When I was growing up, I lived in the greatest country in the world, America!
It was an American’s footprint on the moon. It was in America that there was plenty to eat and plenty to invent. People came from all over the world to seek the American Dream. The generation before me grew up through the Great Depression. As teenagers, they saved the world from Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin. They married during the fabulous fifties. Their children would redefine women’s rights and family life reaping the rewards of their parents victories against oppression, poverty and evil and taking it all apart again. Some good would emerge from this shake up, but some good would be left behind for future generations to rediscover. Some important truth can be lost in the shuffle of creating the future. There is much to be learned by remembering the history of those who came before.
I loved to hear about my parent’s lives. When I was a little girl, I would close my eyes and picture my mother as a little girl in Italy as she described how she played picking cherries and draping them over her ears like glamourous earrings. She told her children about what it felt like to have to go to school under the reign of Mussolini. The uniform she had to wear. How she had to hide the fact that she was American born during the war. How the family would hide her brother down a well so that he could not be recruited into Mussolini’s army. She told of the job she had helping the midwife, running one mother’s milk to another baby whose mother could not feed it. She carried the milk in a bottle quickly from one house to another. Then, there was the happy story of how my mother’s younger brother rang the church bells flying up and down on the ropes.
I would hang on her every word as she told me the stories her grandmother told her. Then, amazed by her courage as she traveled back home on a long ship ride across the ocean that was by no means a pleasure cruise. My mother was a great storyteller.
My father, however, was a mystery. There were only clues from his past. Many he wore on his hands. My father’s hand was the biggest hand in the world in my eyes. He worked hard and my time with him was scarce. I remember every time I would sit with him before bedtime. Those were peaceful moments. My father simply sat beside me, watching television. I would snuggle up next to him and open up his hand. Then, I would measure my hand against his, palm to palm. The tips of my fingers would scarcely reach the edge of his palm. His fingernails were stained with motor oil from his job as a mechanic. There was his wedding ring, which he never took off. The skin below it was pale, but the rest of his hand was rough and dark. He had a scar that ran down his hand from his thumb to his wrist. When asked about it, he said he got it in the war. That was all he would tell. It was an amazing hand. When we walked into church on Sunday morning, my father held my hand. I felt very safe and very sure that I would not get lost as long as I had that great big hand to hold onto. When I had a fever, I felt such comfort from my mother’s gentle touch measuring the heat of my face through out the day. In the middle of the night, however, I would feel the sturdy and cool touch of my father’s hand on my forehead. I knew someone brave and strong was watching over me.
As the years went by, I became busy making my own mark on the world. I became a wife and a mother. The times of measuring my hand against my father’s hand became fewer and further between. When I did steal a moment by his side, I would quickly measure my grown hand against his, palm to palm. Still, it was the biggest hand in the world.
Now, those hands built trains and science experiments with my boys. My father pushed them on the swings, caught them at the end of the slide, and carried them bravely in to visit Santa Claus. Those hands repaired walls, installed motion detector lights and smoke alarms in my house.
Then, the time came when the biggest hand in the world lay still at his side in a dark hospital room. He was so fragile and strong at the same time as he withstood the beating his body took at the end of his life. In the last few quiet moments we had together on this earth, I picked up my father’s hand and measured mine against it, palm to palm. It was still the biggest hand in the world. I smiled when I thought about everything he had done in his life. I whispered to him,“Dad, this is a good night to go to Heaven. The stars are twinkling waiting for you to make sure they are installed properly.” He squeezed my hand gently and tried to smile. “You are of the great generation, Dad. Life did not beat you. I am proud to be your daughter. I love you.”
As I left him to rest, I knew it was the last time I would hold that great hand again. I let go and immediately missed him.
Time goes on and the business of life continues. My father had been living in a quiet place in my heart, since that night.
One particularly busy day, I had been walking along with my son who had grown into his teen years and long since stopped taking my hand. I began to cross the street. Suddenly, a car turned the corner.
I felt a strong grip take me by the hand and pull me back to safety. I looked down. There was my father’s hand.
It belonged to my son now. I stopped right where I was, opened up my son’s hand and looked. The same long thin fingers, the same sturdy palm. No motor oil, no scar, The skin was smooth and fresh like a clean page waiting to written on. A page in a story that has been writing itself for generations.I measured my hand against his, palm to palm. It was still bigger than mine.
I realized then, the greatest lesson my father ever taught me. Our lives are not just a single event. We leave a legacy with the lives we touch and share. One link in a chain. A chain of lives, a chain of love, we build together palm to palm, hand in hand.