Monday, November 16, 2009

two hands

My hands are not pretty. They're calloused and scared, scratched and worn. I don't know anything about palmistry, but the lines are long and deep . As I write this I can look down and see a black smudge on my knuckle. I lifted the hood of my truck to find out where to pour transmission fluid and got them all dirty. Not all of it washed away in the sink. My pinkie is missing a circle of skin where a piece of firewood took it yesterday. Another scratch crosses the back of my right hand. It's still bright red, fresh from a sharp thin stick that was hiding in the hay. I forgot to wear gloves and that was the price. My nails are all bitten down from stress. Without thinking I bite them while fretting about work and deadlines and someday-mortgages. My fingertips on my left hand are hard from guitar and fiddle strings. My wrists are sore from the mouse I design with all day. When I crack my knuckles it is so loud the dogs lift their heads. I just found a splinter.

My hands are not pretty. They haven't seen polish in years. That's okay. They do good work and run this small farm. They might make a manicurist cringe, but they feed a small empire, chop firewood, plant corn, scoop grains, drive that truck and play an old fiddle. I roll my eyes at the cringing. I'm over it. Sometimes a choice takes a few small sacrifices. I gave up on pretty hands. I turned them in for beautiful ones.


Blogger Amy said...

There is so much beauty in hands that do real work. My hands are short-nailed and calloused, too, but from playing the harp and not doing farm chores. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Long live really good lotion!

November 16, 2009 at 11:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful hands, so well written.

Manicures are overrated - long nails get in the way and get dirty. Strong capable hands are better than pretty ones.

Have you learned how to make your own hand salve yet? Forget polysporin, this stuff will reattach a finger - it's perfect for farm-chapped hands, insect stings and burns, and I'm pretty sure you already have access to the herbs, beeswax and oil you need to make it. You can make a six month supply for you and all your friends for about $20.

November 16, 2009 at 11:16 PM  
Blogger Mary-Heather said...

I keep faving all your posts in my Google reader. Well said.

November 16, 2009 at 11:21 PM  
Blogger kandy Gray said...

thatsthelife-- WHAT is the recipe????????????

my hands are so chapped from refinishing furniture in a cold shed, on my day job, all the freaking hand sanitizer that i now have to use (thank you sooooo much H1n1 hysteria) that i cant bend my fingers with-ought getting a crack in my knuckles. i think that i now officially have chilblains!


November 16, 2009 at 11:27 PM  
Blogger kandy Gray said...

oops that should read

refinishing furniture in a cold shed AND, during my day job,

November 16, 2009 at 11:29 PM  
Blogger Joleen said...

Wear those scratches and scars proudly Jenna, you've earned them!

November 16, 2009 at 11:42 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

I am far more interested when I meet someone if I shake their hand and feel their life. Nail polish and manicures only hides the real person.

November 16, 2009 at 11:47 PM  
Blogger Maggie May said...

I have never had pretty hands. I have my father's square, utilitarian hands. I have grown to love them.

November 16, 2009 at 11:52 PM  
Blogger Sparkless said...

Your hands tell about who you are.
You should see my feet!!!

November 17, 2009 at 12:08 AM  
Blogger Paula said...

Kandy Gray- just in case we never get the recipe, try Neutrogena's Norwegian Formula hand cream. When I lived in Mt. Shasta, CA and worked at a leather clothing mfg, between the winter weather and the leather sucking all the oil out of my hands, they'd crack, deeply, at all my joints. Crack and bleed. N N F hand cream saved my skin.

I don't have pretty hands either- lately I've sported a new splinter in them every day, and they have a little wood stain stuck around the cuticles. Right now, my fingertips are so scaly from doing dishes and the weather changing that I can't handle my yarn without snagging it, so I can't do any knitting at present. I'll never be a hand model, but I can sure handle a cold pie crust well, and split my own kindling, so I'll keep these ones, thank you.

November 17, 2009 at 12:21 AM  
Blogger David Shearer said...

