(Note: This was originally written ten years ago. My mother is now 91 and still living in her own home. My father passed away at age 90 about three years ago. I am thankful to still have Mom.)
Last Sunday I was moved by the words of the anthem the choir sang. Being one of the choir members, the words had more time to sink in for me than for most who only heard the song once. The name of the anthem was “His Hands,” and it was so touching as it described the multitude of ways Jesus showed us his love through his hands–beginning with His healing and other miracles He performed including feeding the multitudes, and ending with his crucifixion and resurrection. By Sunday afternoon I was reflecting on the song and thinking about other people who have shown love to me through their hands, and it was my mother who first came to my mind.
Mama was the best back scratcher anyone could ask for. Her nails were smooth and even and she worked from top to bottom making sure not to miss any spots. How many times she scratched my back as a child, I will never know, but neither will I forget.
My earliest memories of Mama’s hands were of her sewing. When we lived in Gary she sewed dresses for me, in the post World War II era, out of shirt scraps from a nearby shirt factory. I had some of the nicest dresses that could be worn during those years. Joan, cousin Marcia, a neighbor girl and I all benefited from those shirt scraps and Mama’s creativity.
With so many brothers and sisters, money stretched only so far. Consequently, not all of Mama’s sewing was for pretty dresses. I remember a time when she even sewed panties (or maybe they were bloomers–my understanding was somewhat limited as you will see). I also remember hearing her say something one day to the effect that she wasn’t wearing any underwear. So I took it in my young head that when women were grown they stopped wearing them. I decided that I wanted to be grown like Mama and went outside in my dress–without any panties. It wasn’t long before Mama saw me out the window and became aware of the missing garment. She quickly called me in to ask why I wasn’t wearing them, and then she explained to me that women didn’t stop wearing panties when they grew up, but that she just didn’t have any left that were wearable. I suspect it wasn’t long after that before she bought or made some for herself. I wonder if those were the panties I remember seeing her make.
Another early memory of Mama’s hands were of curling my hair. After Saturday night baths, Mama would towel dry my hair and use bobby pins to set the curls. I was so proud of my curly hair on Sunday mornings.
Not all my memories of Mama’s hands were as pleasant, though I recall them with appreciation, as I now understand that they were there for the purpose of developing my character and self discipline. I’ll never forget the time I ran when she called me because I had done something wrong, and I knew she was going to spank me. Instead of getting one spanking, I got two. I have long since forgotten what the first spanking was for, but I never ran from Mama again.
Mama kept most of her spankings within the family, but there were two occasions I recall where she caught off guard an unsuspecting misbehaving youngster that was not her own. My cousin Marcia was one of the recipients. I think the incident had something to do with the right way and the wrong way to get a shampoo. The other recipient was a neighbor boy in Rochester who wouldn’t listen when she told him to stop doing something that was dangerous to others around him.
Something else that Mama did with her hands was to hold the story books she read to us. I remember a Bible story book that she must have read to me quite often. Once I recall being praised in Sunday School for being a good listener. I just smiled, but I really knew I didn’t deserve the praise since I hadn’t been listening at all, I just knew the answer from the stories Mama had read to me. As we all grew older, I remember other books Mama read to us. I’ll never forget her voice ringing out, “Tom…, Tom…, come home Tom!” as she read the book Tom Sawyer to us, more than once.
Mama’s hands were hard working hands that never quit. When we lived on the farm she worked hard and did whatever jobs there were that needed to be done. They planted, drove a tractor, pulled weeds, picked the harvest, sold vegetables to customers who came to our house, and kept up with meals and laundry for 5 youngsters the whole time. Meal time didn’t come easily either. Before we remodeled the house, she cooked on a wood stove in the old kitchen, stoking up a fire burning wood and corncobs for fuel. About ten years later, when we camped out for two summers on Center Hill Lake in Tennessee, she took it all in stride once again. Using only a Coleman camp stove, keeping the small tank on the side filled with white gasoline, and keeping the pressure pumped up, she kept us well fed.
Mama’s hands made beautiful music. We have had a piano almost everywhere we have lived. I have enjoyed many wonderful moments around the piano singing with family members and relatives. Songs like “Today is Mine,” “Back of the Clouds,” and “Jesus is All the World to Me” were some favorites from the hymnals. If Mama didn’t have the music she just played what she could from memory, and she played a little by ear as well. Eventually she bought an organ and has thoroughly enjoyed it. She had other less known musical talents as well. When I was about seven or eight I was given a ukulele for Christmas. Mama tuned it up, played and sang. One favorite started out, “I took my gal to the ball one night, It was a fancy hop…” Paul Wayne learned the chorus to that song and sang it for us often.
Mama’s hands have always been creative. On the farm there was little time for creativity, but as soon as we moved to Lapel they came back to life. She was soon making beautiful candles and floral arrangements and dried weed arrangements. She even operated her own store in the living room of the upstairs apartment in our house where she sold her lovely arrangements.
She became the expert on decorating for church events. At the end of my senior year in high school she made the decorations for a banquet to honor the graduates. The take home favors were hand blown painted eggs. Inside each egg was a diorama scene that included a tiny graduation cap and a rolled and tied “diploma,” all hand made, of course. I am sure that many of my classmates treasured their eggs for years. After having decorated for banquets for several years, Mama put together a small book called “Pauline’s Pretty Party Plans” that showed her different party ideas and how to make them. Daddy helped her to print the copies using the old duplicator he still had from the time he was a church pastor. The books were advertised in a craft magazine and sold for $1.00 each.
In Murfreesboro, Mama found other craft projects that she enjoyed. These included cross-stitch, hand decorated stationary, plaster of Paris figures, and many others including a gorgeous type of embroidery, called Brazilian embroidery. But her greatest pride and joy has become her painting. She has practiced and blossomed until her work has become well known in Murfreesboro. Her paintings have often been displayed in the city library as well as at the Art League. More recently she illustrated an alphabet book I wrote called Backyard ABC’s.
Mama has always loved flowers. I don’t ever recall a time when we didn’t have flowers growing somewhere around the house in the summertime. Our house in Murfreesboro has been a haven for Mama’s flowers, as her hands have set out little flower beds here and big ones there all over the back yard and on down to the lake. Mama and Daddy have both worked many untold hours making the back yard into a showcase. The yard has even been featured in the Murfreesboro newspaper.
Mama has always loved to fish. When we moved to Murfreesboro she was in fisherman’s heaven, as she only had to go out the back door to throw out a line. The crappies would nest under the shrubs in the corner of the yard, so that quickly became her favorite place to fish (or “feed the babies” depending on the size of her catch). I especially enjoyed fishing for catfish with Mama in the middle of the night. We poled out into the middle of the lake on the detachable pier and dropped anchor. Then we fished to our hearts content in the moonlight and caught quite a few catfish.
Mama, God bless you and your precious tender hands. And God bless Daddy, too, for encouraging you and giving you the room to grow and to bloom where you were planted.
© 1999, 2009 by Janice Green