“Jeannie’s got strong hands,” Randy said. He gazed down at my mother’s uncanny hold on my wrist while she and I strolled 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 grinned and shook his head.
I gawked at Randy’s hands. They were sturdy. They had been built for football.
“I know what you mean.” Helpless, I cringed and disengaged my twisted fingers from Mom’s hands. “Her hands are her superhero strength.”
My mother’s hands had always held my imagination sway. She was a magician with her cookies as her hands flew across the mixing bowl or dough to cut and roll or press and dust. Mom demonstrated a sleight of hand on par with Houdini in turning flour, sugar, and egg into memories I could not live without.
Her fingers were longer than mine. I verified that fact on numerous occasions. And often, I used that excuse when my cookies, ravioli, and meatballs didn’t measure up to hers. In truth, Mom spent a lifetime perfecting her feats, thus qualifying them as 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.
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 shine the furniture.
And when she spoke or sang.
These days, Mom implemented “the death grip” as we walked in circles down the corridors of her home. She owned a walker, and following a fall or seizure, her therapist put that walker into practice. Mom no sooner wheeled it front of her, wondered off, and grasped the nearest set of hands or the handles of someone else’s wheelchair as a counterbalance to her toddling self.
When we left Randy and sat down, Mom reached for my hand, rubbed the soft hairs on my arms, and refused to release me to the outside world.
All Mom’s actions were tied up in her hands. When she avoided the mumbling resident by pushing her away. When, in anger, she squeezed my hand while I combed her hair because squeezing was her means of communication. When she pinched at clothes with sparkles or cookies sprinkled with colored sugar.
Even her baby doll was not immune to Mom’s grasp. Honestly, I often sought out Baby Doll to replace my own hands when my fingers ached from her crush.
For countless years, Mom used her hands to change the world through her baking and cooking and cuddling of grandchildren. She held on around life’s curves and now, clutched the hands of those who cared for her or could maneuver her in and out of the sun.
When Mom finally lets go, she will liberate what she prized for many decades. That is her super hero power. To hold on to whatever life has thrown at her, including a sometimes intransigent daughter, and still cling to love.