Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Farmer's Hands

When I was a little boy I wanted nothing more in life to grow up and be a farmer just like my granddad. I remember that one of the things I was most in awe of was the immense strength contained in his huge, thick, calloused hands. When he grabbed hold of something with those hands, even in his dotage, whatever he grabbed was caught. When he'd hold me on his lap when I was very small my favourite game was to ask about the history each of the seemingly never ending scars and fissures that began at his wrist and ended right at the tip of his thick fingers.

Grandpa's hands had a complex smell. None of the odors were overpowering and it's hard to describe concisely but it was a combination of human sweat, machine oil, grain dust, hay, livestock and his favourite pipe tobacco. The odor of his hands is so deeply ingrained in my memory that I can recall it without effort though it's been a lot of years since I last smelled it on his person.

Grandpa had a slight build and he thought his big, muscular hands looked out of place on his frame. As a consequence, consciously or not, he hid them when the camera came out. The best photo we have of Grandpa's hands is also, in my opinion, the best photo of Grandpa. He'd probably spent the morning in the hay fields but he'd got cleaned up early and had put on a suit for the occasion at hand. His hair is military short and he's standing, deeply tanned and more than slightly uncomfortable, with one huge hand on my mother's shoulder, ready to give her away to the brash looking young feller who would become my father a few years later.

Fast forward to today.

I tried to take a picture of an object I was holding earlier today but somehow I managed to catch more of my hand than the object I was holding. When I first looked at the picture what caught my eye wasn't the intended object I was holding. Just for a minute, what I saw staring back at me in the photo was an approximation of my grandad's hands, thick and calloused with work and smelling always slightly of livestock and machine oil. It was a deja vu moment that hit me like a punch in the stomach; hard enough that I had to sit down.

I thought to myself as I sat in my chair that some day, if I am blessed that way and am exceptionally lucky, maybe many years from now my own girl or boy will look back on their childhood and remember sitting with big, scarred farmer's hands wrapped securely around them.


SmartAlex said...

I used to sit in my grandfather's lap and try to pry apart his massive fingers. He whittled his fingernails with a pocket knife becuase clippers wouldn't do it.

My mother has a great photo of his hands holding a sheaf of oats.

Jason said...

Ditto on the pocketknife as nail clippers.

You don't run across hands like our grandfather's had very often today. They were the last that grew up the old way, doing most everything by hand. The only place I've found hands like that today is amongst the Amish, and they are getting rare even there.

Fred Waterfal;l said...

I can relate to your "hands " blog, I wrote one myself "A hand can tell your fortune" on the Farmers Weekly web site in UK under Owd Fred

The calluses, the scares, the ragged nails, the lines across the palm of your hand, the lumpy knuckle and crooked thumbs, the hard skin, Burnt and scalded, cold and frozen, they are electrocuted on the fencer, and are ripped on the barbed wire.

Jason said...


What a great paragraph ! Thanks so much for sharing. I'd love to have a copy of the entire piece. Can it be found online ?

Owd Fred said...

Being an Owd mon and not too brilliant with computers, the best way I can tell you is to go onto Google and tap in Owd Fred it will bring you onto the Farmers Weekly web site ( first thing that comes up is “the weather forecast by Owd Fred’s mother”.
Down the archives list in the left column tap on July 2009 to “A hand can tell your fortune” 22 July 2009

Funder said...

Meant to come comment on this when I read it - what a great post. :)