Etched into the skin of my hands is the story of my life.  There are happy tales and tragic stories.  The tender moment when I  first held a girl’s hand, the first  time that I made a fist in anger, those many times that I extended my middle finger to express an opinion and the  many times I eagerly thrust my tiny young hand above my head because I knew the answer to a question…  There are scars from childhood clumsiness and inexperience with tools.  I once cut my left index finger to the bone with the slip of a chisel while making a rubber band rifle.    There is a deep slash where a shard of glass broke off a large pane and fell through my hand.  It took several years for full sensation to be restored. The first bone I ever broke was my wrist, in a roller skating mishap.  There are missing and deformed knuckles that are testimony to my quick temper and lack of pugilistic skills.  There is a pale skin under the ring that symbolizes my love for my beautiful wife and the happiness she brings me.

 These are the hands that held two beautiful babies in the first moments of their lives.  At that time, those hands were coarse from chopping firewood, and a myriad of other chores that I could not pay someone else to do. These hands were also smeared with grease from my early motorcycle riding years when I wrenched constantly on my old shovelhead.  It seemed that for every hour I rode it, I spent an hour fixing it.    Then came a day when that Harley and I crashed and were both severely damaged.  My right hand needed critical surgery and an external fixater was attached to the outside of my hand and arm with titanium pins and a hi-tech device of knurled stainless steel and adjustable widgets of all sorts. In time, the device came off and I underwent weeks of daily therapy.  I relearned to use my hand, picking up first tennis balls, then ping pong balls.  I graduated up to marbles and finally to grains of rice.  At that point, I picked up my wrenches and started rebuilding the bike.

In time the kids grew up and I grew older.  I became dedicated to my guitars and delved deeply into the craft.  I practiced for hours every day.  To protect my calluses (necessary for good tone), I wore rubber gloves to wash dishes and held my hand out of the water when bathing.  At some point in my musical career, I started studying classical guitar.  With painstaking effort, I groomed, polished and reinforced my nails.  I kept them trimmed to the perfect length.  I ate gelatin and bathed my nails in a mixture of comfrey and horse bane  in an effort to strengthen them.   Through that period, my hands were soft, clean and meticulously kept.  I relegated the maintenance of my cars and motorcycle to mechanics with dirty hands.

Some years ago, I started experiencing numbness in my hands.  A neurologist determined that I had carpal tunnel syndrome so I had both carpal tunnels relieved surgically.  The problem probably stemmed from relentless and dedicated guitar playing.   

Now, my hands are once again stained.  Having rekindled my lifelong interest in painting, my hands are chronically stained with paint and always dry from the constant washing with harsh soaps.  Apart from the scars and the disfigurement, they still look as they did forty years ago.  Strong and youthful, the skin is clear and supple. My hands do not have the moles, liver spots and other indicators of aging that have appeared elsewhere on my body.  I keep my nails short again to reduce the build- up of paints and pastels.  My hands are used gently.  It has been many years since I had to make a fist or throw a punch.  My hands are now soft and un-callused (except the fingertips of my fretting hand).  I don’t do much hard work of any sort and if I do, I blister instantly.  I wear work gloves when doing garden chores to compensate…

I still ride my motorcycle but leave the tinkering to others.  If something is heavy, I use a jack or other means.  I don’t “muscle” things any longer.  My hands may still be strong, but my upper body strength is in decline and my back does not absorb shocks like it used to.   I treat my hands gently and try to be protective of them.  Like me, they have survived a lot, have worked hard , and have slowed down… they deserve a break!