My Mother's Hands
I remember my mother, Cammie Mann Bolin, everyday, but there are times in the day when my memories intensify. My mother, was born in 1921 at the beginning of the “Roaring Twenties,” and grew to adulthood in the years of the Great Depression She lost two babies, a girl and a boy, born a year apart, both living only one day, but she raised with my father two boys — my brother and I — during the Cold War.
She lost and mourned a husband who died on the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day, and then lived out her days, first alone in the house in Dixon, Kentucky, in Webster County, where she had lived with my father, and then at Murray, Kentucky’s Glendale Place, two blocks from our home, before spending time at a nursing home and in the hospital before dying at the age of 85 on Aug. 19, 2006.
My mother worked as a schoolteacher in Atlanta, Georgia; Martin, Tennessee; and in Kentucky in Fulton and Dixon. She also worked as an assistant pharmacist at Bolin’s Drugstore, as a homemaker, and then as a substitute teacher after my brother and I had grown up to honorable manhood (we hope), and married and had families of our own.
My mother worried constantly—a trait that I inherited—but through her worries she ministered consistently to those around her. Her sweet smile could make your day. She sent cards penned in her elegant hand, remembered others in her daily prayers, which more accurately would be described as her hourly prayers, for she followed the Biblical injunction to pray without ceasing, and she made sourdough bread which she always gave away.
Back in Webster County, Mama Bo’s meals were legendary, especially Sunday dinners, which she began to prepare the previous night and early the next morning before Sunday School and church, and then completed after church, somehow before everyone else had changed into more comfortable clothes.
I remember those meals and remember the hands that made them. I remember my mother’s smile, but I also remember her hands. Her hands were beautiful to me, not in the usual sense of long, slender fingers, but, ironically, in the fact that her right hand was severely crippled. Most folks thought that my mother suffered from debilitating arthritis, the way the fingers on her right hand were shaped, but she actually suffered a gruesome injury that went a long way in forging her determined character.
As a 14-year-old girl, helping her father in his meat shop in the middle of the Depression, my mother inadvertently caught her hand in a meat grinder. The doctors in that rural 1930s outpost did what they could do, and she went through several operations, but in the meantime, not to get behind in her school work, she immediately learned to write with her left hand. And then, after her right hand had healed as much as it would heal, she re-learned to write with her now crippled right hand. She graduated from Martin High School as the valedictorian of her class.
The re-learning process took such patience and fortitude that is hard to imagine, but the result was that one of my mother’s distinguishing characteristics was her beautiful, flowing penmanship, finer than any calligraphy, a characteristic always commented on by those who received her thoughtful letters, notes, and cards. And those notes received by my brother’s family and by mine on every imaginable occasion — birthdays, anniversaries, and at really any other time — in her rounded cursive handwriting, with the letters made just so, continue to bless us as we find them in desk drawers and in file cabinets today.
I remember my mother’s smile, but I also remember my mother’s beautiful hands, hands that nurtured me and loved me right up to the night that she died as I stood by her side holding her hand — her right hand — in mine.