My Mother's Hands
by Ruby Bayan - 08/06/04
I remember first noticing my mother's hands when I was a teenager. I was born when she was almost 40, so by the time I became conscious of my own nails, she was about as old as I am now.
I had always wondered why she never wore nail polish. Her fingernails were always short. She would file them into a neat shape, polish them with a nailbrush, and trim the stray cuticles, but she never put on any fancy nail color. I thought she just didn't want to bother with the ritual.
From my teens to the years I spent in college and in the corporate arena, I kept a good set of nails. I would manicure them myself, or indulge in salon services. My fingernails were always long enough to flash crimson reds or mother-of-pearl whites -- until I became a mother.
After my son was born, doing nails became a luxury. Sporting long nails became a hazard for the baby. So from then on, I kept my nails short and clean. It was easier to care for the child, do the daily chores, and putter about without having to worry about breaking a nail. I learned to favor convenience over fashion.
Eventually, my child grew up and I would again find time to care for my hands. But that was also when I found time to engage in activities I enjoyed, like crafting, woodworking, gardening, and backpacking -- all not too kind on a set of well-manicured fingertips.
Then it became clear to me why my mother never indulged in manicures. She spent hours in the garden, repotting, transplanting, and nurturing her favorite plants with her bare hands. She sewed our clothes, crocheted our curtains, and cooked all our meals. She painted the walls, waxed the wood floors, and arranged the books in our library. She was always doing something "manual" to ensure we had the best food, clothing, and shelter.
As the years passed, my mother's hands became thin and wrinkled but they were still strong enough to massage away my migraines and backaches. Her nails took on a slight stain but surely just from mixing some herbs and spices in the kitchen, or nipping unsightly foliage in the garden.
When I look at my own unpolished, wrinkled, and sometimes-calloused fingers, I see my mother's hands. I appreciate the strength, dexterity, and resourcefulness that she taught me by example. I cherish the gift of creativity that we share.
Every time I notice my tired or dirty fingers, I whisper a silent wish that from her little corner in the clouds, my mother could see me use the power of my hands as well as she used hers.