Friday, September 11, 2009

Week 1 Hands graf Graf #1 Details/Observations
I stepped back to admire the bulletin board I had worked on all day. Each letter was perfectly drawn and carefully cut from construction paper. “Helping Hands” it said in large, multi-colored letters. Without giving it much thought, I quickly traced and cut out one last shape. “Mrs. Zani” I wrote across it with a dark green magic marker. I centered this silhouette of my left hand directly below these words. The warm, humid air hung in the classroom and gently curled the edges of all the papers I just stapled. The pale blue background would provide the perfect contrast to 19 tiny, yet brightly colored hand prints my Kindergarten pupils would add on Thursday.

Exhausted, I quietly sat down in the back of the room and stared for a long time at the handprint on the back wall. I did not recognize the silhouette of the large hand I just cut from construction paper. I scrutinized the outline of each finger. Then, looking down, I outstretched my left hand and examined each finger carefully.

Staring at a crooked pinky, I then recalled how I broke that finger playing volleyball in the sand at Crane’s Beach in the summer of “69. I refused to wear a splint because it didn’t seem fashionable to me at the time. Of late, I am more conscious of its misshapen form, as it aches whenever I close my hand. I also noticed the space between my knuckles on my ring finger was narrower compared to the same finger on my other hand. The skin between the joints here was smooth and a lighter color than the surrounding skin too. I imagined over these 40 plus years, everything just grew up and around my gold wedding band without me ever taking notice before. Upon examining my middle finger, a long, white scar was a haunting reminder of my first bout with carcinoma melanoma. A small depression marked the spot where some of the bone had to be removed. My pointer finger was no doubt my strongest finger and the most flexible. Its firm muscles gave it an appearance of being slightly over used. It was larger than all the other fingers on that hand. Probably, because of all my fingers, it had always been used the most. As a child, it repeatedly tapped the back of many a pet frog in daily summer frog races. Jerking it back and forth, it also rang the bell on my bicycle as I rode around the neighborhood from just after dawn until well past dusk. That was until the streetlights came on to be more exacting. During the holidays, I used it to point out anything and everything I wanted from Santa. And I wanted a lot. The worn skin and callus under the nail was attributed to the hard, steel strings of the guitar I played as a teenager. And I played a lot. Although I preferred the piano, it was a lot easier to tote a guitar to a friends house. I looked at all sides of my pointer finger and realized how much mileage it must have on it. There was barely a discernable fingerprint. It is probably the most intelligent finger of them all, if fingers can even have intelligence. My pointer has scanned phone books, road maps, dictionaries, foreign language spelling word lists and countless to-do lists. Yes, it had a lot of mileage on it, but it is still going strong. I knit my brow as I then looked at my thumb. It didn’t look at all like any of the other fingers on my hand. It was short and stout. How peculiar, the nail grew slightly off center and to the left. Admittedly, I used it to unknot wet shoe laces, scratch off stubborn price tags, and occasionally it removed dried paint from window glass on sashes. I rubbed my right hand over the back of my left hand and made the wrinkles disappear. The skin was soft and smooth yet so thin and frail now. I saw “birthday spots”, as they are called, where there was once an even complexion. My hands had begun to resemble my Grandmother’s hands and that brought a solace of its own. I turned my hand over and examined my palm. I looked at my lifeline. Somewhat surprised but pleased, I saw that had not changed. It was still long and smooth and sleek. Just like my fingers were the last time I stopped to examined them.

Hearing familiar voices coming from the hallway, I stood up and walked towards the door. My grandson was running down the corridor ahead of my daughter. As in playing a game of hide-and-go-seek, I deliberately remained somewhat hidden behind the freshly painted door frame. I turned so as not to appear staring in that direction and waited. “I found you, Grandma“, a small voice exclaimed. The tossed auburn locks were the same color as my Grandmother’s hair. As I looked down, two tiny, tanned, and dimpled hands were waving , jerking back and forth in front of me. I studied the perfectly shaped fingers, straight , flawless, tender, and plump. “Can you fix my strap?”, he said. I reached down and untangled the twisted overall clasp. He grabbed both my hands and brought them to his face. He gave them “bunches of smooches”, our typical greeting to one another. I reciprocated. “ Your hands are warm and soft, Grandma, and smell like strawberries,” he said in a soft voice. I reached into a wrinkled brown paper bag and pulled out a small container. “I picked these from my garden this morning just for you,” I said.

With my left thumb, I peeled back the lid. With my pointer finger, I singled out the first strawberry I thought my Grandson should eat. I thought to myself, these are still “Helping Hands” and a familiar rush of energy flooded through me. I raced my Grandson to the playground behind the building. For a very long time, I sat quietly and stared at the silhouette of the young boy. He pointed to anything and everything he wanted. And he wanted a lot, including the frogs in the tall grass. And he played a lot. I watched as he rode the Tyke bike my daughter pulled from the trunk of her car. The silence was broken when my daughter called aloud, “Five more minutes, then we have to pack up.” Using both hands, I worked quickly to load the back of their Explorer. I raised my left hand, and extended my pointer finger towards a detour sign and gave directions as how to maneuver the back roads leading to RT 15. “If you leave now and go directly home,” I said,” you should get there before dusk, before the street lights come on that is.” With my right hand, I waved good-bye and brushed the sand from the back of my left hand. I stepped back and outstretched my fingers and I recognized everyone of them.


  1. On the one hand (so to speak), I'm looking forward to reading a semester's worth of pieces from you of this extraordinarily high quality. On the other, I would be remiss if I didn't tell you right now that you would have no trouble taking and acing the CLEP exam that allows people to test out of ENG101. Does that interest you?

    This is very fine: framing always impresses me and this is framed, perhaps, three times: the classroom, the grandchild, and the subtle time business of the two grandmothers/frogs/streetlights. The long graf (should be broken into shorter ones) giving the history of your hand is also very restrained, focused yet nicely discursive too, quiet and sensible writing.

    Are you interested in submitting this to the school's literary magazine?

  2. I am very pleased you enjoyed my essay. I would consider it to be a privilege to be considered a candidate to have my work appear in the school's literary magazine, The Eyrie. It would be an honor to be published alongside some of Eastern Maine Community College's best students' work. Thank you.

  3. Great! Copy the submisssion sheet, fill it out, email it to me along with a copy of the piece, and I pass it along to the editors.