Today I began putting a piece of me back together. Actually, it’s a total of three pieces that I was working on in an attempt to make them, and me, whole once more. When everything unexpectedly shattered right before me a few years back, I was unable to deal with it at the time. It was too much. I was heartbroken. I put it all in a drawer is what I did…deep back in the very back of a drawer where I was sure I would not venture and what was broken could remain in that state for a long time. For me, I made it all go away. I hadn’t the fortitude to fight what had happened.
In 1950 I was in kindergarten. No, I don’t remember much about it. Maybe I convince myself I see images of milk and graham crackers or children spread across the floor, lying on blankies and fidgeting. There is, however, one thing I definitely do not remember doing, but I do know I did. I made my hand. Maybe you made yours when you were in kindergarten too. Like it wasn’t an uncommon kinder kind of craft. The teacher took your hand and pressed it into a slab of soft clay, making sure each finger was accounted for so that after she removed your hand from the clay there was left a perfect impression of it. Next, she would form a wall around the clay impression and into this she poured liquid Plaster-of-Paris. When we returned the next day the plaster had hardened and the teacher had separated it from the clay and, voilá, there it was: a perfect 3-D sculpture of your hand, featuring all its imperfections perfectly represented in an exact duplicate of the real thing. What mother of a young five-year-old could not help but fall instantly in love with such an extraordinary piece of art to be treasured forever. My mother was no exception
My hand hung on the kitchen wall as long as I can remember. Over the years it slowly began to change color and seemed to absorb every speck of dust and dirt that floated by its perimeter. I once suggested to my mother that she at least attempt to wash the darn thing so it didn’t appear so dirty. “Never,” she told me, “I want it as soiled and dirty as your hands always were. That makes it all the more realistic.” I was never sure if I should have taken that as an insult or compliment.
After my parents were gone, among their treasures that my brother and I would filter through and decide which ones went with whom, I welcomed my hand, not so much that it was mine, but more because my mother had so cherished it. It eventually found a likely spot on the wall of my little sanctuary at home and there it hung, undisturbed for still many more years.
Sentiment is a dangerous thing. It can spawn tears of joy as fast as it can tears of sadness. A family artifact of a five-year-old’s Plaster-of-Paris hand holds more sentiment than you can imagine. In fact, more than all the hands in the world could capture and caress. I learned this the hard way. I decided one day a few years ago, that I would attempt to clean my plaster hand…at least just a little. As I took it off the hook on the wall, it dropped and fell to the floor. I will never forgive myself. I suspect neither would my mother.
I forgot it was in the back of a drawer, exactly as I hoped I would when I put it there. I came across it today quite by accident as I was looking for something else. I admit, all the horror of the day it dropped returned in a flash. But this time was different. This time it was about time. Much of it had passed and with it, my guilt softened and my appreciation for this wayward object of art returned with a passion. Like my real hand, it has served me honorably for a very long time. And like my real hand, it has been broken and then put back together again. And that is what I did today. True, it doesn’t quite look the same, but all three pieces are there together again, hanging proudly on my wall. An heirloom? Well, maybe not…but one really, really cherished hand-me-down.