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My Mother's Hands

Hands are love in action

A mother's hands do so much.

My mother was a housework wonder woman. She blasted dirt and dust out of existence.

Mum worked her household magic before washing machines, dishwashers and vacuum cleaners were invented. She spent hours at the kitchen sink washing dishes by hand and plunged her arms in rinsing water up to her elbows in the laundry. On her knees, with homemade dress tucked into her knickers, she scrubbed and polished the kitchen floor so thoroughly the Queen could’ve eaten her scone with jam and cream off it.

Mum kneaded bread dough by hand every second day, rubbed in butter and rolled out pasty for weekend fruit pies, chopped onions at a furious pace and iced cakes with skillful grace.

Then it was out to the garden, where she planted stocks, flocks and petunias in profusion, and coaxed the grass to grow up to the very edge of the quiet suburban road to make our front yard one of the local attractions.

When I was ten years old Dad joined a religion that kept Jewish holy days. To celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles with others of like faith we drove right across Australia four times

— from Perth to Sydney and back — a total of 8,000 kilometres each trip. Dad’s weekly wage wouldn’t cover the cost of petrol for these arduous expeditions, so Mum earned it with her bare hands — cleaning other people’s houses as diligently as she cleaned ours.

Her hands. Ah, her hands. By her late thirties they were wrinkled, veined, cracked and dry. They weren’t nice to look at and felt hard and cold when she held mine. Tubes of soothing hand cream were in the bathroom, bedroom and car, but no amount of it could turn them soft and smooth like I wished they were.

In my late thirties I went to a popular buffet chain called Sizzler with my family. While helping myself to a generous scoop of their famous potato wedges my hands caught the strong lights of the bain-marie. What I saw made me almost drop the serving spoon.

I was looking at my mother’s hands.

But they were mine.

They weren’t pale, soft and smooth. They were wrinkled, veined, cracked, dry and freckled.

I drew my hands back in horror. I didn’t want to look at them or let anyone else see them either. I felt ashamed. My hands were flawed. They had turned into my mother’s.

Over the next few years I struggled with how my hands looked. I hid them behind my back like a coy child and invested in anti-age creams, skin-rejuvenating oils and housework-free holidays. Nothing I did made any difference.

One day while sitting quietly alone in the sun I held my hands out and looked at them. Really looked at them. Instead of flicking my eyes away in denial I traced the veins and wrinkles, felt the cracks, ran my fingers over knuckles, bumps and freckles.

Then I cried.

My hands — like my mother’s hands before me — have done so much. Without their selfless devotion to my bidding I’d be nearly powerless. These hands I’d despised for so many years were almost worthy of worship.

Hands scrub and dig. They wave. Play finger games. They type and point, weave and tickle. They pat and stroke and hold.

Hands are love in action. So they get old and worn out.

I love my hands now. I thank them. And I thank my mother for her hands.

Every imperfection tells a loving story.

With love, Marlane

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