Jenna, Your hands may not be pretty, but they do beautiful things.

November 17, 2009 at 12:43 AM  
Blogger Bri said...


November 17, 2009 at 1:15 AM  
Blogger MXQ said...

Jenna - When I read your post it made me think of an article (herein attached) that was written in "The Citizen", the local newspaper of Auburn, NY.
The article was written by Roberta Panek and was published in April of 1988. The article is about William old school, hard-working, well known, and VERY well-respected farmer. Will was also the great-grandfather of my brother-in-law. Forgive the grammatical & spelling errors, it is hard for my PC to convert newspaper typeface to font. I am sorry to take up so much room, but I hope you will enjoy this article as much as I enjoy your writings.

November 17, 2009 at 1:58 AM  
Blogger MXQ said...

Memories: The Hands of the Farmer

His hands were huge.
When we first met, I naturally glanced at his stature. He was about 6 feet tall and his
80-year-old frame was showing signs of frailty.
I extended my hand to him as a gesture of friendliness
and also to make a connection with this person.
(The custom of shaking hands with others is a tender, peaceful,
human tradition that 1 hope will never cease.)
As I extended my hand, he also reached out with his. Our eyes said hello, along with our
verbal, "How do you do?" It was then that 1 felt my hand lost in his. I'd never felt such strength
and girth in a mere handshake.
I'd known a lot of farmers before, but never paid much attention to their hands. Most of the
farmers that I'd known were my grandfathers, uncles, cousins, and we would all hug hello.
This old man owned the farmhouse with the apartment for rent. I already liked the area, the
quiet winding road, the looks of the farm, and now I was slightly in awe of the proprietor.
I moved into the apartment in May when the bustle of farming was in full throttle. My elderly
landlord was still quite active on the farm. He plowed and fitted the fields and, though he hired
someone to harvest for him, he was always on the site.
He Was out early in the morning and he'd wave and yell "good morning" to me as I was getting into my car. Usually by his side were his constant companions — Duke, a collie dog, and Kitty, a cat.
Together, they would walk out in
the fields to check the sweet peas, corn or wheat, or they would supervise the unloading of
wheat or corn into the dryer bin.
One night, I heard the familiar rap on our shared interior door. He came striding through with Duke and Kitty. Pride was apparent on his face as he handed me a pot of fresh, raw, shelled, sweet peas. He bellowed, "Cook these up for the sweetest peas ya ever tasted!" They were delicious cooked but actually I preferred them raw. They were sweet as candy!
One day, I came home from work with a tiny kitten. It was the runt of the litter — small,
copper and white, adorable and shy. I brought the sweet feline through the door connecting our
living quarters. I wanted to show my new friend to my old friend. The old man took the scared
little creature and cradled it tenderly in his giant paws.
Once again I marveled at his hands. They were hands of a farmer, laborer, husband, father, grandfather, friend. And, now that he was widowed and alone, his hands did housework as well.
He helped me to nurture tiny tomato plants that we grew from seed. He kept them by a sunny window. When it was time to transplant them, he would use his cane to point to each spot in the garden where the plant should go.
When his eyes twinkled I knew that be was going to tell a story, and his wealth of knowledge about farming, local history, and his
keen sense of humor often surfaced in his story telling.
He would laugh loudly at his own jokes and when he sighed he'd let out a loud roar that came from deep inside.
The first time that I saw him sitting at his old sewing machine patching his own work pants, I
was shocked. I could barely use a sewing machine and here was this old man doing such delicate work.
I guess the thing about him that I must admit I liked the best were his own homemade apple pies. He made them with his own loving hands. William Riester died one winter morning. He is gone now, but I think that his message will
live forever.

November 17, 2009 at 1:58 AM  
Blogger MXQ said...

Sorry Jenna, I had to split the article and my comments into two (now three I guess) posts.

November 17, 2009 at 2:01 AM  
Blogger Tony Colella said...

In my college days I visited a girlfriend who was staying with her sister out in farm country near Syracuse, NY.

