Yesterday we celebrated Mother’s Day with a barbecue at my son’s home. At the end of the meal, David asked everyone to give a memory of their mother, and we went around the table. David said some nice things about me. Hal reminisced about his mom… and so on. When my turn came up the only thing that popped into my head was the interesting coincidence that that very day, May 14, was also my mother’s birthday. How amazing, right? Everyone said their own version of Wow! and we went on to the next subject.
Later I wondered why I hadn’t said
something more significant about this woman I remember with so much gratitude.
Something about her kindness, her simple meals, how she read books to us every night,
how she sewed my Easter dress one year and bought me a bonnet and shiny patent
leather shoes to go with it. Actually, this is all rather normal. Not
especially interesting. Nothing funny or extraordinary. Just common ordinary
But what’s wrong with that?
OK. If there’s one thing that
stands out in my memories of Mom, it’s her hands. When I was in grade school,
the swelling and pain in her feet and hands were finally diagnosed as
rheumatoid arthritis. My parents didn’t make a big deal about the diagnosis, so
there was no family trauma surrounding it. Mom began to take medications for
the pain and inflammation, but she never talked about it or complained. She
just kept on doing mom stuff and going off to work everyday.
Both my parents were public school
teachers, Dad in the high school and Mom in primary school. Mom continued
teaching, but I noticed the swelling in her hands and that it was becoming
harder for her to do stuff around the house. We kids had our chores, but we
didn’t always cheerfully comply.
By the time I was a high school freshman, her hands and feet had become bent, swollen and deformed. She was declared legally disabled and began to receive disability compensation from the teachers’ union. My parents handled this calmly so we kids saw no reason to be alarmed. Life went on. She became a stay-at-home mom again, going about her duties with a cheerful spirit
But with the years her limbs
became more and more twisted and her whole body was affected in different ways.
She died at the age of 57, more from the effects of years of taking
Corticosteroids for the pain than from the disease itself.
Sometime after her death, I was
doing research on my family background, and I came across a kind of manifesto
Mom had written when she was 17. It’s entitled, “My Ideal Woman,” and is a list
of all the characteristics she wanted to grow into. In the introduction, she
admits that, “My Ideal Woman is so idealistic as to be rather fictional
sounding.” A list of 14 points follows, betraying both the idealism and the
immaturity of a teenager. What was especially poignant to me was that the first
two points had to do with hands. She wrote of her “ideal woman,”
does not have to excel in outward beauty but must show character in the mold of
her face and in the shape of her hands.
hands are shapely and she has well-kept nails.
It’s a mercy she couldn’t see ahead to the hands life finally dealt her.
I will list a few other of her points. They all make me
6. She does not think of ‘self’ first and is
cheerful except when it is impossible to be so. (A little bit of realism
7. All of her clothes are made by her own
hands (except for wraps, accessories, and undergarments). (So glad for the
8. She is healthy and has suffered no
illnesses save those common to most people such as measles and mumps.
9. She scorns gossip and secretly is
contemptuous of those who do so extensively.
1 She has poise and a wonderful personality,
making her very popular.
She goes on to write of her tall husband (right) and two
blond children (wrong, there were three of us), her artistic output, and her
excelling at sports (especially golf, swimming, and tennis). She ends with
saying that her ideal woman “is somewhat like Abraham Lincoln and Louisa Alcott
only she doesn’t have Louisa’s temper or impatience.”
Oh, and she also mentions that her
ideal woman is a Quaker.
Life certainly turned out
differently for my mother than her dreams as a young girl. But I think I like
the real woman better than the ideal. God made something beautiful out of her
suffering, and I am the better for it.
I don’t want to fall into cliché
here—“my sainted mother” and all that. She was real and human, feisty
sometimes, sometimes manifesting more Louisa Alcott than Abraham Lincoln. And I
don’t want to romanticize the beauty of her old gnarled hands. Too many sappy
poems and Hallmark cards take on that role. They tend to nauseate rather than
But I’ll admit it. In memory, my
mother’s hands are beautiful to me.
Now that I’m growing older, I find
that it’s my hands that show my age more than any other physical aspect. I used
to pride myself on my beautiful hands (somewhat like my 17-year-old mother).
People sometimes complemented me. No one does that any more. The seven top
signs of aging in hands are wrinkles, age or sun spots, dry skin, loose skin,
veins, stained and brittle nails, and red peeling skin. The only thing on the
list I don’t have (yet) is red peeling skin.
Look up “aging hands” on the
internet and most of the sites address the topic of how to keep your hands
looking young. Lots of good advice out there, most of it dedicated to postponing
I am faced with the decision to
choose a mature perspective on aging hands and beauty. I’ll do what I can to
protect my skin—gloves when washing dishes (which I never did as a younger
woman), lotion, good grooming and so on. I probably won’t try any miracle pills
or expensive dream creams. I’ll let myself—and my hands—grow older and not
worry about how attractive, or not, they are.
And I’ll hope my daughter and
granddaughters find some good ways to remember me on Mother’s Day.