Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Remembering Hands

He was a big man, broad shouldered, calves the size of a gallon of milk, and his hands, enormous.  I remember his hands the best, you can tell a lot about a person by looking at their hands.  The hands that pulled coins from his pockets, which I’d greedily grab for payment for one brightly colored gumball .  It was those hands that engulfed mine even as I grew from child to adult.  The hands that smelled of grease and metal, they were strong, cracked, and dirty.  Growing up the only time we ever saw our father with clean hands was at the end of a long vacation, only after days and days away from work would they lose their blackish tint.  I remember when the funeral home was applying the dreaded makeup to my father’s skin, and how they paused when they reached his hands, they had to, to remove my mother’s own hands from his, “Not too much on the hands,” she said “it just wouldn’t look right.”  Mom knew best, Dad with clean hands didn’t seem right.  What little makeup they did apply was rubbed completely off by the end of the viewing, my mother held his hand through the entire thing, crazed and frantic, she grasped tightly to those hands knowing all too soon it would be her last, in this life anyhow.  She was never the same without him. Sometimes these memories hurt, but I know not remembering them would be far more hurtful.

One of maybe four pictures I have of my father and I together, a good reason to make sure you take plenty of pictures

It was his style to go suddenly, and really too young, he would never allow or want someone to take care of him, no lingering sickness or the ailments that age brings.  Not the touchy, feely type at all.  He wasn’t real affectionate, sometimes it felt odd for me to hug him, our love was something we just knew, not something we talked about.  His emotions always in check, no tears shed at his father’s death, no over excitement of any kind, and only a handful of times did I see his temper get the best of him. But there were times when I saw his emotions fight back, the noises he made trying to hold back tears, who was he fooling, just let it go, sometimes it feels good to cry, but he didn’t, wouldn’t.  

He made some funny noises that day, but he still drug me down the aisle so fast I tripped, twice, heels and long dresses have never really been my thing.

I wish I knew more about his childhood, he wasn’t big on sharing stories about himself.   I know only a couple, nothing real deep, a story of how he and his brother and sister spent all their money for food on Macaroni and Cheese when they were left alone for a week, and one on how his father once put something gross in the Hersey Syrup can to stop little ones from sneakily snagging a taste.  The rest of his past is just what I’ve pieced together.  I know his parents divorced during a time when divorce wasn’t real common.  His dad had a mistress and a bit of another life, one that he was not part of.  His father eventually married his mistress, and she was the only grandmother I ever knew.  He was a high school dropout, twice, don’t think he ever made it to the 11th grade.  Fairly young and rebelling against his “frufru” (his words not mine) upbringing, he took his talent for all things mechanical, a leather jacket,  whatever car he was currently working on, some bad habits, and tried to make a living on his own.  Then he met my mom, the woman he knew he’d eventually marry, a woman he was willing to wait for (such passion from a man who shows so little emotion).  His chase eventually became hers and they married, her a few months pregnant, with only love to support them.  They were homeless for a short period, lost a couple of babies during childbirth, made a few bad decisions, lost a few parents between the two of them, and fell again on hard times, all of this before I was even born, but they’d made it, and still happy.  He’d had more than his fair share of hardships, but not once did I ever hear a complaint about them.  

Sharing stories about himself wasn’t his thing, but his talent for story telling of others was amazing.  I wish I could find his collection of funny stories he wrote, I know there was a comical detective series, and one about killer hangers and their ability to multiply, too bad he didn’t blog.  He never told a joke quickly, it was always a story, a story you thought was true until he got to the punch line, man he got me every time.  He loved being the center of attention, which was funny because he was such a natural loner.  Yes a loner, I don’t think he would have left the house much if my mother didn’t make him, well….. maybe he’d still find a way to his favorite diner and definitely a stop to pick up cookies for his stash, other than that, he was perfectly content at home, doing whatever he did on that computer of his.  

So what other things can I tell from his hands.... I can tell he was a list maker, even put things like "shave" on them.  He loved coffee, chocolate, cookies, snack cakes, and breakfast foods.  He loved sarcasm and humor, and never missed the opportunity to growl in my ear through a cardboard tube.  He loved my mother, unconditionally.  He loved old cars, Xena reruns, Destroyer Novels, and warm places.  He was honest and wise, our talks were always full of good advice.  He was the King of One Liners, always telling me "Don't bite anyone!", every time I left the house.  He knew after a first meeting whether or not a person was trustworthy.  He always claimed "I hate kids", but he was the man who'd stay up until the wee morning hours when I'd waited till the last minute to finish a school project, even patiently took my frustrated comments.  He never wore shorts, but did find a love for suspenders the last few years of his life.  He freed himself of all his bad habits (well maybe not the goodies), even quit smoking one day because he was tired of it, simple, cut and precise, in typical Dad fashion.  He was a laborer, a thinker, a tinkerer, a husband and a father.  He's the man I can thank for my insomnia, my love for cookies, and one over sized rib cage (could have done without the last one Dad, I'm happy just getting your eyes).  He's seen in Sol's looks and tinkering talent, in Jo's humor and honesty, and Abe's ability to tell a story, it captivates an entire room. 

I’ll take the advice of a young boy, one who is even younger at heart, a boy who seems familiar at this stage of my life, almost like he could fit in with my own little clan of “lost boys”.  Peter Pan tells us “Fairies live forever, as long as you remember to believe.”  People live forever too, I’ll always remember…. Especially those hands.