People Who Work With Their Hands

“Strawberries are too delicate to be picked by machine. The perfectly ripe ones even bruise at too heavy a human touch. It hit her then that every strawberry she had ever eaten – every piece of fruit – had been picked by calloused human hands. Every piece of toast with jelly represented someone’s knees, someone’s aching back and hips, someone with a bandanna on her wrist to wipe away the sweat. Why had no one told her about this before?


–Alison Luterman, “What They Came For”

Tell me the story of someone who worked with his or her hands.



  1. Julia Burns says

    My mother worked with her hands. I can still see the gnawed-down fingertips; dry and sometimes bleeding evidence of her worry and her work and her love for us, her numerous charges. She did the usual cooking, cleaning, occasional spanking, and the mother tasks that leave the marks on mother’s hands the most. But she also stayed up all night long, after the house was asleep, to sew the loveliest dress I had ever seen for my 5th grade graduation. A ceremony for which there was no money for new clothes. In the morning, at the foot of my bed, I found a purple dress with delicate pink roses and a silky pink satin ribbon sash that slipped through the fingers like polished wind. More than her hugs or kisses or words or nurturing, I knew how much my mother loved me then. Proudly, I would wore my mother’s love that day and felt like a princess every time I put on that dress.

  2. Jennie Wasmire says

    I watched, fascinated by the way he worked on the old baler, the equipment itself held together in part by baler twine and a farmer’s prayer. With sure hands, worn and torn by years of hard work, he aligned the wayward tooth on the blade and pounded things home with strong blows of a sledge hammer. He looked at me and smiled, then told me all the things I shouldn’t do when working on the baler, most of which he’d done while I watched. I grinned back and didn’t say a thing about his contradiction.

    Daddy’s made of contradictions… short, yet stronger than my older brother who stands half a head taller. Stocky, yet able to squeeze into the smallest of spaces to help a cow give birth. Hot tempered, specially with people who would criticize our farm life, but quietly loving his family to a point I didn’t realize until I was well into my 30’s.

    Anyway, back to that day. I rode on the tractor with him while he mowed hay, watching his hands as he steered and ran the baler, a task that in the age of a 12 year old was a magical dance full of skill. And then the most miraculous thing of all… those square hands (the palms literally measure 4” in both directions) suddenly reached for the toolbox and grabbed a hammer, which he then threw into the un-mowed hay in front of us! I was stunned – why did Daddy throw away his hammer?

    With the agility of a man half his age he jumped off the tractor and walked without hesitation to where the hammer had landed. Stooping over he picked up his hammer in one hand… and a big fat rabbit in the other! With a grin he stuffed both into the toolbox and started to mow again. I was amazed. He finished the field without a word, drove back to the barn, parked the tractor and walked to the house with me right on his heels.

    “BETS,” he called as he opened the door into the kitchen. Mom stormed into the room, upset that he’d called her Bets when she preferred Betty, then stopped when she saw the grin on his face. Daddy held up the rabbit in those strong, aging hands – worn, dirty, and calloused – and tossed it onto the table. “There’s dinner – we’ll be back up when chores are done.” With a quick turn he was out the door and halfway to the drive before I was able to gather my senses and follow him to take care of my chores.

  3. Carol Fox says

    She was a lithe girl, with the classic, delicate beauty of an orchid, and the most perfect, radiant complexion of any mortal I had ever seen. She was dressed simply, her long honey-colored hair cascading halfway down her back… she would have looked at home anywhere, she carried herself with such a serene, quiet confidence. If I were a man, I would have melted with desire on the spot. If I were a child, I would have rushed into her arms and laughed or cried with joy.

    But I had asked for a man! I had asked for a very strong masseur, someone who could really dig their elbows into me and iron out the aching in my muscles and joints, someone who could give me the kind of massage that would help me sleep, that I could still feel the next day. And frankly, I craved a man’s touch, a touch that could in some small measure make up for all the touching I was not getting otherwise. I looked up from the massage table skeptically, and if I hadn’t already undressed, I might have insisted on the masseur I had requested.

