Saturday, March 11, 2017

Hands of History

Ever since I was a very young child I have been attracted to people's hands. I recall watching my father's hands whenever he would describe something. His fingers, long and lithe, were weathered from years of hard work, yet the fingernails were perfectly oval and smooth, like polished pebbles on the beach at Dingle bay.

I loved my mother's hands, the way she would articulate her fingers when she was speaking, the way her hands held parcels, or folded linens.

As I age, my hands are beginning to resemble those of my mother, so much so that sometimes I 'see' my mother in the movements of my hands, when I open a door or pat someone on the shoulder. In a strange way it is as though a part of her is with me.

On the hands of the very old, their skin is often loose and wrinkly, and it has a sort of translucence to it so that you can see the blues and reds of the veins and capillaries making their way ever closer to the surface. The fingers of old hands may be slightly crooked from arthritis or injury, but for me they represent history. I imagine the work those hands have done, the documents they have signed, perhaps to defy a colonizer and found a country, or more simply to sign a note, witness a marriage, or buy a home. Whose hands have they held tight?

Whenever I look at photographs I look at the hands of the individuals in them and think about what those hands mean.

The image on the right is clipped from a larger photograph of my maternal grandparents and their sons. In it my maternal grandmother, Mary Fitzpatrick Ball, is holding her youngest child Tom, her hands are drawn together, supporting him on her lap. A few short months after this photo was taken Tom was dead and those hands wrapped him in swaddling clothes for burial.

Hands connect us and draw us together. Hands protect us, and sometimes push us apart. When you are first introduced to someone you can tell so much just by looking at their hands. On an elderly person they are usually weathered and aged, marked by the daily living of a long life, while on an infant they are smooth, soft and unblemished, so full of possibility.



  1. Replies
    1. Colleen, thanks very much for your comment; always much appreciated. BTW, Happy St. Patrick's Day to you and all of your family. ☘



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