Hand in glove
My mother’s gloves don’t quite fit me. They’re snug. My mother had dainty hands with pointy painted nails. They were ladylike in gesture, even when she was mucking in her garden, but they were unlovely to behold. Just shy of gnarly, to tell you the truth — especially at the end of her life, when they were so bent and boney. To call them claw-like would not be inaccurate. I’m not being mean. She felt the same way about them. I’m just saying they weren’t her best feature.
I have piano hands — wide palms, long fingers, full nails — my father’s hands. When I used to flirt with boys, I would command they put their palm up to mine, then drive my pointed index finger down into the crotch of our splayed fingers with a chop to show how long my fingers were compared to theirs. That was the only fair way to do it, because their manly palms always gave them an advantage. When my fingers bested an opponent’s, I’d bow my tips over his to emphasize my superiority — a gesture that could be considered neither dainty nor ladylike.
My father had beautiful hands. He was vain about them. He kept his nails clean and trim. It was he, not my mother, who taught me to push back my cuticles so the crescent moon always peeped over the horizon. It hurt, and I hated to do it, but my father was insistent. You will be judged by your hands, he cautioned me, though he knew mine had a natural advantage, even without upkeep.
My mother didn’t get a fair deal: Instead of piano hands, she’d drawn the homely-hand card, even though she was the only one in our family who played the Wurlitzer in the front living room. Of course, she did not take this condition lying down. The linen closet in our home was filled with paints and polishes and creams and files and clippers and buffing tools. She drank fortifying Knox Gelatine and grew her nails into long daggers, which she kept Windsor pink. “The talons,” I called them. One of her instruments of war was a hairdryer that had an opaque hose connected to a big plastic bonnet that fit over her spiky rollers. It also had a manicure attachment with sandpapery disks and wheels that were thrilling to the touch when they were spinning. I used to sit with her at the kitchen table and watch her drying and buffing, smoking and painting — a regular beauty factory — and there was no use for me to whine for something, because, as she made clear by tapping the bonnet with a nail file, she couldn’t hear me.
Despite the size discrepancy of our hands, I currently have four pairs of my mother’s gloves in circulation: a pair of thick, fleecy gloves she used for shoveling; a pair of Bean’s wool-lined leather gloves; a pair of maybe real, maybe faux leather dress gloves with maybe real, maybe faux rabbit-fur trim that molts; and a pair of long evening gloves. I use that last pair in my one-woman show, My Mother’s Clothes Are Not My Mother, as a prop. I don one glove at the end of the performance, and do so behind a pile of clothes, because — depending on how sweaty my hand is and how swollen my fingers are by that point — I sometimes have to practically wrestle my manly paw into the slim glove. A discerning eye would note that rarely are the finger wells fully filled.
The middle two pairs were gifts, barely used. The gloves from Bean resemble the several pairs I wore and lost for years, before I finally gave up on buying expensive gloves and resorted to whatever I could find in the sale bin at the factory store. I can barely wedge my hands into my mother’s pair. For a time, I entertained the idea of trying to exchange them for a larger size, maybe even playing the dead-mom card at customer service (But they belonged to my deceased mother. They’re like brand-new.), but you have to be careful how much of that stuff you put out into the universe. I mean, if you’re going to use that ploy, you really should save it for something better than a pair of gloves. So, for five winters, I have crammed my hands into these stiff gloves that make me look like Frankenstein’s creature when I walk. They aren’t good for much, since I can’t bend my fingers in them, but they’re warm and nicely made. So long as I don’t have to open a door or point at anything, I’ll continue to use them. (Just don’t take unfair advantage and start a snowball fight with me, OK?)
The fancy leather, fur-trimmed gloves are not my style — they look like something Ginger would wear if Gilligan’s Island had snow — but when you’re gussied up for an evening out in winter, who wants to see discount-bin gloves poking out of the sleeves of your dress coat? These gloves are not warm, but at least I can bend my fingers in them and make a fist to shake at any car that sprays me with slush. When I do, a sifting of maybe real, maybe faux fur scatters around me like dandelion fuzz.
Then there are the fleece gloves. These are even more unattractive than any discount pair I’ve ever dragged home. They’re navy blue with off-white lining, and they’re old. The fleece is pilled, and the leather pads in the palms are shiny from wear. I use these gloves for winter walking. That they don’t fit hardly matters, because almost the instant I hit the cold, I make fists inside them, leaving the fingers empty and giving me Mickey Mouse hands. (Yes, I devote a lot of time to thinking about what creations I look like. What do you think I ponder each morning I’m stomping around out there, this column?) These gloves are the perfect weight for walking, and I have pummeled and pounded them to a condition where they offer some finger flexibility — enough, say, to get back in the house when I return. That’s a big plus when it’s below zero.
I was going to conclude this column by writing about the fact that I do not hold on to these sets of gloves because they belonged to my mother, that I keep them because of the quirky and unique function each serves. I was going to tell you how some of the sentimental attachment is draining from my mother’s things, especially the ones that have no use. I was prepared to say that I don’t think about my mother when I wear her gloves. I just think it would be nice to have a pair that actually fit.
Then, as I was working on this column, I went downstairs to examine the blue walking gloves, to make sure I had the description right, but I only found one atop the step stool by the back door. The other had to be around somewhere. I pawed through my winter wear and then John’s. I looked in the car, reached down into boots, groped in coat pockets. I tried to remember the last time I wore them, but my schedule has been crazy of late, with lots of out-of-town travel, and I couldn’t recall.
Days have now passed with no sign of the glove, so what am I to do with its match? Of course, you know the minute I toss it the other will pop up — sitting on a stack of wood or poking out of a drawer — but there’s something else. Because as blithely as I was about to say my mother’s things are not my mother, and that I am truly ready to begin to let go of her stuff, I’m not. There is comfort sliding my hand into a glove that held hers — no matter how uncomfortable the glove actually feels. I don’t need the thing itself to say hello to her, but it’s a tether that connects us, a token that reminds, a sheath that rendered even homely hands lovely.
So I’ll hold on to the blue fleece glove a little longer. It’s not big enough to take up much room, and I’m not quite ready to send yet another orphan out into the world to find its way home on its own.
Learn more about Elizabeth Peavey and her stuff at elizabethpeavey.com.