My friend Luis Alberto Urrea is a writer. He suggested this writing prompt and I got inspired. He said to write “What Your Hands Remember.” I got to thinking, and realized my hands could pretty much tell my whole life story, if I let them. So I started writing it all down.
We’ll see where it takes us. This blog is way out there. It’s not quite like anything else I’ve posted publicly. It’s way more personal, for one thing. But I’m going to post it, anyway. It seems like a good start for this new blog for anyone who wants to get to know me a little bit.
I will be publishing this “manual memoir” in installments, so look for the rest…
And gracias, Luis!
Squeezing Playdough® and Silly Putty®
Scientists tell us that Men come from Little Boys. And little boys live with their hands: always touching, fiddling, disassembling, breaking, building, playing in the mud. Some of my earliest memories are those kinds of tactile experiences. My hands remember. Looking back, I see they led the way at each point in life.
They remember Playdough. Squeezing it so that it oozed out from between my fingers. Poking it, mashing it—feeling the cool, not-quite-wet texture. Yellow. And blue, which looked and felt so great under my fingernails. And there was red. Well, to be honest, it was more pink, but no little boy’s hands would admit that. Day after day I would form countless “worms,” rolling the dough palm-to-palm or palm-on-table, getting them thinner and thinner. All the while trying to maintain a uniform diameter so they would not look like tiny pythons which had swallowed whole pigs. Why did I do that? My hands would have known. If only I had asked them. They labored, coiling those worms into snakes and making tiny forked tongues with bits of Playdough rolled as thin as thread. Only the most special creations were allowed to harden. My hands remember the dry, crusty surface, but they always preferred Playdough when it was fresh—soft, malleable, allowing them to create, rather than merely reminisce.
And whose hands can forget the unique pleasure, the slick, plastic-rubber feel of Silly Putty? Stretching it until it would suddenly snap with a clean break. It would change from soft to hard without warning. Magic. My hands remember pressing it against comic books and newsprint and pulling away the mirror-image imprint. Over and over.
Catching Backyard Critters
My hands remember exploring the wilds of suburbia. Our newly-cleared backyard with its pile of old lumber provided a true jungle for a childish Tarzan’s hands to explore. And the memories remain of picking up fuzzy black caterpillars and catching alligator lizards, holding them in my hands, cold-blooded against my warmth. My fingers remember the surprising sharpness of the bite when the lizard was more agile than the tarmangani hunter with toy bow and arrow slung across his skinny back.
I was always catching, touching, feeling. The roughness of lumber scraps. The bumps on horny toads. Digging in the brick planters around the house full of sow bugs. Holding them in my palm and poking them, watching them roll up like a little ball, then holding still so they would unfurl their body, only to be poked and prodded back into hiding. XBox? Didn’t need one. Back then we knew that the world itself is both entertainment and teacher for the boy with bare hands. And my hands remember.
Our yard was also full of color. My parents’ hobby was growing roses. We had over 100 bushes and of course, a million bees. Each Saturday I helped my mom arrange flowers for church the next morning. One Easter Sunday we cut 12 dozen roses and then, looking at the yard, you couldn’t miss them; so many still remained. A sea of reds, yellows and white. My hands remember the velvet caress of rose petals and the stab of their thorns, the prickly mesh of lacey ferns, the cool crunch when cutting a gladiolus stem, and the bulging nectar-filled bodies of aphids as I removed them from their under-leaf hiding places. I always liked to be the one to stick the dense clay-like “frogs” to the bottom of the vases. To this day, my hands love the feel of roses.