My mother’s hands, your mother’s hands: whether still smooth and soft or lined with age spots and ropey veins are the symbols or giving, of nurturing, of the raising of a child. And a few weeks ago I sat at my mother’s bedside holding those hands and doing everything I could to help her transition from this amazing life to the next. Hers were hands that typed insurance policies to feed and clothe three children after my father died. Hers were hands that soothed us when we were sick, and clapped at every piano recital, play or baseball game we participated in to encourage our developing skills and to let us know that we were everything to her.
But she was everything to us–she was our world for all our developing years. And if we were able to go out and meet the bigger world–attending college, procuring good jobs, making good marriages and raising our own children–it was because she made our world safe, interesting, challenging and just plain wonderful.
Gifts came daily from her busy, working hands, gifts that went beyond food, clothing and shelter: an introduction to good music through the Children’s Record Guild, 78 rpm records that appeared monthly with story, song or orchestra introducing us to the classics; books from the Landmark Book Club through Random House that included titles like JOHN PAUL JONES–FIGHTING SAILOR; and trips–auto and train trips that introduced us to places outside the green and verdant streets of our southside Chicago neighborhood. She drove us downtown to visit the Chicago Public Library, the Art Institute, the Field Museum and Marshall Fields Department Store. At Christmas we dressed in the dark to drive downtown and be among the first to eat breakfast under the branches of a huge fir tree that rose from Fields’s Walnut room and up several stories. Then we waited in line to tell Santa what we wanted for Christmas. But we didn’t need to bother as Mom had already neatly typed our requests and mailed them to the North Pole. After her death we found one of these “saved” letters, smiling at Mom’s additions: “And you, Santa, you decide the rest.” She signed it: “Love and hope you are feeling well…and Mrs. Santa too.” Even then Mom knew that the women in one’s life were important too!!
The highlight of our young lives was a cross-country train trip on the Burlington Zephyr that took the northern route through the Rockies and the Feather River Canyon. We couldn’t afford a sleeping car, but it didn’t matter. All day we sat in the dome of the observation car falling in love with the breadth and beauty of our country. Nightly we slept sitting up–but we were kids and easily adjusted. Once in California, we visited San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego then traveled on the El Capitan train to the Grand Canyon, Albuquerque, New Mexico and finally back home. What a woman my mother was–handling Bill’s croup episode and my sleep-walking and sprained ankle that unfortunately became part of the adventure.
As we grew and my older brother became a student at Georgetown University in Washington DC, Mom didn’t hesitate to drive back and forth to our nation’s capitol, introducing us, once again, to an amazing city and widening our vision and future goals. She did all the driving, singing love songs reminiscent of her courtship days, The Man I Love, Someone to Watch over Me, Night and Day, wonderful memories for me as I watched the land flow by and listened to my mother’s beautiful voice and subsequently learned all those songs. They marked episodes of my young adulthood and I knew that she still longed for my father and that these songs held great emotion and possibly comfort for her.
Mom never married again. When her hands weren’t busy caring for us or writing to us when we were away at school, or helping bathe our children and teach them games and read them books, she worked as a secretary in downtown Chicago. She kept traveling, going to Prague in her late eighties.
Everyone who knew my mother received a gift from her loving hands–a note, a letter of encouragement or a series of prayers said with her worn rosary beads. The gifts from her hands were endless and enduring and I was gifted when she allowed me to hold those hands as she took her last breath.
Thanks to Google Images