    But I sighed with resignation and said nothing. This lovely girl was probably a novice, I thought, and she needed her chance to get some experience. I resolved to make the best of it and submit my complaints on the way out.

    “My name is Roxanne,” she said, and the kindness in her clear voice was disarming. “Is there anything in particular you would like me to work on?”

    “No, just everything,” I responded. “I hurt all over.” I settled my face into the cushioned faceplate, and tried to relax.

    And then she touched me. And though this all happened in 1984, long ago and far away, I can still remember the feel of her hands on my body as vividly as if it were this morning. It was as if this gentle young woman stepped aside and the massive hands of God came through her to rest upon my aching back. The most extraordinary warmth, caring, and ineffable love and joy penetrated deep into my heart and all through my body. I was bathed, immersed, carried away by this divine caress. And her hands felt immense, as strong and all-encompassing as I imagine the hands of a mother must feel to a newborn infant. Indeed, as she stroked and kneaded and palpated my body, I felt as malleable and vulnerable as an infant, as helpless and yet as safe as if I were in a loving mother’s arms. I knew I had never been touched this way before, by mother or lover, by anyone, ever, and that Roxanne had a rare and amazing gift.

    All too soon it was over, and I looked around at her with gratitude and awe. She appeared to be a normal, if unusually beautiful woman, with normal-sized hands, and honey-colored hair cascading down her back. Her presence was very clear and kind, but did not hint at the transcendence I had just experienced. What do you say when you have been touched to your core? She was gone before I could even thank her. I paid at the desk and left in a trance – moved, comforted, humbled, inspired.

    I never saw her again. I went back there not long after and asked for her, but she had moved on, as angels often do, and no one, of course, knew how to reach her. To this day, the profound mystery of what happened continues to baffle me. But whenever I hear people talk about channeling God’s will, I think about Roxanne of the God-like Hands.

  4. Camilla Sørensen says

    The buzzer sounded in the door and I pushed it open, and the traffic noise from the busy Copenhagen Street faded as the door closed behind me. I walked deeply into the building, and an old stairway appeared in the back of the entrance. When I began walking up to the 6th floor apartment, I felt all the pain that I had held in my body for twenty five years af abuse, and the only thing I had in my pocket was a piece of paper with the name of this woman who was a body healer. My heart started racing, but I wasn’t sure if it was because of the stairs or the terror of meeting yet another who would say that I was sick beyond repair, and that basically my life was over, which all the doctors I had spoken to had told me for the past thirteen years.

    The light got darker as the windows disappeared the further I got up the stairs, and as I could see the last stairway I heard a door open; I looked up and this beautiful woman appeared in the doorway. She had no white coat not a label on her purple cotton dress, which reminded me of something from China, and she looked human with a huge smile on her face. Her eyes was so wise and gentle like empty seas, almost like looking at a full moon on a crisp Scandinavian winter night where the sounds of your foot prints breaks the solitude of the world. She raised her hand to greet me, and as I put my hand in hers I felt warmth flooding through my veins and my body started to shake and sweat. “My name is Angela,” she said quitly. I was infatuated by her beauty, and at that moment my heart knew that finally someone was listening to me.

  5. Tammy Wade says

    Her hands were like gold to her. The sensations in her fingertips electrified her world and brought it to life in rich vivid colors. She sat down at the piano bench and allowed her hands to gently touch the keys. Soft and slow at first, stroking the keys delicately like she would a lover in the beginning throes of passion, building to something much more, as music filled the room like a waterfall crescendoing over a cliff to the surface below. She allowed her fingers to guide across the piano keys and let the melody to take her to a place deep inside herself where her dreams and passions lived, where there were no inhibitions or limitations. She was so absorbed into the music that she didn’t notice that anyone had entered the room.

    He stood still for a moment watching her play the baby grand, mesmerized by the lovely tune she was creating with her hands. He lovingly gazed upon her, watching her fluid movements, her expressions, her everything. It was moments like this when she was unaware that he admired her grace, her beauty, even more in awe of the woman she was. He waited patiently until she finished playing before clearing his throat to let her know he was there. She turned slightly towards him and smiled. He moved towards her and took a seat on the bench beside her.

