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A Mother's Body

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My mother always complained about her hands, she disliked them and called them ugly.

They were the hands of an Irish peasant, broad and stubby fingered, strong and capable. As a child mama worked long hours in the cotton fields of Texas, but despite the hard times of her childhood, she turned into a real beauty. She enjoyed those days when photographers would snap her picture on the streets of Dallas, and was careful to always wear gloves; her gloves matched her hat, her hat matched her shoes and her shoes matched her purse. My father took one look at her and scooped her up when she was just nineteen.

Those hands that she thought ugly learned to create elegant beauty. My mother was famous in our small Texas town for the Martha Washington cake that graced the dessert plates of the P.T.A. meetings and garden clubs. Mama and her fancy white cake would be called upon to dress up a potluck dinner at the church, or to bring comfort to a funeral luncheon.

Mama really came into her own, though, when she sat down at her old Singer sewing machine. She sewed exquisitely, with the flair of the true artist. She would dream up her own creations, designing and cutting the patterns for the clothes out of newspaper. It was in this way that mama created my sister Gwenny's wedding gown, a confection of white lace, taffeta and silk. Mama covered the myriad of tiny buttons with the most exquisite lace held in her own short fingers. When the dress was finished, she would fling up the silky material, letting the dress flow across her work hardened hands.

Perhaps because she worked so hard, mama loved to have parties, and would view these occasions as a chance to redecorate, painting the walls, reupholstering furniture. Often she would invite all the girls and women in our town for an afternoon tea. Our house would be filled with the chatter and laughter of sweet scented and powdered females. There is a photograph of mama on one of these occasions. She is standing by the punch bowl, enshrined in a shell pink dress of her own design, her black hair stiff in her trademark pompadour, her dimpled cheeks smiling and those short fingers wrapped tightly around the crystal cup. Everything at the party, the tiny sandwiches and the Martha Washington cake, the dresses, the new paint, everything comes from mama's ugly hands.

Shortly before her death, as we sat in a shady nook of the beautiful garden that she had wrenched from the tough Texas earth, my mother held out her hands, gazed at them a moment and then declared,

“I've always been ashamed of my hands. I always thought they were so ugly. But now when I look at them, I think of all the things that they have helped me do, and I don't know, I don't mind so much anymore that they are ugly.”

Then she hit the back of one of her hands and shrugged her shoulders and laughed at herself. My mother's hands had picked cotton, rocked babies, popped a naughty backside, designed clothes, created gardens, comforted friends, and embraced all of life with love and laughter. In my memory, my mother's hands are beautiful.

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