“Jeannie’s got strong hands,” Randy said to me as he observed Mom’s uncanny hold on my wrist while we strolled through the halls of Arden Courts. Randy was the son of another resident at Arden.
“One day, I helped her outside because she was pushing on the door, and she had an amazing grip on my hands.” Randy shook his head.
I gawked at Randy’s hands. They were sturdy. They had been built for football.
“I know what you mean,” I cringed, helpless to disengage my twisted fingers from Mom’s hands. “Her hands are her superhero strength.”
Mom’s hands 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 Houdini in turning flour, sugar, and egg into memories I cannot live without.
Her fingers are longer than mine. I’ve verified this on numerous occasions. And often, I’ve used that as an excuse for my cookies, ravioli, and meatballs never measuring up to hers. In truth, she spent a lifetime on her feats, 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 six 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. When she hemmed or altered suit pants or communion 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 the furniture shine.
And, of course, when she spoke or sang.
These days, Mom implements “the death grip,” as we walk in circles around the hallways. She should be utilizing a walker. She does own one. On several occasions, following a fall or seizure, the PT and I have put walker into practice, but Mom would no sooner wheel it front of her and wonder off. Instead, she grabs the nearest set of hands, or the handles of someone else’s wheelchair to that person’s detriment, as a counterbalance to her toddling self.
When we finally sit down, Mom reaches for my hand, rubs the soft hairs on my arms, and refuses to release me to the outside world. All her actions are tied up in her hands – when she avoids the mumbler, when, in anger, she squeezes my hand while in comb her hair because that is her means of communication, when she spots clothes with sparkles or and cookies sprinkled with colored sugar.
Even her baby doll is not immune to this grasp. And quite honestly, I often search for Baby Doll to replace my own hands when my fingers ache from her crush.
For countless years, Mom used her hands to change the world through her baking and cooking and coddling grandchildren. She held on to life’s curves and now, holds on to those who care for her, or those who can maneuver her in and out of the sun.
When Mom lets go of this life, 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.