Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Full confession... this was written for the writer's circle part of my ELA class this autumn.  Just handed in that assignment last weekend, so now I want to share...

My great-aunt Helena never thought she would live into old age when they hauled her away to coal mines in Siberia.  Her hands dug coal from below the earth’s surface when she was 15. 

My great grandfather Peter built a house with his hands when he was in his 70s, having been allowed to enter Canada as a DP in 1951. He built a house when he was 75.  From scratch.  That's quite the retirement plan!

My great grandmother Margarete was a bone setter.  Her hands could change something in a body and make it whole.  She cured a boy with two club feet when she was a young woman.  In the early 1900s, it would have been a death sentence not to walk.

My grandfather Johannes made objects with his hands.  We still have a rolling pin he made.  A tin cup. Tools. This is a gift and his skill ensured their survival.  In 2012, not many people know how to make what they need to survive.

My father Peter’s hands were huge.  They certainly struck fear into me when he used them to spank.  They could fix vehicles (his profession), build anything (two houses, several decks, sheds, garages, you name it).  If he had been given a chance at education instead of being pulled out of school he could have healed people.  He had a gift with those hands.

My mother Susanna’s hands are gnarled with arthritis.  She has big hands too. They made, they make.  They write. They still do what she needs them to do, but sometimes they drop things. Who would have thought my mother would become crippled with arthritis?  She was eternally youthful, energetic, focused on helping others. She makes beauty in our family with her creations and manages history with her words. She is a memory keeper.
My husband Tom is a potter.  A ceramic artist.  His hands make beautiful functional clay objects.  He wants to be doing this into his old age, but right now he is dealing with stage 4 cancer that has metastasized to his bones.  He has the muscle memory of making ceramics and when he works at his wheel, his hands know what to do.

My hands, Brigitte’s hands, are practical and real. As a mother, as a woman, as a student, my hands are important.  I use them to hold, draw closer, make food, clean our home, make and mend clothes, explain activities and actions, and to guide my young. My hands can love; my hands can harm. My hands can hold a steering wheel, a needle, a pen, a wooden spoon, touch a computer keyboard and piano keys. My hands are powerful. 

My daughter Nicole’s hands don’t always do what she wants them to do. She struggles with printing.  She struggled with tying shoe laces.  Those hands finally figured it out. (Her brain figured it out.)  They can print; they can draw. Shoe laces are no longer a major challenge. Those hands are small and sweet, just like grandmother Sadie’s, who used her hands to heal and to apply red lipstick.  She was a nurse, a career woman when  most women worked in the home.

My sons, Kai and Gabriel, have hands that are capable of doing almost anything.  Piano, violin, pens and pencils, computers, bikes, drawing, writing, making, fixing, creating.  Gifts from the past into the future.  How blessed they are.  Use your hands for the good, I say.

Who bestows these blessings?  Who bestows the challenges? Do we have to own it, say it, thank for it, curse for it?  Who knows what we will get?  Our hands. What they can do.  What they will do.

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