Memories of My Father’s Hands

When I was a child, before I started giggling on the back row with friends, I sat with my parents in church. Because kids spend those long hours trying to entertain themselves, I have several images locked in my mind. Like my dad’s arm resting on the back of the pew, encircling my mother’s shoulders. Every once in a while, he would rub her arm or run his hand across her back. They didn’t look at each other when he did it. It wasn’t a big moment of public affection, it was just an acknowledgment that while they were intent on the sermon, he was also thinking of her. Every now and then as we sit in church, my husband will do the same, and it makes me feel secure, protected somehow. I feel like a wife, in all the best of ways.

I also remember sitting beside my father, playing with his hand. The one that wasn’t wrapped around mom. Dad’s hands were strong. He ran a shoe repair shop, so his hands were often knicked and calloused, and permanently stained by the dyes he used on the leather. And while he concentrated on what was being said from the pulpit, I would hold his hand in mine, trying to hold onto his moving fingers or dodging his thumb as he tried to pin my little fingers against his palm. My dad worked a lot, and he wasn’t into playing games with my brother and me. But when I sat quietly in church with his hand in mine, I felt like I had him to myself for a while.

I drew on those memories to write a scene for my upcoming novel. I thought I’d share it with you.

“The image that leaped into her brain was the same one that always did when she thought of Ralph. It was before cancer had stolen his strength, before Mayor had stolen their freedom. He was sitting by the fire outside their tent in Camp Three. She was beside him, leaning against him, her small hands cradling one of his, tracing its creases and scars. She had seen those hands wield everything from pencils to axes to guns, keeping her and the rest of the village safe while he built the systems for food and sewage and oil and shelter.

She liked his hands most when they were hers to hold. Even while he spoke with the men and women around the fire, his fingers played with hers, escaping her attempts to hold them still, trapping hers against his palm. Every once in a while, a giggle would break free of her lips, and he would glance down at her and smile, sharing the fun of their private game. He was hers in that moment, despite the weight of all he carried.”

I miss my mom and my dad. But I live daily with the lessons I gained from their abiding commitment to each other and the many ways they modeled family for me. And I thank my father for his neverending labor, for his sacrifices, for his intellect that was always exploring God, and for taking me to church to idle the time away while learning about love.

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