    “I have a surprise for you.” He whispered and leaned in closer to her. “Hold out your hands.”

    She complied as he put something round into her hands. She felt the texture and the slight firmness of it and then brought it to her nose and breathed in deeply to savor the fragrance of her favorite fruit, the Georgia peach.

    “First of the season and it is fresh and ripe straight from your orchard.” He smiled as she bit into it as a bit of juice trickled down her chin. She laughed as she took another bite of the ripe juicy fruit as he leaned in to catch it with a kiss, getting peach juice on his lips too.

    She reached out and touched his face with her fingers and traced the shape of his lips, the ones she was so familiar with. He never tired of her touching him, as she sent thousands of tiny shockwaves throughout his body as he allowed her to explore and familiarize herself with every part of him.

    Her blindness had never stopped her from doing anything. In fact with her heightened senses it had made her much more passionate for life as she sought to experience everything she possibly could. It only made him love her even more as he shared his life with the beautiful woman beside him.

    She returned his kiss and smiled. “Thank you for my wonderful gift.” She said lovingly.

    “You are a rare gift, my love. It’s only fitting that I should give you a peach because you are my Georgia peach!” he replied as he wrapped his arms around her and she snuggled in while finishing up the delightful fruit.

    “How about another inspiring melody?” he inquired. She smiled warmly and began playing his favorite ballad.

  6. pandora's island says

    Those hands told a story of his life. Rough, calloused, grease-stained, dirt under the nails, well-used. Those hands seemed capable of anything. He fished lobster, pulled nets, built boats, fixed engines, carved decoys, hunted, did electrical work, painted cars, to name but a few things. He seemed all-knowing, all-powerful.

    Strong, steady, forceful. Strong hands that never seemed to shake. Strong hands that could strike with every dark mood. He always seemed angry but never unsure. Did all that rage cover some amount of fear? Powerful hands that could take at any moment. He seemed omnipotent and omnipresent.

    I still see those nicotine stained, calloused, brutish hands when I close my eyes. The smell of grease, wood and fish guts pulls me back to places I don’t wish to go. Those hands also told a story of our lives.

  7. Pamela Papas says

    Someone who works with their hands? At first I think of no one…now I write about Patricia, a beloved voice teacher and former opera singer from the South of France – Toulouse – who used her hands to play piano during voice lessons.
    She also sewed her own clothes and was a fabulous cook.

    Her clothes were all homemade – bright colors, diaphanous fabrics for her voluptuous body. She was very feminine. Her hands were always moving, doing, creating. She played piano with verve and wit while teaching the proper techniques of breathing from the diaphragm for singing.

    She taught piano as well, moving your fingers in the proper place, aligning them on the notes to make for more comfortable playing.

    She also had an entire room in her house devoted to sewing. Full of fabrics and beads next to the white sewing machine. That room had the most light.
    The living room, where she staged her voice and music lessons was large and light but not as bright as the sewing room.

    She had a pretty petite Siamese cat with a baritone meow who would sing along with us, sometimes. Then she’d pick up the cat in her hands, stroke it, talk to it, and then put her down. Contented she’d prance away.

    Patricia like to stage events with her students. Small concerts in her house where we each sang a song- for each other and to give practice to performance.

    Being a former opera singer, she used her hands dramatically as gestures to accentuate passages in the music. As well as gestures to make you laugh or make you breathe better to sing.
    Patricia was a sprite, a delight. Full of light!

  8. R says

    The Tinker
    My father always worked with his hands. He took up the violin at a young age and played and taught until he died. He was also a graphic artist whose training began in high school.
    He loved to share his artistic skills with us, his kids. He was famous among our cousins for his freehand drawing of Dopey. We always had paper and scraps of cardboard, paints (water and oil), pastels, crayons (including my circular Crayola super pack of 72 colors), special brushes, pencils and pens. He taught us calligraphy, life drawing, carving in plaster of paris, all sorts of stuff. This one sunny, Saturday afternoon I sat at the kitchen table to work on a still-life of a bowl of fruit. It had a banana and an apple, I recall. I drew it once and colored it with Crayola’s in realistic colors. I drew it again and this time colored it in with pastels. I drew it again and watercolored it a bit fantastically. I liked to rebel against authority by coloring things in un-natural colors: blue trees, purple bananas.

