I gently pinched the skin on her right hand and watched as it slowly morphed back into a wrinkled state as she watched the evening sunset across the country road. Her nails were manicured now, with a clear polish, but had long been kept short and framed with dirt. The age spots splotched across her translucent skin reminded me of the color of a heavily creamed cup of coffee. She softly smiled.
In a tired voice, she recalled the days of her raising little lives. The tedious tasks and exhausted evenings. Fondly, she spoke of the moments on the back porch with her husband after the children were fast asleep. She sweetly smiled.
The way her hands must have worked in the ground to pull up enough, but not too much of the onion bulb that she would dice for the dinner salad. Her potatoes came in each year, some more abundant than others, but enough to feed her family of 7. The way her fingers used to pinch the clothespins to hang the never ending linens they soiled. She purchased, sewed, and dressed all 5 children in soft cottons with ornate buttons as loving embellishments. The pork roast that she wrapped in foil for their dinner at night and the carrots that she sliced by hand were done so with grace. The way she taught little hands to fold each day, in honor and appreciation. Her hand grew dirty no matter how many times she washed them each day.
She maintained. She sustained.
I’ve been thinking a lot of the ordinary parts that make up our lives. How the majority of my day as a mother is spent in maintenance mode. I am now dressing 4 individuals, brushing 4 sets of teeth, bathing 4 people, and feeding 5 mouths. I change diapers, take out the trash, and fold laundry. I’ve noticed that we spend an exorbitant amount of time in caring for and tending to our bodies. When one job is done, I move to the next, only to come back and re-do a task that was previously done. – snacks, potty breaks, naps, baths.
I’m sure we’ve all considered the assumed uselessness of making our beds each morning only to unmake them again each night.
It’s an act of service, a service that I often overlook in my day. It’s so easy to spend our lives waiting for the next event, the next trip, heck, even the next meal.
The old, dirty hands are hands of service. The countless meals made, the heaps of clothing washed, folded, and put away, the hugs that squeeze the fear out of a child’s heart after a nightmare. The way hands work to provide and protect. It’s comfort and warmth.
I hope my hands are dirty when I am old. Because to me, dirty hands mean a job well done.