107

i would like to be articulate right now, but the tears make it hard to type on this infernal machine. Can’t think real well either.

You see, i was going through my “memories” on Facebook this morning after breakfast, unusual as i don’t normally bring my computer into breakfast. We had finished Maureen’s French toast and fruit, and i was enjoying my third cup of coffee. The sports pages were a brief read this morning and the comics, as usual, made me chuckle. i decided to check my email and Facebook.

Scrolling down through “memories,” there were a number of photos of my father. That’s when it hit me. i’m sure i would have recognized it sooner or later. Today, eight years ago, he died in the morning. His wife and daughter were by his side. Martha called me as Maureen was driving me to the airport. She had called earlier to tell me the hospice nurse had said it wouldn’t be long. Martha added I needed to get there before he left us. The call en route to the airport told me i was too late. She also told me one of the last things he said was “I wish Jim were here.”

i won’t praise him here. i’ve done enough of that i think. He would tell me that if he could.

My brother-in-law, Daniel Boggs, sent our family an email about three days ago telling the story of Albrect Dürer, his brother Albert, and his famous drawing of “Study of Hands of an Apostle.” It was a lovely story. i replied the drawing blew me away when i first saw it and was the inspiration for my writing a poem as a tribute to my father.

The idea hit me when i was laying on the couch next to Mother’s recliner and his recliner across the room in their Deer Park condo, the place where they had moved in 2002 after 62 years of living, and man, i mean living, on Castle Heights Avenue. We were watching a Braves baseball game. He was holding the remote. i looked at his hands. They were very much like the hands Dürer had drawn (His brother’s hands were the model).

When my father read it, he asked me, “How did you know?”

i don’t know. He inspired me to do a lot of things i didn’t know.

Hands

When most folks meet him,
they notice steel blue eyes and agility;
his gaze, gait and movements
belie the ninety-five years;
but
those folks should look at his hands:
those hands could make Dürer cry
with their history and the tales they tell.

His strength always was supple
beyond what was suggested from his slight build.
His hands are the delivery point of that strength.
His hands are not slight:
His hands are firm and thick and solid –
a handshake of destruction if he so desired, but
he has used them to repair the cars and our hearts;

His hands are marked by years of labor with
tire irons, jacks, wrenches, sledges, micrometers on
carburetors, axles, brake drums, distributors
(long before mechanics hooked up computers,
deciphering the monitor to replace “units”
for more money in an hour than he made in a month
when he started in ’34 before computers and units).

His hands pitched tents,
made the bulldozers run
in war
in the steaming, screaming sweat of
Bouganville, New Guinea, the Philippines.

His hands have nicks and scratches
turned into scars with
the passage of time:
a map of history, the human kind.

Veins and arteries stand out
on the back of his hands,
pumping life itself into his hands
and beyond;
the tales of grease and oil and grime,
cleaned by gasoline and goop and lava soap
are etched in his hands;

they are hands of labor,
hands of hard times,
hands of hope,
hands of kindness, caring, and love:
oh love, love, love, crazy love.

His hands speak of him with pride.
His hands belong
to the smartest man I know
who has lived life to the maximum,
but in balance, in control, in understanding,
gaining respect and love
far beyond those who claim smartness
for the money they earned
while he and his hands own smartness
like a well-kept plot of land
because he always has understood
what was really important
in the long run:
smarter than any man I know
with hands that tell the story
so well.

 

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