“Jeannie’s got strong hands,” Randy said to me, as he watched Mom and observed her uncanny hold on my wrist as she and I strolled through the halls of Arden Courts. Randy was the son of another resident at Arden.
“One day, I helped her outside, she was pushing on the door, and she had an amazing grip on my hands.”
I looked at Randy’s hands. They were sturdy. Had probably been built for football. Ironically, he too had experienced Mom’s brute force.
“I know what you mean,” I cringed, helpless, as I attempted to disengage my twisted fingers from Mom’s hands. “Her hands are her superhero strength.”
Mom’s hands have always held my imagination sway. She was a magician with her cookies, as she cut and rolled and sprinkled and stirred. Mom demonstrated a sleight of hand on par with the Houdini in turning flour and sugar and egg into memories I cannot live without.
Her fingers are longer than mine. I know this fact because I’ve measured. And often, I’ve used that as an excuse for my cookies, ravioli and meatballs never measuring up to hers. In truth, she spent more time on her feats than I ever will, thus making them superhuman.
Mom’s superhero power did not mean she could close off a teenage mouth with a force field. She was not a shapeshifter, unless you counted her many pregnancies. Nor did she move at great speeds unless she was caught in the rain after her hair appointment. No, Mom’s superhero power had always been in her hands.
When she spanked us, or worse, wielded the wooden spoon. When she circled our mistakes on homework she checked. When she hemmed or altered pants or dresses. When she neatly penned the names of every person on her Christmas card list, and it was a long list. When she dusted or mopped or rubbed Pledge on her coffee tables to make them shine.
And, of course, when she talked or sang.
These days, Mom implements what I call “the death grip” as she holds on and we walk around the building, around the hallways. She should be utilizing a walker, which she owns. On several occasions, following a fall or seizure, the PT and I have tried to put walker practice in place, but Mom would no sooner wheel it front of her and then wonder off. Instead, she grabs the nearest set of hands, which can also be the handles of someone else’s wheelchair to that person’s detriment, to steady herself in the same way she would use a walker.
When Mom sits, she reaches for my hand, rubs the soft hairs on my arms and refuses to release me to the outside world. All of her actions are tied up in her hands – when she wants to avoid someone, when she wants to go a certain direction, when she is angry and squeezes my hands because that is her means of communication, when she sees something with sparkles or sugar.
Even her baby doll is not immune to this grasp. And quite honestly, I often go in search of Baby Doll to replace my own hands when my fingers ache from her crush.
For countless years, she used her hands to change the world through her baking and cooking, her coddling of grandchildren, through holding on to life’s curves and now, holding on to those who care for her, or for that matter, those who can help her in and out of the sun.
When Mom lets go of this life, I will know she’s ready, because she will liberate what she had held these many decades. That has been her super hero power, to hold on to whatever life has thrown at her, including a sometimes intransigent daughter, and still cling to love.