FIRST OF ALL, I WANT TO TELL YOU THAT I FOUND THIS IN THE WOMENS DAY MAGAZINE ISSUE FROM 2/9/82, JUST A FEW MONTHS AFTER MY GRANDFATHER PASSED AWAY FROM ALTZHEIMERS DISEASE. WHEN I FOUND IT I CALLED MY MOM AND WE READ IT TOGETHER. I WENT TO GET MORE ISSUES OF IT, AND COULD NOT FIND STORY IN ANY OF THE OTHER ISSUES. I CONTACTED THE EDITORIAL DEPARTMENT, AT THAT TIME AND THEY SAID THAT IT WAS NOT IN THAT ISSUE AND WERE UNSURE OF WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT...... I EVEN SENT THEM THE MAGAZINE, LUCKILY I KEPT A COPY OF THE WHOLE PAGE. I TOOK THAT AS A SIGN THAT IT WAS SENT TO ME SO THAT I COULD SHARE IT WITH THE "SWALANDER FAMILY", WHICH IS MY MOTHERS SIDE OF THE FAMILY. IT HAS BEEN YEARS, BUT SOME OF YOU HAVE NOT READ IT AND I WOULD LIKE TO SHARE IT AGAIN.
Thanks for reading! Trina
MY FATHER'S HANDS
He lies there in the narrow, safety-railed nursing home bed, struggling with a cow chewing the end of his blanket, and I see him tall and straight and strong, tasting the soil of the fields in the spring, his eyes skipping across the winter-barren acres watching corn, taller and straighter than himself, grow there long before the seed has been entrusted to the ground. This helpless little shadow of a man, with whispy white hair all awry, whose eyes cannot focus upon me with recongnition longer than the briefest breath of time, was once larger than life and wiser than God, and I am stricken with anguish.
I take the blanket from his hands and smooth it over the fitfully small lump his wasted body makes and tell him the cow has gone to pasture. He tries to believe me, but his gnarled fingers fidget and pluck at the blanket because he knows I've not really chased the critter away. Shes's there, lurking behind the corner of his bed, and the moment I return to my chair she will plague him again.
Those pale hands are clean and soft now, a stranger's hands. My father's hands were sun-browned and hard from long hours in the fields, permanently blackened with imbedded grease from his repair shop, carbon from his smithy; the knuckles bent askew from pasture baseball every summer Sunday afternoon. My father's hads were eloquent representatives of his character, strong, hard-working, inexorable, playful and often surprisingly tender.
I watch them tremble on the counterpane, palsied and infirm, and remember the steely control the day he'd had to shoot a predator after it mauled a young calf. My inner eyes see now what I avoided seeing then, the way they shook as he wiped his face to disguise his revulsion for even a necessary killing.
A tear escapes my eye as he engages in battle with the cow in possesion of the blanket again, and I remember the tear caught in the web between his thumb and forefinger as he examined the length of my fingernails to be sure my new-found pride would not hurt the cows at milking time. I wondered if it were one of those cows that now chewed on the corner of his blanket.
Those hands knew everything when I was young. They knew how to hold a knife blade just so against a grinding stone to produce a fine, sharp edge and a glorious stream of fiery sparkles; and how to draw a straight-edged razor down his cheek and throat to chill and delight a breathless daughter as she watched the mysterious masculine prerogative of shaving. They knew how to test a watermelon for ripeness with an expert thump, and how to select an ear of field corn at just the right tender, juicy moment of roasting-ear perfection. They could crank the ice cream freezer with tireless patience and know exactly when to stop. They could draw the dasher from the frozen mixture in one smooth, easy pull and teasingly pretend that this time HE would lick it.
Those knobby brown hands could help a cow give birth when she could not do it alone, and teach the newborn calf to drink from a bucket. Once they pulled me up from the depths of a pit silo when the winch broke. They could fix anything, from bicycle tire to tractor motor; and a doll's broken arm was as carefully mended as the vanes of the windmill fan. They could test the wind's direction, and carry ten eggs from barn to house in one palm without cracking any. They could pitch hay or shuck corn, and milk five cows that night while I milked one. They slaughtered pigs and chickens and steers, and made it seem easy if one was careful not to look at his eyes. They could draw porcupine quills from a dog's nose, and banish warts from my elbow with voo-doo. They could shoe a horse, dehorn a calf, ring a boar and rescue a kitten from a treetop so gently it purred on his knee all evening. Two fingers of these talented hands produced a whistle loud enought to be heard halfway across the farm. In a lighter moment he could make music with a blade of grass between his thumbs.
In memory I watch those powerful hands hold a triple span of horses in firm control down a steep, primitive trail with a deadly load of new-cut timber close behind, and see them stroke and brush and pet each of the six beasts in their stalls at night before tending to his own comfort. I see them guiding the big steam engine as it lumbers across the fields at threshing time, and dangling impotently at his sides when a spirited team of frightened horses plunges across the same fields in panic, with me alone in the wagon behind, clinging desperately to the reins. I see them clenched into helpless fists when the tractor driven by his only son overturns on a pasture slope, and I watch them open carefully when my brother stands up, unhurt and laughing shakily.
Those awesome disciplinarians that had once backhanded the sass back into my mouth had also cupped my ears warmly those nights of agonizing earaches, and somehow made the pain go away so I didn't have to scream anymore. They had trimmed a little girl's hair, smoothing her head with several unnecessary strokes of the palm, and thrust her frozen fingertips into a pan of snow with grim tyranny, holding them there so she couldn't thaw them out to quickly at the stove. Those mighty hands, once more at home with welding torches and sledge hammers, had spoon-fed a dying wife the nourishment she would take from no one else.
My father's hands could do anything then, and now they cannot pull a blanket away from a hallucination. My eyes are blurred and my heart writhes, for if those restless hands were mine he would fix everything for me, and I do not know how to calm his unease. Once more I take the wadded blanket from his hands and smooth it across his shrunken chest. The stiffened fingers hunt and reach and pluck ineffectually, and I give them mine to hold. Perhaps they sense my need, for they grow quiet. The cow is gone, the blanket safe, and my father's hands are strong and sure and comforting again.
Author - Stephanie Stearns ( I think she knew our Grandpa Swalander )