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An Ode to My Hands [Mar. 29th, 2011|11:19 am]
Maybe the rest of you gardeners already know this, but just in case...

Years and years ago I read about the trick of running your fingernails, one at a time, over a bar of soap, packing under your nail with soap before you garden. I’ve been meaning to do it for years. But, like so many things, there I am, out in the garden, dirt already packed under my nails, whenever I think of it. I’ve tried gloves...I can’t. The most I can do is latex or nitrile gloves, but even then, I can’t pull weeds with them. And frankly, my luck, weed-pulling is near 90% of my garden activities.

But finally, FINALLY, this season I remembered. And I’ll admit it, I didn’t like the sensation of something packed underneath my fingernails. But, then again, I just threw out a shirt because it had a yoked back and the feel of a seam across the middle of my back was too distracting, so you may well not mind it. And of course, you can’t wash your hands right away and wash out the soap, but there’s soap on my HANDS and I’m going to touch things and....But a handy paper towel and I can open the front door and get out to handling things that don’t mind a little bit of bar soap. And I’m outside and there are so MANY things to distract me that I soon forget. Until it’s time to put away the tools and wash up.

And yup, my fingernails look like I was digging for potatoes with my bare hands. Er, guess I was – except it was crabgrass/Bermuda grass/nimblewill, whatever evil grass that has taken over the front bed and I’ve never been able to eradicate. Anyway, my fingernails looked as gross as ever. But a shower later and boom, clean as a whistle. Without scrubbing. I have had to sit with my fingertips submerged in bleach before, just to be able to go to work and not have to hide my fingers all day. I am sold. Of course, now I have a bar of soap in my bathroom that looks kind of funky, but small price to pay.

Here’s what my hands reveal about me.

I have very long, narrow fingers. My father’s fingers. I remember my mother saying that one of the first things she noticed about my father was his beautiful fingers. I am prideful of my beautiful fingers. And I am my father’s daughter in so many things. Although he and my mother just drove up from Florida and he only let them stop for a bathroom break once every four hours. I do NOT have my father’s bladder. I need to get another dog soon, or my cover will be broken. People think I stop every two hours because of the dogs. The dogs, quite frankly, could go 8 hours without stopping. We stop every two hours because of me. To be fair, I suspect I am also my mother’s daughter. Because her side of the family has long beautiful fingers as well. However, they are also bony, vein-y, and large-knuckled as they age and I am seeing that. Although I still don’t know who’s bladder I’ve got, since my mother can clearly go four hours and she’s a lot older than I am.

Long and tapered they may be, but my fingernails are usually a mess. Manicures and pedicures have never been part of my life. Sometimes I feel raised by wolves when it comes to girl grooming. I have no doubt my mother tried. I’m sure she would’ve LOVED to spend time teaching me to paint my finger and toenails when I was a pre-teen. And I’m sure I rejected it. I was an a-hole to my mother and her instincts to teach me girl-stuff. Dummy. Even now, though I tend to resent the time it takes to keep them somewhat looking vaguely tamed. I’ve always felt guilty that I have really hard, strong, fast-growing nails. What a waste on someone who just keeps them trimmed short and unadorned. On the other hand, they came in handy working retail. If you’ve got my thumbnail, you don’t need a box cutter. I’d better stop before TSA bans my thumbs.

They definitely show my age. When I was younger, I was TOUGH. I wasn’t going to be wimpy and wear gloves unless it was really, really freezing. And even then, it was the thinnest gloves I could get away with. Forget about protecting my hands from hard work! I WANTED rough, windburned, calloused hands. Hands that said I’m no wimp. Moron. Is that just the way I am, or collateral damage from being a bullied and outcast as a dorky brainaic in middle school? Who knows? Who has time to pay a therapist to discover? And the only thing I have less of than time, is the ability to give a rat’s patoot. Plus, I’m very tactile. I really get frustrated if I can’t feel what I’m working on or with. When I ride a horse I’ve trained, I can just tighten the muscles in one finger, not even move the finger, and get a change in direction or pace. I can tease a spring onion out of the ground and get the bulb damn near every time. You just can’t do that with gloves. So, in payment for that abuse, my hands definitely show my age.

