My Mother's Hands
“Tan bonitas eran mis manos,” my Mom says when she looks at her hands. Once slender fingers ending in long hard nails with the power to instill the fear of God into me, now have become mangled rope knots from all those years of squeezing plastic meat in a freezer. Doctor said it was arthritis. That the sub arctic temperatures shriveled her joints and the lubricant melted away like a modern day glacier. Her thumb permanently set at the angle where she would place expiration labels on food packages. The thumbnail hardened with the 14 years of precise movement in degrees below zero. The urgent capitalistic demands for production only furthered the conveyer belt of never ending lunchable packages, thin slice roast beef and smoked turkey. To this day, I still can’t eat cold cuts without thinking of how that freezer fucked up her body.
And even with soft marbles of swelling between her knuckles, she shows love by making things by hand. My Mom creates new life from old fabric with her sewing machine, whose motor is my most soothing lullaby.
My hot pink prom dress
My sister’s gothic prom dress
The kitchen curtains with chicken fabric
King size bed spreads and tablecloths
Pillows with my private childhood nickname that I won’t say out loud
Dresses for the chihuahuas (yes, multiples)
A nightgown for her co-worker’s elderly mother-in-law
My favorite Halloween vest from 5th grade
Aprons for her sister-in-law in El Salvador
Burial dress for her closest cousin to be buried in
Crocheted hats in every shade of color the human eye can perceive
Embroidered cross shoulder purses
My school uniform
Her work uniform
“¿Qué quieres que te haga?” she always asks me when she shows me new fabrics. The open endedness of that question. That for this moment, she allows me dream of anything I ever wanted. To fill my wardrobe with seams that know every inch of my body. With clothing pieces that fit me perfectly and fills in all the cracks of my confidence. Her sewing embraces my curves. You help me feel like my body is normal. That my body is beautiful. She would spend her last dollar on that specific zipper for our dresses. To manifest our vision of the piece. So I walk into that prom with the confidence of Dolly Parton and her coat of many colors.
“Tu mama esta en la máquina. ¿Quién la quita de ahí?” my dad tells me when I call the home phone. My mother is constantly makes things for other people. People she hasn’t met yet like her not-yet-born granddaughter. Always thinking beyond herself. Showing me that anything is possible with enough perspective and patience. Challenging herself to learn something new. Hammering belts buckles. Adjusting 48” waistbands. Creasing pleats on shiny fabric.
“Yo te lo hago” she waves at any two dimensional inspiration. She didn’t need a pattern to know how pieces and shapes fit together. I often think about the type of spatial reasoning, high end engineering brain that she has to create and assemble 3D forms without a guide.
These hands also find the shattered pieces of my spirit and thus heal with a simple “mija de mi alma y de mi tormento, mi reina”. She holds my face and my shoulders drop and my muscles exhale. She reads my distress so clearly like her favorite bible verse from a tattered songbook that crossed the border with her. I’m safe here.
These hands that have grinded masa on a metate before she even learned how to read.
These hands que son demasiada pesadas pero todavía siguen trabajando, haciendo la lucha para el pan de cada dia.
These hands that served as a tender midwife for our chihuahua and 4 newborn puppies.
These hands that have fed so many children that weren’t hers.
These hands that hold my faith in this life and beyond.
These hands that have eradicated my nausea, heartaches and panic attacks in the night.
“Parecen manos de albañil” she jokes as the swelling usurp sore connective tissues. I wonder if the joints hurt. I wonder if she can make tamales for this Christmas. I wonder if I can learn the movement of her hands before time and the inflammation completely takes over her manual dexterity. If the wisdom and tenderness swirling in her fingerprints will be passed on to my brute heavy hands, which are still learning the balance of how to be gentle enough to express the deepest affection and tough enough to surpass the struggles of the world.
Mami, deme fuerzas.