We went to a local bar owned by an older couple. It was more or less an old house among old houses but it was the town pub. Their food was amazing and they had one of the most varied selection of beers from all over the world.

Above the bar was a sign that read something to the effect of, "We would rather burn out than rust away."

This old couple walked everyone home that needed the assistance. I never forgot them. They inspire me to this day.

Hands are meant to be used in my opinion. They are ours to create with. If all we were to do is keep them pretty would not they too rust away from lack of true use?

The strongest hand I ever shook was my friend Dave's fathers hand. He was a lifelong tile contractor. He owned the company but still got dirty with the crew. Lime and other caustic substances had chiseled the skin on his hand till it felt like concrete and sandpaper. His hand had the strength of many men I do believe.

Tony in Asheville

November 17, 2009 at 6:51 AM  
Blogger Tony Colella said...

In my college days I visited a girlfriend who was staying with her sister out in farm country near Syracuse, NY.

We went to a local bar owned by an older couple. It was more or less an old house among old houses but it was the town pub. Their food was amazing and they had one of the most varied selection of beers from all over the world.

Above the bar was a sign that read something to the effect of, "We would rather burn out than rust away."

This old couple walked everyone home that needed the assistance. I never forgot them. They inspire me to this day.

Hands are meant to be used in my opinion. They are ours to create with. If all we were to do is keep them pretty would not they too rust away from lack of true use?

The strongest hand I ever shook was my friend Dave's fathers hand. He was a lifelong tile contractor. He owned the company but still got dirty with the crew. Lime and other caustic substances had chiseled the skin on his hand till it felt like concrete and sandpaper. His hand had the strength of many men I do believe.

Tony in Asheville

November 17, 2009 at 6:52 AM  
Blogger The pale observer said...

Just found you. Love your writing.

My hands aren't pretty either, so I can relate. But I can't chalk mine up to hard work. They have been ugly since forever. They are miniatures of my Dad's hands. My hubby calls them gecko hands...

Well I've just found you - love this blog. Gonna link you now and definitely become a follower.

Congrats on running a farm!! Hello! I think it's hard work when I have to open a can of tuna that doesn't have a pull off tab top!! :)

November 17, 2009 at 7:40 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Amen Jenna! My hands have done much to provide for me and my family. I have never done polish or even had a manicure. Nor will I. I was shopping the other day and some guy tried to sell me some nail manicure stuff. I almost laughed out loud as he proclaimed how much cheaper his product was than a manicure. I thought "this guy has no ideas who he is talking to!" I'd rather have a good pair of gardening gloves!

November 17, 2009 at 7:49 AM  
Blogger lime said...

long time lurker here. all i can say is amen! so well said, so beautifully written.

November 17, 2009 at 8:03 AM  
Blogger Mustard Moon Farm said...

Long live hard-working, honest hands! I agree with the comment that manicures just hide the real person. I, too have short-nailed, scarred, hard-working hands - LOVED your post, Jenna! Great perspective...

November 17, 2009 at 8:16 AM  
Blogger Kerry said...

I adore this post! So poetic and sweet.

I have the same hands and now that I'm 40 I actually think they need a bit of pampering - the cracked cuticles are always sore!

Papa Pan actually got a reprimand at work for the state of his hands. He's a picker and can't stand picks so grows his nails. Unacceptable in the workplace!

November 17, 2009 at 8:30 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Jenna, A wonderful post!!! It seems to express such honest, healthy and genuine self acceptance and self love. Very refreshing nowadays. Although you do not have your own acreage yet or that very special bearded love of your life, that you so deserve, you seem so content and fulfilled by the choices you have made for yourself. You posesess such strength of character, openness/fearlessness to explore, learn and srike out to reach your dreams you are an inspiration.
My hands are much the same from intense gardening, it is my passion and no manicured hands can match.

November 17, 2009 at 9:03 AM  
Blogger Maria said...

I sometimes look at other peoples hands and get jealous because their are manicured and perfect. Mine aren't, they are scraped and ugly but after reading your post, I wouldn't have it any other way!
Thank you!

