I was just typing a post for one of my other blogs - over at www.liamsamolis.com - and happened to notice my right hand. Not that I didn't know that it was there, you understand, but I don't usually pay much attention to my body parts unless they give me cause. What caught my eye was the crescent-shaped cut which is presently healing across the top of the point where my thumb blends into my wristy/handy bit. This very minor injury is several days old now, and I have not the faintest idea how I sustained it - merely that it was suddenly there a few evenings ago. This is not an uncommon occurrence; I frequently find surprising small injuries which appear to be spontaneous, but which reason dictates have a perfectly rational cause that I failed to notice.
In this, I channel my late father.
As a kid - and especially as a teenager in the late 70s and early 80s - I used to help my dad with a multitude of mundane but ostensibly manly tasks - digging the vegetable patch, tidying up the yard and performing (unsuccessful) repairs on the car, for example. I learned a lot from doing so - something which has now been brought home to me as a father, and having experienced the morbid lack of enthusiasm for any of the above activities from my own brood. Importantly, I also witnessed a good deal of blood-letting. My dad, you see, had a genius for injuring himself.
Having been in the Royal Navy in the 1940s and 1950s, he had developed hands like a lumberjack from all the hard labour that was involved (specifically, he reckoned it was all the rope-pulling in an era when things like that were yet to be mechanized). His hands were big and fleshy, his fingers like meaty, knuckled sausages. I remember his hands as much as I remember his face - it's easy to do so, because my own appendages are an almost identical - if less sausage-y - version of them. I miss my dad's hands: big and strong, they moved in a certain fidgety way, and yet always gently held his children and his grandchildren with all the love he could muster. He expressed himself better through his hands than with his words. My dad's hands enveloped mine whenever, as adults, we infrequently shook hands (we weren't big on formalities like that). I didn't realize it until it was too late, but they were always my 'daddy's' hands. This was true right up until the last time I saw him (when it finally hit me) and I held his suddenly weak, trembling fingers in mine, and reassured him that it was really me that had come thousands of miles to be with him, that I loved him deeply, and then said goodbye for the final time.
There so many positive memories of Dad and his poor, battered hands. Like him, I seem able to cut myself open on a piece of wet string. I have a small mark on the web of skin betwixt index finger and thumb (sorry about that gratuitous use of 'betwixt', but you have to grab these moments when they present themselves) which I got two days ago from nothing more dangerous than a kitchen drawer. I cut myself with pieces of paper, with zippers (don't ask), with blunt objects like doors, chairs and work surfaces, and with a blade in my hand the local ambulance service goes on amber alert. Only last week, I picked up a small sliver of glass from a table (I hadn't put it there before you leap to conclusions about me breaking stuff). I did so carefully, holding it in my fingertips. Quite how I almost immediately managed to slice myself on the TOP of my middle finger is a mystery that not even the combined efforts of The Discovery Channel or H2 would be able to solve. Similarly, just why about half my entire blood supply needed to come out of such a small hole remains unanswered. Ancient Aliens may be involved, but other than that it's anybody's guess. For some weeks I have been picking up abrasions to my right elbow which have me worried that this might be a sign of repeated extraterrestrial abduction and rough handling*.
*It usually happens like this: I point my body part at my wife. "What's that thing I can feel, there?" She peers at it in a resigned fashion. "It's another scabby thing." "Where's that come from, then?" She sighs. "Obviously you've been banging into things again, honey." Aside from casually discounting the whole alien theory with a stunning disregard for my concerns on the subject, I think she may have a point.*
My dad was a walking band-aid advertisement, and I have become his avatar, although I have skin (reptilian?) which tends to reject any sticking plaster known to man. It's clearly not enough for the universe to have given me a disease which requires me to stick sharp things into myself several times each day simply in order to survive (who knows how my dad's circulation might have coped with that scenario?); no, I am also burdened with the genetic predisposition to perform unintentional plastic surgery on an almost daily basis. My arms and hands are replete with pale scars of mishaps past - they all heal, of course (I have also inherited his startling ability to heal in double-quick time, which on balance is probably a good thing - otherwise I might have made a decent living as a make-up-free zombie movie extra), but given the option, I would rather have left this particular trait un-inherited.
The biggest wound, of course, is that I know that I can never hold his gnarled, meaty hand again. The reassurance of his strong grip, the loving lightness of his touch for me (and the delight of watching him be exactly the same with my own children) are things of the past. That particular, very deep wound will never heal completely, and neither should it - not while I love his memory. I look down and smile, even now - as tears line my eyes - and I see a facsimile of his hands before me, scratched, nicked, but as strong as his were, and just as he silently taught me, gentle with those whom I love. Thank you for your hands, Dad.