They are strong. Really strong. Maybe that’s what’s keeping them from looking all bony. At age thirteen I was working summers on a vegetable farm, picking strawberries, beans – actually in spring we started with rocks, since, in New England, your first crop is rocks. Let’s pause for a moment to savor the irony that living where I live now, I’ve had to BUY rocks to border my garden beds. In New England, you just a wait a bit and one will just rise out of the earth. (Although you do need to understand that "wait a bit" and "just down the road a bit" in New England probably mean longer and farther than in the rest of the country.) But you can’t pick rocks until you’re strong enough and you couldn’t pick corn until you’re both strong enough to hold a full sack on your shoulder and tall enough to not drag it on the ground. Which as a beginning strawberry picker, became my goal.

I am driven to doing the hard stuff. I grew up in a time where women still had a lot to prove. I spent my pre-adolescent and adolescent years proving that women could be just as strong, just as capable. When I started high school, the weight machines were in the boy’s locker room. Why would girls need to lift weights? I was a shot-putter. First I fought to get access for us girls. We had set times, after school, when all the boys were all scheduled outside and we could go down and use the weight machines. Of course, the principal and assistant principal (both men) used to run after school and they would come into the locker room and take showers and change. Imagine that today – a couple of unsupervised teenage girls in the locker room with two men showering and changing just around the corner. Different times. After a year of that, they finally moved the weight machines upstairs so that everyone had equal access.

I’d be surprised that young women don’t appreciate the battles that were fought and won on their behalf – how relatively easy they have it now, but it’s EASY to forget and while there are still battles to be won, there are also women in other parts of the world facing much larger battles, who would think that I had it easy growing up. There are plenty of people right here in the U.S. who had harder battles for acceptance and equal treatment. And they’d be right. Still, you fight the battles you have and it's okay to be proud of what you accomplished and overcame.

Battle scars. You have to know where to look to see the scar where they sewed my knuckle skin back on. I was taking in a delivery of boxes at a gourmet cookware store I once worked at and lifting something big and heavy and turned to take it deeper into the stock room and slammed it and my knuckle against the edge of a metal shelving unit, slicing the top of my knuckle off into a nifty knuckle hatch. I taped it back on, wrapped a dish towel around it and got on with the delivery and when that was done, I realized that I had gone through almost half a dozen dish towels and was feeling a little woozy. I called someone in to replace me and drove to the hospital where they sewed it back on. The doctor told me to take the rest of the day off and how many days off of work did I think I needed? Ha. I laughed at him and said, yeah, I have to go back right now; someone else gave up their day off to cover for me and the overtime is going to wreck my budget. I did this for a company that later refused a bonus on a technicality, and gave me such a minor annual increase that I figured out that I had hourly employees who were making significantly more per hour than I was. I thought I was being a good soldier by giving them three months notice that I was moving. They repaid me by firing me as soon as they found my replacement a month later. I still have a great sense of responsibility, but I have finally learned to be more careful in giving myself to an organization that might not reciprocate. Now, I would tell that doctor two days.

I’ve also got a lovely dueling scar on the back of my hand. It’s faded, but I’m still proud of it. I didn’t get it in a cool way – my staff tended to lose box cutters, so they’d use a paring knife instead and someone thought a good place to store it would be point down, between the slats in a metal shelving unit. And I reached under that shelf to grab something – fast. And opened up the back of my hand from knuckle to wrist. It only left a scar in one small place. But it’s there. And I’m the kind of girl that always wanted a Heidelberg dueling scar. Close enough. I also have two fingerpads on one finger, remembrance of having a glass fall off of a shelf, me trying to catch it and succeeding, only to slam it into the cabinet shelf, neatly creating a finger tip flap, that was then sewn on by an absent minded physician in not-all-that-urgent care. (Where I learned that while I can tolerate getting stitches without anesthesia, it may involve throwing up. But that’s another story.) But more proof that when I do things, I do them forcefully. My hands can do gentle, but delicate has always been a learned skill for me.

