Monday, November 22, 2010

My Thumb

At some point on a four-hour plan ride yesterday, I looked at my thumb…and saw my mother.  It’s a utilitarian, middle-aged digit.  Not as skinny as Mum’s, but the same wrinkles, short nails with ridges, dry skin. 

It’s disturbing. 

I don’t like getting older, looking in the mirror and seeing new sternness in my facial features and wrinkles and gray hair (let’s not start on the body changes, okay?).  However, every once in a while I see my mother in a way that surprises me.  And when I do, aging doesn’t bother me quite so much.

What do I recall from my mother’s hands? 

They were constantly busy.  My mother was rarely still.  Even when she watched television, her hands would be busy, knitting. 

Their rough texture and short nails came from years upon years of scrubbing floors, doing laundry, washing dishes, and tending to babies.  Cleansers were abrasive and took a toll on her skin over time. 

I never knew my mother with young hands.  I was born when she was almost 39.  My daughter will never know my hands young—she was born when I was almost 40. 

Anya told me a few weeks ago that I am getting old because my hands are wrinkled.  And then she admitted that she was worried about this because if I get old I will die.  My sweet girl.  I remember being worried about losing my parents when I was around her age (maybe a little older)…because they were older than most other kids’ parents.  But here I am, at 45.  My mother is 84 and, although weakened, still going.  My Dad died only last year, just short of his 90th birthday.  In contrast, my husband’s father died …I think before he turned 60.  Howard was only 25. 

You never know what life will bring.

Before my father died, my mother spent a lot of time holding his hand.  One of the last times that I saw them together, they were holding hands and singing a song from their youth.  My father had lost almost all touch with reality, but now and then my mother’s touch could bring him back to a different and happier time.  I got a picture of that moment, a little blurry, that I named “true love.”

I spend so much time loathing the aging process, and resisting my tendency to “turn into my mother.”  Today I’d like to take a look at my thumb and celebrate this process. 

My hands are always busy.  Typing.  Knitting.  Cooking.  Sometimes cleaning.  Opening books for my children and bringing them to new imaginary worlds.  Opening old documents and searching them for clues about the past.  Taking pictures to capture ordinary moments that fascinate me.

My thumb. 

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