Another installment of my writing on my author friend Luis Alberto Urrea’s prompt “What Your Hands Remember.”
The Dry Grit of Mexican Hillside Orphanages
Dry, fine, gritty, reddish-brown dust. The soil from which the life of Tijuana springs. In your clothes (whack ‘em and see the clouds), in your hair (shower water runs off, repelled like rain on duck feathers), and of course, on your hands (just try to brush it off.)
Not digging in the dirt? No matter. Everything you touch is dusty and will gladly share some dust with you. It’s in your food. It’s in the air. And yes, now it’s in your lungs. Wash your hands in the sparse water of the hillside Rose Park orphanage. Go ahead. Your hands will be dusty again in moments. My hands remember that feeling. Dusty. Unless it’s mud season. And well, they remember that, too.
Holding Street Tacos in Tijuana
The warm, pliable feel of a Tijuana street taco. Of several tacos. Eight tacos, ten… as many as a sixteen year-old boy can eat. Mmmm, tacos. Fresh, mini corn tortillas wrapped around lean meat of indeterminate speciation, onions, cilantro and salsa known to cause spontaneous combustion. My hands remember those tacos and miss them. Like loved ones lost to another time and place, but which live on in the heart, and in the memories of hungry hands.
Holding Donna’s Hand in the Movie
First date, first touch, first love. Oh, my hands remember. Sitting in the old Grossmont Theater watching Airport 75 in November 1974. My first date with Donna. First date period. My hands wanting to hold hers, even a touch. But the person to which my hands were attached didn’t have the nerve.
A week or so later, on our third date (and my hands remember watching Billy Jack’s lightning-fast hands on the screen), my hands remember so well slipping one of mine over one of Donna’s in the darkness of that Mission Valley theater. I’ve since learned that she put her hand in position to make it easier. (“Come on, Bill, make your move!”) It worked.
Of course, you can’t hold hands 24/7, so my hand has let go of hers from time to time since that night, but my heart never has let go, and our lives remain as happily entwined as our fingers on that movie armrest. And we still hold hands whenever we can.
Piano for Donna After Our Fourth Date
My hands and the piano. Nothing new. But playing for the girl I was falling for after dinner on our fourth date, now that was special. My hands remember playing Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique (remember, I started classical… rock and blues was an add-on). During the second movement, she thought, “If I marry this guy, that will be our wedding march.” And she did, and it was. And guess whose hands played it?
Donna’s Cat Sam, the First Cat I Ever Touched
My hands remember a lot of firsts, and so many different textures. Cat fur. So warm and soft. I had to wait until I was 19 to feel it. Our family didn’t have cats and I was a cat-bigot. Hated them. I was a dog man (if you call a 19 year-old a man).
But this girl I was falling in love with was a cat person. Her elegant, black, part-Siamese cat was a well-bred lady of style named Samantha Ann (or Sam, for short). Donna’s cat since 6th grade. First of all, I realized that it was “love the cat or lose the girl,” and I was willing. But Sam, being a cat, knew that I hated cats and so spent all her time jumping on my lap, lying on my jacket, looking in my eyes and asking my hands for pets and affection. She knew. She dared me to refuse to touch her, to refuse to fall for her, to refuse and risk everything.
So my hands petted a cat at last. Wasn’t so bad. Like most biases, my cat hatred wasn’t based on facts. Now I love kitties. I’m cat-crazy. Just ask my kids. Kids? Yeah, but wait, that’s getting ahead of the story…
Playing Piano at My Own Wedding
She was right. I was the guy Donna married and the second movement of Sonata Pathetique was indeed our wedding march. Well, all but the one fast part that sounds like the groom is being chased round and round the church in a shotgun wedding.
And my hands remember that wedding march because I played it myself. No one else we know could do it. Even our church organist couldn’t. So I did. For a moment, as Donna marched up the aisle on her dad’s arm, it looked like she was going to marry Gregg Wilson, my best man. But a moment later, as my hands recall, I walked over from the piano and took her hands in mine and this 34-year adventure began.
Taking Donna’s Hand to Walk Back Down the Aisle
Weddings are such a cornucopia of memories. My ears remember being full of nervous sweat. My eyes remember seeing Gregg quickly toss the ring pillow into the choir loft after the sleepy young ring bearer abandoned his post and went to doze on his mommy’s lap. But what my hands remember is slipping that ring on Donna’s finger and her slipping one on mine and then grabbing her hand, the hand of my wife of 30 seconds and walking back down the aisle as Mr. and Mrs. Our hands have been hanging out together every since.