Another installment of my writing on my author friend Luis Alberto Urrea’s prompt “What Your Hands Remember.”
Feeling Schroeder Die Under the Water… I Was the Grown-up Now
There comes a time when you realize that you are a grown-up. It doesn’t happen just by crossing some arbitrary line, like turning 18 and being able to vote. Or even by getting married. It comes when you look around and realize there’s no one else to perform the hard task before you, no Daddy who will do it for you. My hands remember that day.
We were already married with a 3 year-old child, in the Philippines as missionaries and studying the Tagalog language in a town south of Manila. Then our young cat got poisoned and the vet said there was nothing that could be done. I had to drown our kitty to end its terrible suffering and spasms. Feeling her struggle and then relax was horrible. That was the hardest thing I had been forced to do in my 25 years of life. The thought hit me, “I’m the grown-up now. I’m the dad who has to do the hard stuff.” Growing up wasn’t quite all I’d imagined.
The Saw Wound While Making Monkey Pole
It’s bad luck to be the left hand of a right-handed man, and most left hands have the scars to prove it. And it’s not just boys outside of piano lessons who wound themselves. Right-handed people hold the object they’re working on with their left hand, so hammers and sharp tools get thrust in the direction of the left hand. It wouldn’t be a problem if we never missed.
I was sawing a round pole for our pet monkey to play on when my brand-new hand saw skipped and hopped over and ran across my left hand at the base of my thumb (yeah, the opposite side of same thumb I stabbed on the when I was a kid.) It was a deep cut and involved an artery, very messy, as my hands remember and would reluctantly tell you. Sorry for its mistake, my right hand quickly grabbed its wounded partner and squeezed hard to stop the bleeding. The sight of the blood made my normally level-headed wife woozy.
But I couldn’t let go of my hand, so I had to get my eight year-old daughter Elisa to help me use the radio to call the plane, so I could get flown out to a doctor. She would press the microphone button and hold it while I talked, then let go while the pilot’s wife answered. Back and forth we went. Then while the plane was on its way, I told her what to put in my carry-on bag… my brown shorts, a couple shirts, some boxers, my Bible… okay, that’s good. That was the only time someone else had to buckle my seat belt harness around me in the plane. My hands remember just holding onto each other, letting someone else do their job.
The Feel of a Typewriter’s Keys
I took typing in summer school before 6th grade. Ugh. My hands remember those stupid drills. f fgf fgf f. But knowing how to type was a good thing, even in those days. And in high school when typing term papers. But as a kid I never would have believed that typing would so define my life. “Bible Translator.” Nice job title, but they don’t tell you that it really means, “Types An Awful Lot.” Now at age 54 who knows how many thousands of hours I’ve typed. And when I’m not working on translation, I’m writing emails, Facebooking or writing blogs about my hands. Just can’t get enough, I suppose. Our first few years in the jungle, I did translation on a manual typewriter (you younger readers can Wikipedia that… it’s a machine that put letters on a page without electricity.) My hands remember typing those drafts, retyping each new version, making revisions while accidentally adding new typos and mistakes. Click, clack, clack… and of course, hitting the return lever to start a new line. No “word wrapping” back then. It was more like “word whacking.”
Carbon paper. To make multiple copies back then I had to stack paper and carbon paper (making sure to get the carbon paper facing the right way) before inserting it into the typewriter. My hands remember that… vaguely. What a memory of how things used to be. And my hands remember the unique challenges of tropical rain forest typing: for example, wiping sweat from one’s brow before it drips on the paper. And the urungew! Little gnats whose sole mission in life was the land on my eyeballs. So I developed a rhythmic system where I would wave my hand in front of my eyes as I hit the return, accomplishing two goals with one action. But that wasn’t a perfect solution. Finally, I had to develop a new strategy. My hands remember wiping a bit of Off® around each eye to keep the gnats at bay.
Wiping the Powder Off Chloroquine Tablets
There are a few things my hands remember that most Americans’ hands have never known. Malaria was endemic in our jungle, so quite often we had the pleasure of taking Chloroquine as a treatment. These white tablets are bitter. No wait, there is no word in English to describe just quite how bitter than are. The trick is to get them past your taste buds unnoticed, kind of like a dishonest kid trying to sneak a friend into the theater. But even if you coat them with banana or some other food and do not actually taste them, when the Chloroquine hits your stomach, your whole body will shiver. There are bitterness sensors in your stomach, apparently
But over the years, I learned a few tricks. Thankfully, I love hot sauce, so I didn’t mind swishing a few drops of Tabasco around in my mouth before taking the Chloroquine. That was a taste bud distraction strategy. It helped. But Chloroquine tablets have a slight dusting of powder on them, like old pieces of chalk. My hands learned that if you wipe off this dust (both sides and the round edge of the tablet), there is much less chance of tasting the bitterness.
Holding My Guitar and Singing For Fun Night
For years I have almost always done two or three songs at our annual conference’s Fun Night. Weird Al. Ray Stevens. Or my own Yancovic-like rewrites of commercial tunes. My hands remember holding the guitar and playing the chords, especially to “Hotel Brough Manila” (based on the Eagles’ Hotel California), which the kids requested every year. People who only knew me when I was younger would not believe I would sing in front of a crowd. But this isn’t my voice’s story, and my hands are always ready to play.
First Touch of a Computer Keyboard
In movies, they always make the computer keyboard click too loud so you know what it is, I suppose. Mine have never sounded quite that bad. But my hands sure remember the first time I typed on a computer. 1985. A screaming 8 MHz 8086 PC clone (made to run on 24 volt DC in the jungle) with 1 full megabyte of RAM (but of course, only 640k was usable… remember those days? “RAM drives”?) It had a 20-megabyte hard drive (“I’ll never fill this!”) Now I have Quicktime movies that are larger than that in a single file.
But why do my hands remember? First of all, the keyboard did feel different, even if it didn’t clack and rattle like the ones in You’ve Got Mail! But they remember an “enter” key and no more return lever. A delete and a backspace key that would delete without smudging the paper… there was no paper. And best of all, only having to type the full draft of anything once. All rewrites were simply editing the existing file. My hands found themselves with more time on their hands, so to speak. More time for typing first drafts! More time for… wiping the mold off floppy disks!
Holding a Ventolin® Inhaler
One of the not-so-fun aspects of tropical living is the humidity. It saps your energy, makes you tired, melts your brain, causes you to perspire to a degree that no personal hygiene product can handle. And it causes everything to mold. Leather molds. Paper molds. Rice and pasta and bamboo walls mold. But did you know soap can mold? How about the front lawn? Yep. There is a downside to being too “green” when it means that everything you own has verdant fuzz growing on it.
Some mold is a dry white powder that lightly dusts everything. And as more and more things are musty and stale and moldy, many of us living here develop asthma. I think it has something to do with the body being designed to breathe air, rather than airborne water and mold.
So my hands remember holding an inhaler of the bronchodilator Ventolin®, having to time it just right, hitting the button just as you breathe in so the medicine gets inhaled fully. Thankfully, living in town nowadays and having my asthma more under control, my hands don’t have to activate Ventolin® very often. But they remember.