Mum's Hands - Memories of an Uncanny TalentPosted on: Mar 13, 2021
She wouldn't thank me for telling you this, but they were big hands. Capable and masculine. I always thought of them more as all-enveloping paws.
She would paint her nails with tasteful colours: dusky pink, caramel beige. Well, she would paint the nails she had left. The index and middle finger on her left hand had been amputated in a mysterious accident while working in a plug factory.
When I played with her wedding ring, it was gold and solid and comically oversized. Nothing dainty about it. And of course, it had to be worn on her right hand. A fact I was wholly ignorant of until I asked my sister which of her fingers were missing.
We didn't know the details of the accident. But like so many things about her youth in East Berlin, she didn't talk about it and we didn't ask. It's only now that she's gone that I'm hungry for the stories. But as kids? We didn't even notice our Mum had a foreign accent until we saw a home video. Mums are just Mums aren't they.
In any case, she had a kind of brutal un-sentimentality about that time on the wrong side of the wall. When it fell in 1989, her friend bought her flowers. Mum was entirely bemused by this thoughtful gesture. Berlin was old news. Another life.
If I told you that those hands, inelegant as they were, could do anything, you'd think I was exaggerating. But those hands, unqualified by any kind of higher education or training, could bake, sew, knit, upholster, wallpaper, fix, engineer, prune, and paint. Recovering a three piece suite? No big deal. Sewing several bridesmaids dresses? Just show her the pattern.
Unruly, overgrown plants were pruned back with impressive efficiency, and if she had to clamber onto a roof to reach the stragglers, so be it. I didn't go to a professional hairdresser until I could pay for it myself. Kitchen haircuts with a plastic bin liner around your shoulders was the Karla Abrahall way. Box hair dyes were money-saving manna from heaven.
Clothing was tailored to Saville Row standards. Three course dinner parties catered without breaking a sweat. Fully lined, floor-length curtains run up on the trusty sewing machine in an afternoon. Piles of delicate profiteroles produced out of little balls of tempestuous choux pastry as if by magic. God those profiteroles were delicious.
I remember a pretty impressionist style painting of a tree made up of many multicoloured dots that had faded in the sun. She simply grabbed a brush and some paint and performed her own unfussy restoration project.
There was a confidence in what she could do with those hands. It was pure, unpretentious ability. I truly believe that had she discovered the endless tutorials available on YouTube, there would be nothing she couldn't teach herself to do with those inelegant, 8-fingered hands.