Mom had this absolutely huge, beautiful sword fern growing in a pot, strategically placed in the yard so that if one was to walk by our house they would be able to see and admire it. In my own 8 year-old-landscaping-professional mind I felt that fern needed a trim, so with hedge clippers in hand I began my magic. I felt much like a pint sized Edward Scissorhands. I clipped and cut and continued clipping and cutting until I was right down to the roots. There were 2 fronds left standing. Erma Bombeck once wrote, “I love my mom for all times she said absolutely nothing.”
This was one of those times.
My mom came out the front door, took one look at the hundreds of fronds lying on the ground, at the 2 fronds left standing straight up in the pot (I think those 2 fronds were as scared to death as I was at that moment), and then looked up at me. The death ray. I thought for sure this was the end of my short life. I thought for sure she was going to walk over to me and, with those hands of hers, smack me hard upside the head. But she didn’t, she simply turned and walked away. Oh my gosh, the guilt! With one look she had spoken volumes. Stupid hedge clippers.
Mom used her hands to slather suntan lotion on me during those hot summer months. You’d think I would have paid attention to what she was doing and why she was doing it. Nope, I didn’t. I went go to the beach with a group of friends one hot, Southern California Saturday, slathered on a great deal of baby oil and proceeded to cook my front side for 5 hours straight. Mom drove me to the doctor, where I was diagnosed to have a 2nd degree sunburn over 50 percent of my body in addition to sun poisoning. I blistered for days, peeled for weeks and was sick as could be. SPF 30 and I have been best of friends ever since. Stupid sun.
Mom has made some amazing embroidery pieces and used to sew a lot with those talented hands. They were works of art in my opinion. This was yet another trait I did not inherit from my mother. I attempted to learn how to sew my freshman year in high school. The only thing I succeeded in sewing was my thumb to the machine itself, and was removed quickly (and permanently) from the class. Once again Mom used her skilled hands to drive the car while holding onto my thumb to drive me to the doctor to remove the needle protruding from it. Stupid sewing machine.
Now that I think about it, she had to drive me to the doctor quite often. At age 6 I had a tricycle accident. I wasn’t actually riding the tricycle, but being dragged behind it, crouched down, holding on to the rear bar while wearing skates, my friend pedaling as fast as he could go. It was so much fun, until he hit something and my little red tricycle flipped over. The rear wheel axle went through my leg. There must not have been a Consumer Protection Agency like there is today, because I highly doubt you would find a metal rod sticking out of a child’s bike these days. Off to the doc for several stitches. Stupid tricycle.
A broken right ankle doing gymnastics. Off to the doc. A broken left ankle playing volleyball. Doc. Numerous bouts of tonsillitis. Doc. Doc. Doc.
While at a slumber party at the wonderful age of 15, someone yelled out, “Who wants to go streaking?.” It was 1973. Streaking was the latest fad, it was all the rage. “I do, I do!!!” I exclaimed, and out onto one of the busiest boulevards in our town we went. The only thing I had on were my socks (it was a bit cold outside that night). My friend and I threw off the blankets we had wrapped around us, and there we stood in all of our glory, nakie except for a pair of white knee high socks. “Run, you guys, RUN!” All of the other afraid-to-run-nakie-girls screamed. And we ran. Like the wind.
The problem was I got to running far faster than my legs could go. I tripped, fell off of the curb and into the street. Talk about bringing traffic to a stop! Nobody honked, I don’t recall anyone even getting out their cars. I guess streaking was so common that they weren’t surprised. I think they were more annoyed with the situation than anything else, I was a stupid teenager and I was holding up traffic. I lay there in the street, hands throbbing, knees bleeding, white knee high socks all dirty. I knew I had definetely broken something. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time, but the pain got the best of me and I laid there and cried until the other girls came and carried me off.
How on earth, I wondered, was I going to explain this one to Mom?
I waited until the next morning to call her to come pick me up. It took all night to come up with my lie, I mean story. I laid there with an ice pack on my hand, watching it swell more and more with each passing hour. When Mom showed up, I got in the car and I said, “Um, Mom, um, I think I broke something” as I held up my hand. She gasped, grabbed ahold of that steering wheel with those hands of hers and once again we were off to the doctor. “How did you do THAT?” she asked, quite perturbed that I seemed to be injured every time she turned around.
I really enjoyed living and breathing so I told her my tale of woe … that I had forgotten my pillow out in so-and-so’s car and when I went out to get it it was dark, I didn’t see the sprinkler hole and I fell. Several hours, hundreds of dollars and 5 broken fingers later I had my latest in a series casts applied. It was many years after that, when I was 21, out on my own and well beyond Mom being able to ground me that I told her the truth.
She didn’t believe it and to this day, 33 years later, she still chooses to believe that I fell in that sprinkler hole, because really, what Mom wants to think that their teenage daughter would willingly participate in such a ridiculous fad such as streaking. Stupid fad.
Since Mom was 43 when she had me the inevitable was going to happen … I was going to hit puberty just as she was hitting menopause. Puberty vs. menopause, a very bizarre, mind-boggling combination (sort of like David Spade and Heather Locklear). Mom used her hands a lot during those trying years, mostly to haul me by the arm out of stores when I’d throw a fit. “I NEED those expensive platform shoes! That mini skirt is NOT too short! This blouse is NOT too tight!” Her patience level was a bit thin and I didn’t get it, and this was because things like puberty, menopause and s-e-x were not discussed in strict Catholic homes.
Had I known about hormones I very possibly would have cut her a break! Then again, maybe not, because I was a teen and I was positive I knew everything about anything. Stupid hormones.
I am now all grown up (well, sort of, I am part of the baby boomer generation, a group I am convinced will never completely grow up). Mom is now 90, her mind still sharp as a tack, her sense of humor still makes us laugh out loud. In her hands she holds the remote control to the TV, zeroed in on QVC. I tell her to change the channel, nobody needs that many cubic zirconia rings and besides, she’s spending our inheritance. She laughs that hearty laugh. She no longer makes those chocolate cakes but that’s okay.
She did the job she devoted herself to and I think she did it extremely well. All four of us turned out to be pretty good humans, I mean, none of us have ever robbed a bank, attempted a carjacking nor were any of us involved in the Enron scandal. I have 2 kids of my own. My mom has held them and her other 5 grandkids in her loving hands. This year she has been holding her first great grandchild. I often wonder and hope that these grandkids realize just how terrific their grandmother is. How funny she is.
She really is one in a million. And when I slide up next to her as she sits on her couch, and I take that remote control out of her hand and turn off QVC, she still gives one heck of a great back scratch with those amazing, wonderful, still perfectly manicured hands of hers.
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