    I remember another time I was coloring in a coloring book. I colored one page all in shades of blue, then the next only in reds and oranges, then greens. There’s something about the imbalance of sameness and difference: in one case the same image rendered in different media and in the second the sameness of color in a single image. I like that aesthetic. Like today, I like all my tassels to be different even if they are the same color. Unity in diversity maybe. Anyway, just like my father, I’m a tinkerer, gotta keep my hands busy.

  9. Camilla Sørensen says

    I rewrote my story. I’m trying to find my voice, and playing with the words:)

    The buzzer sounded in the front door – I pushed it open – the traffic noise coming from the busy Street fading as the door closed behind me – I walked into the building – two steps up – further in the back – the light coming from the backyard windows blindfolding me – though leading me deeper into the entrance – where an old dark staircase rose in the back. As I started to climb – I felt pain in my body – though the only thing I had in my pocket was a piece of paper – my heart beating faster the further I climbed – I wasn’t sure if it was stairs or terror of meeting yet another who would say – I was broken beyond repair. The light got darker as the windows faded – I turned on the last staircase – a door opened – silence – fear – my heart beating in my chest – I looked up in a shadow of the doorway – she had no white coat – no label with her name on her purple cotten dress – just a smile on her face – her eyes so wise, gentle and mysterious – like a full moon in the midst of – naked trees – frozen fjords – your breath visible – your body shaking – where only foot prints in the silent snow breaks the solitude of lonely nights. She raised her hand to greet me – when I took her hand in mine – I felt a strange tickling sensation flooding through my veins – my body started to tremble, shake and sweat. “My name is Angela,” she said gently holding my hand – twenty five years of silence pored out of my body -she just stood there with all her mystery smiling still holding my hand – it was the most wonderful feeling in the world.

  10. Jean West says

    My grandmother’s hands were never at rest. I remember sleeping over with her in the cabin that doubled as the manager’s office where she rented out vacation cabins to weekend visitors from New York City. The moment she awoke, her hands grabbed her eyeglasses, she got out of bed and the sheets would fly. Quick hands pulled down the box of Special K she would have on hand especially for me as she brewed a cup of espresso for herself. Then, it was out the screen door, enameled basin in hand. She would quickly pick any ripe peas, tomatoes, or beans from the garden. If I picked, her hands would deftly shell the peas or snap the beans while I tentatively poked around. Afterwards we’d strip the beds in the vacated units, my grandmother’s hands rhythmically plopping pillows from cases, pulling sheets from mattresses, then snapping out the new linens, lifting, folding, smoothing them. When we had finished, she would start in the kitchen. Sometimes it was making meatballs, her hands transforming the goo of ground pork and beef, egg and breadcrumbs, raisins and pine nuts into perfect little spheres. At other times her hands flew as she kneaded, rolled out, cut and fried the dough balls we call struffoli. Even when she was relaxing, my grandmother’s hands were in motion, crocheting afghans, bedspreads, tablecloths. She worked hard, and I can see in my mind’s eye those times when she would remove her eyeglasses and mop the sweat from her brow with her handkerchief, and then replace her spectacles and move on to the next task. One of the last times we visited, she picked up my hands and commented about how smooth they were. Hers showed the wrinkles of her 90+ years but they were sure and strong. So may mine be if I have the grace to live the number of years she lived.