Finally, my hands always reveal what I’ve been up to. Right now, tiny knicks and cuts and divots from weeding and brush tending. Nearing Halloween, there will be errant splotches of paint and little burn spots from hot glue guns. When I was cooking full time, they’d be splitting and cracking from constant handwashing. I had calluses from knife guards and heat resistant fingertips. Possibly a few smooth, shiny patches where a bumped a hot pan or heating element. I still have a callous from holding a pencil and pen in school. I am nearly the last generation to wear that callous.

It’s all right there, written in my hands.

[User Picture]From: russell_moore
2011-03-29 03:38 pm (UTC)
interesting ... a personal history just by what the hands show ... which got me looking at my hands, and seeing a scar or 2 and remembering back how it came to be ... which led me on a trip back memory lane for a while ... which was a nice interlude to my mundane day ...

so thanks ... this was a very nice and interesting story about you, as well as a triggering story for us, your faithful readers

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[User Picture]From: dreamtigress
2011-03-29 04:37 pm (UTC)

Thank you for an awesome post.

Our hands are amazing, intricate machines, capable of so many things. Mine are my livelihood, so while I use them everyday, and in lots of many hard-on-them ways, I also strive to take care of them.

I also have that callous on the middle finger from holding pencils, pens, paint brushes, etc. I grip my exacto blades for cutting leather there occasionally, although I change grips often to ease up the pressure on certain joints.

I have scars that have stories attached, and scars that I can't remember how I got them. I was an active tomboy farm girl, and that leads to hands whose skin holds stories.

I give my self manicures, and use a paraspa to ease joint pain and sooth the skin when I have used my hands too much. Arthritis runs in my family, and I know that there is a finite amount of time in which I will be able to do all of things I want to with these hands. I often joke that I will retire from mask making when my hands insist it is necessary.

And oh yeah... the soap trick works, but it drives me crazy too. I have lots of practice in nitrile gloves, used while dying leather, so I am more comfortable working in them. Doesn't mean I don't pop open the tip of a glove with my nail and get dirty anyway.

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[User Picture]From: sestree
2011-03-29 04:42 pm (UTC)

Re: Thank you for an awesome post.

I save the middleman - my nails are bitten so short that nothing gets under them. They drive me raving batshit when I can hear them click on anything.
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[User Picture]From: sestree
2011-03-29 04:40 pm (UTC)
You've seen mine. My hands and forearms say I am a percussionist (and my ears say but yeah we won't let you play anymore will we? nyah?). I was the equipment manager for our orchestra and our community band in the 90s. Not because I had anything I needed to prove but 1) it was mostly my equipment that was big and heavy and 2) I could drive a truck better than the rest hands down.

I still get funny looks when I mention Dad - in a rare moment of Dad-ness - taught me to drive the Cat. I was still in elementary school. Bonding - we weren't really good at it. Oh and the 5 ton. That the brakes went out on. With a load of hay. Coming down the hill (but of course). Then the look on his face when he saw his 5 ton hay truck partially submerged in Christianson's pond with the ducks sitting on the hay.


I have more chicken wire and barbed wire scars on my arms than any 2 junkies combined. I also have a small hole where pieces of alfalfa chaff got inside my arm cast and sort of festered. Until the arm cast fell off. Because I was driving the Cat you see and vibration + plaster cast = FREEEDOM. Cmon I KNOW you've been there done that wrote the book yes? I can hear you nodding from way over here.......

just don't look at how crooked that poor arm is ;)
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[User Picture]From: mistressfetch
2011-03-30 01:05 am (UTC)
I have that callous...hey, let's get together and compare scars! Wait, how would that be different from any other time? :-)
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[User Picture]From: ferlonda
2011-03-30 11:03 pm (UTC)
I have that callous, too- and it used to be ink-stained. Not any more and the callous is very soft now but oh, it used to be such a badge for me...
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