Reflections on Hands: A Memoir Moment

Posted by Kathleen Pooler/@kathypooler


” The heart is the toughest part of the body. Tenderness is in the hands.”  Carolyn Forche, The Country Between Us.



I just returned from a women’s weekend retreat where I participated in a session on working with clay. The purpose of the session was to experience the transformative power of molding something out of a mound of clay so as to get in touch with the artist within. I started rolling the lump of brown clay into a ball feeling the soft clay against my palms and fingers. As soft music played in the background, Sister Sue spoke in soothing, measured phrases about getting in touch with our own creative energies and all our God-given gifts that need to come forth.



Photo credit: Dreamstimefree: The Potter’s Hands

During the process, I became very aware of my hands and how they were vital tools in allowing me to shape the clay—first into a heart, then a butterfly, then a closed shell with curved edges until it ultimately opened up into a sunflower-shaped bowl. It was a little rough around the edges but it was beautiful. I pressed my thumbprints into the center in the shape of a heart, reminding me that I can open up and even if I am a little rough around the edges, I still have a heart.

Imperfection has its own beauty.


That led to a flood of memories about my hands…



Here I am with my dad, overlooking Keuka Lake in Penn Yan,NY (1950):

A four-year old little girl stands on a hill next to a man in the black and white photo. Her small, soft hands reach up to hold the large, safe hand of her father, her hero .




Dad and I standing on a hill in Penn Yan,NY  overlooking Keuka Lake, 1951


A seven-year-old and her baby brother Tom nestle in the safe grooves next to their father. He gently drapes his arms around them, their hands side by side(1953):



Scan Hands 5

During my Freshman year in high school (1961), my hands were photographed for the yearbook, The North Star.


Yearbook Hands

Yearbook Hands, 1961



The day Wayne and I were married  in October,2001:


wedding day hands

August, 2010:

Now the little girl has grown. She is sixty-four and her aging, wrinkled hand wraps, fingers intertwined, the same hand of her eighty-seven year old father whose hands are frail and spindly with skin as thin as parchment paper. She puts her other hand over their intertwined hands as they slowly walk in unison down the stairs of the lake house to sit on a beach swing and watch the boats go by or watch a mother duck lead her eight baby ducklings across the water.


The day I held my dying father ‘s hands, November 25, 2010:

 I have been sitting at my father’s bedside for the past week, rubbing his swollen arm and telling him how much I love him. His skin is pink and soft and feels warm against my hand. I hold his hand and stroke his fingers. His nails are smooth and trimmed as they always have been. The wrinkles are ironed out by the swelling.

These are the hands that guided me through tenth grade geometry,through setting up a personal budget;the hands that held mine as we walked down the aisle and danced the Father-Daughter dance at my wedding. Now they drape motionless atop the pillows under his arms.

It is Thanksgiving Day and my father is dying, slowly fading away as he continues to breathe in and out in a peaceful, steady rhythm.

 These hands that guided and soothed and provided are now still and worn. These soft child hands that reached up and were held are now wrinkled and reaching  out to guide and nurture.

These hands that have begged for healing,have joined a family in prayer,have held crying babies, have rubbed a dying friend’s shoulder,have soothed a patient’s pain;these hands that have received a father’s love– these are my hands.



How about you? What stories would your hands tell?


I’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below~



Next Week: 

Monday, 3/3/14:   ” Guide for Memoir Writers: Twitter Hashtags to Market Your Book & How to Use Them by Ann Smarty”


  1. says

    Tenderness is in the hands … I must remember this.
    And thank you for sharing your memories of hands.
    Mine have been troubling me lately — they look so unlike themselves … It seems overnight they’ve gotten veined and grnarled. I like to think they’re hands that have lived. But really, all I actually think is that they’re old. My hands are old and so am I!

    • says

      Audrey, you’re not getting older. You’re getting better! Think of all the stories those hands could tell. Those “veined and gnarled hands” are vessels of wisdom and experience. So nice to see you here. Thanks for stopping. :-)

  2. says

    Kathy, Thanks so much for this lovely post. We rarely think of our hands unless we are using them to form an object with clay, in cooking, embroidering, or doing some other hand directed craft. We forget that we also use them to form someone else’s day with a pat on the back, a long, genuine handshake, or soothing away the tears of someone who is suffering. Blessed be our hands and you for recognizing them as such important parts of our being.

    • says

      Thank you for your lovely reflection, Joan. I was amazed at how the process of forming the mound of clay into various shapes yielded so many stories. Yes, blessed be our hands. And thank you , as always, for stopping by to add your insights.

  3. says

    Kathy, what a beautiful, sensitive story; I’ve always believed that hand-holding is underrated. I love how examining your hands in the experimental pot-building experience led you to a string of such meaningful memories. Hands possess unique character and can be powerful conduits for expression and healing. Lovely post.

