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Hands Essay

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A Multitude of Hands: My new essay for National Geographic

By Carl Zimmer | April 27, 2012 11:26 am

In the May issue of National Geographic, I contemplate the hand. Human hands are unique and versatile–and yet we are far from the only animals with them. By looking at the variety of hands in nature, we can see some of the most striking evidence of how evolution tinkers in all sorts of unexpected way. Check it out.

The print version is accompanied by lovely sketches of a wide range of hands. If you read the story online, you can see an animation of the human hand. And if you have the National Geographic iPad app, you can see videos of other hands, from frogs to aye-ayes.

[Image: White -handed gibbon by Ingo Arndt, on Arkive.]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Writing Elsewhere

As a little girl I’d sit in church and stare at my Mother’s hands.  I was the youngest of three.   I always thought my mother was so old; even when she wasn’t.  She was young and healthy and strong, yet those hands were always so gentle.

Mother’s hands could roll out perfect biscuits or pie dough.  She always had extra dough to make bite size cinnamon rolls or sometimes a tiny pie.

When one of us kids was sick with fever those gentle hands would sponge down our faces and body with Love, comfort and often VICKS.

When we were sick we were given hot tea with toast. I wondered if there was something magical when my Mother would slice the toast into long strips.  I later learned that many mothers do this and that my husband’s mother fromEngland even called these strips of toast, “soldiers”.

Of course Mother’s hands were always busy cooking, baking, and ironing, cleaning and doing for our family.

I think my Mother’s first sewing was learning to make dresses and play clothes for me. I remember the fun of choosing patterns and fabric with great anticipation.  But as I recall she got rather frustrated and began to loose her confidence.  They looked fine to me and I told her so.  This turned out to be a short lived fad but I knew her hands sewed these clothes with much love.

Years later while in high school she went back to it and made me skirts for school and a few dresses for church.  I loved wearing them.  Many years later she used the same fabric from many of these polyester outfits to make a beautiful baby quilt edged with a large white eyelet ruffle.  My Dad and Mother were so proud to give this quilt along with a hand-made dress to our daughter for her first birthday. My mother used her hands to lovingly sew them but my Dad was so proud that he smiled from ear to ear as if HE had sewn them.  Of course shortly after this she lost most of her vision so this fact makes them even more special.

I do recall Mother’s hands daily holding her Bible to read.   Also, my Mother’s hands always mixed perfect dark gravy for our own Thanksgiving dinners over the years.  It’s never been the same.

In recent years when I sat next to my Mother in church I often would think as I’ve gotten older that my own hands are looking just like hers.

I always thought one day I’d like to take the time and try to sketch her hands or even photograph them.  I never did.

I do wish I’d have patted those hands more or held them more.



Pam Tobias   2005