Blue Collar Hands

I remember holding my dad's hand when I was little and tugging on his fingers in fascination because they were so different than mine. His hands were callused, turned to dried leather from work. His fingernails were blunt and his palms were always stained with oil from working on the cars. He used to tell me that someday, my hands would look like his because I would have my own car to work on. I remember him laughing at me when I jumped up and down excitedly at the idea.

Dad was the one that taught me how to drive the lawn mower. He would set the seat as far back as it would go and sit me down in his lap, his foot pushing the pedal while I gripped the wheel with both hands to steer. When the wheel was too hard to move or I couldn't turn quick enough, he'd pull with me. If I got frustrated he would calmly tell me how to correct it. Go back and try again with his hands showing me the way.

One summer dad came back from the fire pit outside and told us that he had spilled gasoline on his hand and it had caught fire. It was out by the time he got to the house, but the idea of it made me laugh anyway. Dad was always the one who handled the fireplace in the house and out. Sometimes he would add logs with his bare hands, sometimes with the thick gloves that hung on the mantle. The very idea of him actually catching fire seemed strange and funny.

Still does, looking back.

I asked him once why his hands were rough and stained like that. He then took my hands in his and pointed to the dirt staining my wrists from the mud fight I'd had with my sister only hours before. "It starts with that," he said, and then he lifted his own hands. "These are working hands, kiddo. Everything we have here came from these hands."

I think he might have rolled his eyes when I told him that some of it had come from the Home Depot and Sears. I had been with mum when she had bought the washing machine.

"You'll get it someday," he said. "Just remember this, okay? It doesn't matter how much work I have to do, I'll do whatever it takes so you and your sister and brother can have whatever you want. That's what working hands do." Then he smiled and ruffled my hair – something that bothered my mother to no end because it took her forever to get me to sit still long enough to tame it.

"Yeah, you'll get it someday."

Now I look at my hands and smile when I see the rough calluses and permanent indent on my middle finger from holding a pencil or a pen. I can still see tiny lines on my knuckles and palms from where the skin had cracked and split from long hours working in the gardens. While they aren't as tough as my dad's, these are working hands.

Minus the oil.