November 17, 2009 at 9:26 AM  
Blogger Chicken Mama said...

Wow. Just as eloquent as your post, Jenna, were all the comments. And, I loved MXQ's story about Farmer Riester. I might have to print that one out and save it.

November 17, 2009 at 9:41 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

Hooray! I don't feel so bad about the state of mine now. Thank you. :)

Kandy - olive oil works wonderfully.

November 17, 2009 at 10:14 AM  
Blogger E said...

Your body will support your in your endeavors if you take better care of it now.

Scars and pain may give you bragging rights now but when you are 50 and unable to chop your wood due to weak wrists your options become very limited (ask for help all the time, move to town). Is that what you are aiming for?

November 17, 2009 at 10:52 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

I don't think that's what she's driving at, E - I think all she's saying here is that she feels no compulsion to have hands that *look* nice. No need to succumb to that kind of social pressure.

I didn't get from this that she's not taking care of injuries.

November 17, 2009 at 11:59 AM  
Blogger Dessa said...

Thank you for this. I could have written this post...except without your wit & charm...and except that I finally stopped biting my nails just this year after about 32 years--just up and one day quit it. But, ya, I used to do the same thing. I'd bite my nails down to the quick without even realizing I was doing it. But, now I can't stand when my nails start to get long. I have to keep them cut way short or else they bug me, LOL. And as for the scratches and scars--ya, mine too. I always used to hide my hands in my pockets or just keep them folded in so no one would see my nails. After reading this I will hang em out there a little more proudly.

November 17, 2009 at 12:26 PM  
Blogger Karen Sue said...

Yeah, and I don't think I could really ever be attracted to a guy with 'soft hands'. I need to know that he abuses his at least as much as I do mine!!

November 17, 2009 at 12:38 PM  
Blogger Sol said...

all the scars and nicks on my hand tell a story. Of childhood, stupidity and hard graft.

What story do manicured hands to you? Money to burn?

Great post as always

November 17, 2009 at 1:59 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

What a wonderful post to think about for my own life. I also love the comments and sharing by your readers.

When I think of hands, I think of my father-in-law. He was a master machinist and volunteer fireman. His hands were stained all the time from the oil and chemicals on the machines he worked on.

He loved me and welcomed me into the family. He support nine people with that salary, had a nice little house in the suburbs, and while they were not rich, he provided for his family.

I miss him very much.

November 17, 2009 at 4:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now, all that said...who is the beautiful little guy that you are holding in your beautiful hands?

November 17, 2009 at 4:54 PM  
Blogger Crystal said...

Love it Jenna, as always. But I had to ask is that a gosling???!!!

November 17, 2009 at 5:39 PM  
Blogger PositronicDave said...

Earthy. Poetic. Visceral.


Excellent essay, very moving.

November 17, 2009 at 5:47 PM  
Blogger Alli said...

Bag balm!

November 17, 2009 at 7:03 PM  
Blogger Toni aka irishlas said...

Here, here!

November 17, 2009 at 7:12 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi, nothing brilliant to say except that my Darling Bride found your book at the library and I can't put it down. Finally! A roadmap for us to follow as we pursue our dream. Thank you!

November 17, 2009 at 9:36 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

No, that's one of my first silkie chicks in Idaho. No goslings yet, but Saro's still sitting on her clutch...

November 17, 2009 at 10:00 PM  
Blogger mySavioReigns said...

Did you figure out where the transmission fluid goes? :D

Great blog

November 18, 2009 at 10:08 AM  
Blogger BJ Gingles said...

Great post. I must say that I have always been a "hand" girl myself. Some people notice various body parts on others first but I notice hands. Hands, then eyes, then smile. Then of course other things.

My husband's hands impressed me right off. They were strong and well cared for, not soft or wimpy. It was apparent they were used to labor as he had a few callouses (some from guitar playing as well), but they were clean and the nails were clipped. They immediately made me feel that I would be safe and secure if I placed my future in them.