  11. Susan Smith says

    Harvest Hands

    Every year around the beginning of August, my husband’s hands begin to turn purple. The transformation of his broad hands, freckled tan on top, white weathered palms underneath, to juice stained begins as our wine grapes begin to ripen. About once a week until harvest, he goes into the vineyard and selects representative bunches, cutting them from the vine and dropping them into his white bucket. Back at the winery, a low case of wine serves as a stool as he squats to sit, his bucket between his legs. He puts the grapes into a mesh bag and begins squeezing the juice into the bucket, twisting the bag this way and that. In the lab, he tastes the juice and tests it for sugar, acid, and ph. This process is repeated over the next few months in each of the vineyards that supply our winery until all the grapes are picked. As the weeks go by, his broad fingers turn the color of wine, first the pinkish red of a rosé and later a darker red as the grapes grow riper, and finally the deep purple of a mature vintage, signifying that the grapes are ready to be picked. Over the weeks, the tips of his fingers begin to crack from the wear and tear, and his hands take on a sweeter smell from the hand lotion he uses to heal them.
    When we first began our journey owning vineyards and then operating a winery, we still worked our day jobs. My husband, who was hurrying toward retirement, enjoyed showing up for meetings with his purple hands extending from the crisp cuffs of his work shirt, his gestures more pronounced as he made his point, advertising that he didn’t just occupy a desk chair but that on weekends he also worked with his hands, that he walked the vineyard rows tending his vines, and that the fruits of his labor would fill a wine glass in the future.

    • says

      I love the image of those purple hands extending from the crisp cuffs of his work shirt—a wonderful, memorable image. A toast to you! thanks for the wonderful story.

  12. Tempered Ashes says

    I’ve worked with my hands a lot. On arts & crafts, on here and there, on little knickknacks or so. I guess hands are funny- they have a way of revealing things–not sure what else to say. . ummm, ok i’m glad to chat..(again)
    (hands-free blue tooth here..)

  13. Heather Blue says

    His hands were rugged and large with beautiful flat fingernails… one of the first things that made me fall in love with him. His father taught him cabinet-making but the gift of transforming a piece of wood into a piece of art was a gift. A gift he magnified. He was at peace and exuded joy when he was working on ” a piece”. He came alive. The smell of the wood, the sawdust on his clothing and in his hair was sensual. I loved to watch him work. He was in his element when he had the table saw humming or the sander smoothing rough edges. Those times are long gone, yet forever etched in my memory.

      • Heather Blue says

        Thank you for your kind remarks Laura! He is my soon to be former husband. We shared 40 years of love, tears, & laughter. It is time for us to go our separate ways. I’m counting on the euphemism, “time heals all wounds”. I love & miss him so much & I guess I always will.

  14. mary k says

    There was garlic to sliver, veal to sauté, pasta water to churn and boil, antipasti to plate and the long kitchen table to be set. All of this came after the sheets were placed and folded precisely under the soft bed corners. This was after the laundry was lurched up the cellar stairs and the halls were vacuumed; the bathroom tiles were scrubbed and the men had their lunch.

    The hands that worked this, that made the difference, were small, maybe even petite. They were narrow with almond shaped nails. A glow of oyster pearl white polish glittered from each like magical tips of a fairy’s many wands. They were decorated with rings – gold and jeweled, thick and set in. A whole finger may have come off if you ever tried to pry a ring out. Instead, I’d sit close and turn the rings on her fingers, hoping just once that one would be brave enough to wind free. Then, maybe it would give me the strength and the focus that I saw in her. It’d keep me safe and keep me company.

    They must have been lovely when they were fair and cream. They still were in a way, in a way that hands are lovely and comfortable and worn and storied. But now, they looked old yet wise and sweet next to mine that were girl size, tiny and thin.

    I didn’t see or probably know all that my grandmother ‘s hands did to make her home warm and flavorful. It’s almost impossible to think about how much they actually did do and how fast they worked. What I do know is that her hands were there, always there. They reached out to mine, asked my little fingers to fold into her palm and be still, promising to be there forever.

  15. Bobbie Anne says

    He was an artist and considered himself a poet. He wrote an epic poem that he illustrated along with other samples of his work. He drew pictures and displayed his work in art exhibits at art festivals. His paintings were drawings that depicted vivid imaginary images. He wondered why these didn’t sell. His friend was a drawer for commercial sign companies. His friend sold his artwork. How come he succeeded. Had he sold his soul just to make money? Was it worth it? How could he sleep at night? He hadn’t sold a painting. He decided if he didn’t sell one of his paintings soon he would be resigned to his job as a shop teacher in the city school district. The next day he went in, with his mind set. He would earn his living with his hands. In fact, he already did. To his surprise, he sold a painting of birds. One that took him less than an hour to complete. He smiled to himself. It was a start.

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