  4. says

    Kathy, I know it was enormously satisfying to gather the photos and organize the chain of ideas using “hands” as your motif. Process is important–and gratifying as we both know. By the way, my Aunt Ruthie took my sisters and me to Watkins Glen about the same time of your snapshot..

    I have working girl hands, toughened by time in the tomato patch, not the type that would be photographed for the yearbook. But I am proud of what my hands have accomplished through the years and now how I can keep in touch with my friends online through key strokes on my computer.

    Lovely post, wonderful tribute to your father who taught you with both heart and hands.

    • says

      Marian, I appreciate your lovely insights about the stories your hands tell. You are right, the process of gathering the photos was very gratifying. Interesting, I’ve had fragments of this post circling in my head for the past several years. Working with the clay kicked it up a notch as memories started flowing. The creative process amazes me and I find if I sit still and let it happen, it unfolds for me as it did here. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. Now we share special Finger Lake memories, too!

  5. says

    Kathy, this one brought a tear to my eye, recalling my own late father’s hands. Daddy’s fingernails, too, were always filed and clean — what a lovely memory that is!

    I like how you’ve taken vignettes from your past and used the theme of “hands” to tie them together. And you had a beautiful wedding bouquet, my friend!!

    • says

      Well, Debbie, I have a confession to make. The tears flowed for me as I recalled my father’s hands, too. Once I started writing this, it all came together. I find myself drawn to stories of my dear father whom I miss dearly. But these memories are like a healing balm for me and I hope, through this story, others will connect with their own memories as a source of healing. By the way, that wedding bouquet has its own story. The lady who did my flowers out of her home did a beautiful job, especially in the aftermath of 911. Our wedding was 11/27, 6 weeks post-911 and we didn’t know until the last minute if they would arrive. Thankfully it all worked out. Thanks, as always,for weighing in here.

      • Tom says

        Thanks Kathy for a beautiful story remembering dad. I see a lot of elder men with silver hair golfing here in Flordia and think of dad a lot. Thanks again for the story of our hero and Pop’s. Love, Tom

        • says

          Glad you enjoyed the story, Tom. I do the same thing when I see a white-haired elderly man. He’ll always be with us, our Pops, our hero. Keep enjoying that warmth and sunshine. We’re headed for the 20’s this week. Ugh!

  6. says

    Oh, Kathy, this is splendid. Your words and message zinged right into my heart. I also was delighted to read your post because for several years I’ve been collecting sayings and poems about hands, planning to do a blog post some day suggesting that hands special to them could be a “theme” a person could choose for a memoir. I also found old family photos and cropped out everything but hands, and it’s amazing how that zeroes in on each person belonging to the hands, and that in turn generates stories, and more stories–like your blog post here. I was also surprised that we don’t need to see who the hands belong to–we KNOW. Among my favorites are pics of my children’s hands holding their great-grandparents’ hands. Good post, Kathy! I’ll share it!

    • says

      Oh Linda, your idea sounds wonderful. I was amazed how many stories revealed themselves as I worked on this post. There were so many more I had to leave out. I agree those photos of children’s hands holding their great-grandparents’hands are the most precious. I have the idea to photograph the four generations of hands in our family-my 91 mother, me, my daughter and my grandson. I must to do it! Thank you so much for your kind words and your generous sharing. It is all greatly appreciated. Hugs back, Kathy :-)

  7. says

    Beautifully written piece. Very relatable. I often spend time looking at my hands as I have grown/aged. I remember my mother worrying that she had her mother’s hands, as if that was a problem. I now see all sorts of female relatives in my hands. My mother cooking, my aunt cleaning up after her 5 kids or placing scrabble tiles down in a competitive game, out perhaps one of my greatly grandmothers stitching.

  8. Dody says

    Thank you, Kathy, for writing this post. You’ve given me food for thought, a fascinating new perspective and respect for my hands. x

    • says

      Wow, Dody, that’s great to hear! Much appreciated as is your generous sharing on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for stopping by. Now I’m looking forward to what you’ll be saying about your “new perspective.” I love it when sharing stories inspires other stories. :-)

  9. says

    Hi Kathy,
    I so enjoy your posts, your writing, and your memories. With each one, I learn and enjoy a bit more of you. Hands. Ah, how much I have taken mine for granted lately. Where would we writers be without them? I also often am critical of my hands: short, chubby fingers, brown spots, et al. I’ll look at them differently today and for that I thank you.

    • says

      Hi Janet, you certainly have a way of making my day! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and thrilled you will look at your hands differently. Indeed, what would we writers do without our hands. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

Leave a Reply