I fell into fascination with hands from a very young age, five or six or perhaps before. I fell in love with my father’s hands first. I liked the way they were brown with the sun and rough from the work he did on the land weekends. They were strong hands; they lifted me easily into the air or onto his lap or into his embrace. They held me as I rode upon his shoulders, or tried to steady my first two-wheel bicycle. They were magic hands, they moved as he spoke weaving a background to the words better than any scenery, movement and words, pictures being drawn as he told stories and what stories! They were real; they came alive and carried me off into a world of imagination beyond imagination. They were stories of brave men fighting off Indians to protect my mother; of adventurers traipsing of into the wilderness to discover new lands; of pioneers building villages on the plains or mariners sailing ships across the ocean. They were stories a brave generals who fought tremendous battles and died heroes or of treasure hunters that never came home empty handed.
My father’s hands placed me in the saddle of my first horse and held me there while I shed my fear bit by bit; they taught me how to shoot a shotgun when I was thirteen and deemed old enough to go duck hunting, they taught me to fish and they taught me to sail. They were hands I watched work on the things my father loved: loading shotgun shells at home, painting birds in water color, sailing a small Lido, holding a fishing rod, running the motor of the aluminum canoe we used to cross the Acapulco Bay, doing calculations with a sharp pencil and tiny numbers in his accounts book and holding up a glass of wine against the light to appreciate its color. But it was also from my father’s hands that I first got a notion of death, his death when one day I discovered that they had grown old and wrinkled and I saw in them the decay that would eventually consume the whole man.
And then there were my mother’s hands. Strangely enough I became conscious of them later, as I grew into puberty, because what I loved about them was their elongated elegance, their delicate feminine beauty, their long red painted fingernails that I always wanted to nibble on. My mother’s hands were beautiful and fascinating: ethereal. They seldom moved or drew pictures in the air when she spoke like my father’s, rather they were still resting daintily on the arm of the chair, poised in her lap or touching my father’s arm. They were like wings, delicate, lace-like, feathery wings: the wings of a butterfly more than those of a bird, fragile yet firm. When she twirled around to show off the flight of a circular skirt they would fan the air and seem to float on a zephyr. When she held the steering wheel of the car it seemed to be guided more by magic than by strength. My mother’s hands were distant mysterious things. I don’t remember them holding me or picking me up, although when I asked for it I could get my back scratched and then I would sit in ecstasy until it was over.
I would like to remember more about her hands, about the way she must have dressed me and combed my hair and bathed me and fed me; but her hands, like all of her being, have this ungraspable quality, as if you had no sooner seen them than they had taken to flight and disappeared. Like mist or hummingbirds, something you cannot get your hand or your mind around. My mother was like that and her hands, therefore, were too.
But my own hands, that is a different matter. They are good hands, with long firm fingers and wide palms; they are neither delicate nor heavy; they might have been adequate hands for playing the piano if I had been musically inclined. Rather, I learned to type which is a sort of way of making music with letters, with words. Learning to type was learning to produce magic with my hands and even today, after more than fifty years, I feel them powerful and sure as they skim across the keyboard with rapid, agile movements while my eyes watch the words forming on the page and my mouth silently reads what is written. There is magic in the way they know each position, the perfect pressure with which to press the key, their absolute connection to the mind that dictates. When I am not at the computer, my hand holds the pen to scribe words in a notebook. I like their light grip of the plastic shaft, the gentle way they guide the point through the lines and twirls that form the letters and how they pause to gently turn a page. When I drive my car, my hands are the captains of the ship; they are firm and confident in their grip of the steering wheel, with the shifting of gears and the pulling in place of the hand brake. I think of the pilot of a plane and know my hands could do that too, could learn to push and pull and move and turn every button, lever and knob on the control panel. They probably won’t get the chance to do that in this lifetime, but they are good, trustworthy hands. I love my fingers also, neither too feminine nor too masculine as if they had borrowed from both my father’s and my mother’s hands to be just in the middle. I can use them for building and mending and fixing and hammering and screwing in a screw or putting a bobby pin in my hair, painting my eyelashes or taking a stitch to a loose button. They are good at chopping and peeling and cracking open nuts, at stirring and serving; I have used them to crochet and to knit; they picked up my babies and changed their diapers, dressed them and bathed them, sometimes with impatience but mostly with care.
I wear my nails short and have never put red polish on them; I seldom wear rings, but when I do I can’t take my eyes off my hands and the way they look with the ring on them. It’s as if they are dressed up and need attention. All day I watch them feeling the weight of the ring, stretching out the fingers to admire the decoration, modeling it, being distracted by it, letting my hands party and sparkle until it is removed and placed back in its box that night. My hands are busy all day, they hardly ever stop until I go to bed and sometimes towards dawn they wake me up because they have gone to sleep and need a gentle massage to come back to life.
But actually when I become most conscious of how wonderful my hands –any hands- are is when I use them for the benefit of my dog, Salomé, and see them through her eyes. If I were a dog, my religion would be called “Hands” and I have no doubt that Salomé has a special place in her heart where my hands are worshipped. They caress and feed and cuddle and stroke; they throw sticks and balls; they open doors and take for walks; they take splinters out of paws, remove ticks from ears and put drops in prickly eyes. Hands –Salomé would tell her puppies if she had them- are the miracle of a master and when you get a good pair of Hands to hold you for life, you are the luckiest dog in the world. This is what she would say, I’m sure.
I look at Salomé and live my love and fascination of hands through her heart, and my gratitude for having hands knows no bounds.