In women, I am not a fan of the highly manicured hand with long "talon-like" nails. I don't think there is anything wrong with a bit of polish now and again (nothing garish...the simpler the better), but I am impressed with hands that have known work but can also nurture. And I can usually tell just from looking at someone's hands, what that person is like and finds important.

I can't tell you why hands speak to me... they just do. I agree with you on the last line as well. Your hands are not pretty, they are beautiful.

November 18, 2009 at 11:53 AM  
Blogger MIB said...

No joke. I've gotten to the point where I can't understand people who make A Big Deal out of bruises, scratches, small burns, etc. Heck, I get filled with pride from a split lip or other small injuries from handling my livestock--to me it's a reminder when I'm stuck at my desk at work that I've been outside doing something.

November 18, 2009 at 12:20 PM  
Blogger Crystal said...

It looked small for a goose but i haven't actually seen a real one before so I wasn't sure. Wishful thinking for Saro. Thanks for clarifying :)

November 18, 2009 at 2:42 PM  
Blogger From the Country Farm said...

Another fantastic post Jenna, beautifully worded and meaningful. I was sent an email a while back referring to hands and wish that I'd kept it now, talking about the warmth, firmness, grace and beauty of a mothers hands. I know someday you'll add to your collection of scars, bumps and briuses, a husbands kiss and a childs tear and will wear those even more proudly. I know this because I too have beautiful hands.

November 18, 2009 at 5:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Home made hand salve:

Equal parts dried leaves of following herbs as available:
calendula (marigold)
comfrey (root not leaves)
St. John's wort

Place herbs in clean glass jar. Pour enough olive oil over herbs to completely saturate herbs with an extra inch of oil on top.

Place air tight lid on top and shake jar. Place jar on a windowsill exposed to sunlight for four to six weeks, shaking once a day.

You will notice the herbs change in quality when they have dissipated their medicinal properties - they seem shrivelled. It's hard to describe, but you will notice it if you watch it every day.

Strain the oil through a cheesecloth or fine wire mesh and discard the herbs.

Replace oil in mason jar or heat proof container. Put jar in a pot of water or better yet, in a slow cooker full of water set on low.

Warm the oil until it's hot enough to melt beeswax. Add beeswax until desired consistency is reached. You can test the consistency by dipping a cool metal spoon in the salve and setting it aside for 10 minutes.

When you've added enough beeswax, remove the salve from heat and add one tsp of vitamin e oil and one tsp tea tree oil per 500 ml of salve.

Pour the salve into jars and tins and set aside to cool. I like to save glass baby food jars because they're inexpensive to buy, they stand up to hot salve, the lids are air tight and it's about the right size to put in your purse, keep in the kitchen, in the bathroom, give to friends etc.

The cost of making your own salve can depend on the availability and quality of olive oil and beeswax you use, whether you can grow or forrage for the herbs yourself or buy them from a herbalist, etc.

This recipe was designed for use in the wilderness against wind chapping, scratches, cuts, insect bites, burns etc. Over the years I've used it for all these things and find it far superior to any ointment I could buy over the counter - and it smells very nice.

You can even add lavender if you like the smell.

November 18, 2009 at 6:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You could also try using almond oil instead of olive oil as a base for a batch to use in the office. Almond oil is lighter and absorbs faster.

BTW, I use this salve on my face and in my hair too. I don't buy other beauty products anymore.

November 18, 2009 at 6:26 PM  
Blogger Carrie in Wisconsin said...

My grandma deals in essential oils, and almost always tries to use Almond oil as it is more pure than other oils, and it has healing properties of its own. Walnut oil is her second choice of good quality oil. I love this recipe, I'm gonna have to try this out. Jenna, as always a wonderful post. I don't know when it happened but somewhere along the trail I started hating long nails, I keep mine nice of short now. And I don't care how they look frankly, I want people to know when I'm old that I lived and worked with these hands.

November 19, 2009 at 1:21 AM  
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