The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Mama's Hands and Mine

By Roxie Harris Bailey © 1985

Issue: May, 1985

Forward by Addie J. Wood.... Mama's hands belong to Ruth Wood Harris. She raised six children. Her husband was Math Harris. She loved to go to square dances and was a good dancer, also a good cook, for her father-in-law said the first time he ate her biscuits, "Such, such biscuits have never been made!" She was the first lady to buy and drive her own automobile in Mayberry [Virginia]. Her garage was a log barn over 100 years old at her father's farm, known as the Tyra Barnard place on Mayberry Creek.

Mama has always had beautiful hands, and all of her children and many of her grandchildren, have inherited them. They are not ornamental hands in that sense of the word, but capable, dependable ones - hands that could rock the cradle or, if the owner so desired, rule the world. Her hands remain pretty even with the advancing years and the toll of hard work.

Sometimes it is interesting to me to consider the differences in what our hands, so like in appearance, have done. They have gone with us in totally different life styles, yet there is a sameness in what they have done. Mama's hands have been invaluable in her role as home maker and have never gone outside the home to work, except for a brief period as a teacher before her marriage. Mine have always worked in dual roles of home maker and associate breadwinner.

Mama's hands, and her life, have seen the time when the only alternative was hard physical work with very little money, thus requiring washing on washboards, hoeing in the fields, inside or outside work, often in unseasonable weather. Mine, because of the advances in technology which have occurred in both our lifetimes have not had to work so hard. She has done without many material things which I have not had to do. In many ways it has been easier for me, but her life has been spent without the pressures which have surrounded a great deal of mine, the pressures put there by society and changing morals in an age of advanced technology. Both our hands have worked for our own and we have been fortunate in that we could care for them. Both our hands have been outstretched to help those for whom we care. Mama is more humble and gentle than I, she has never known betrayal of a trust and has never had to build a wall for self protection as we who have worked outside the home have had to do. I hope she never has need to do this. She believes that a handshake is a firm commitment and cannot understand those who do not honor it as she does.

Both of our hands have guided children to adulthood and, while none of them have been spectacularly successful, all of them are self supporting, stable individuals, most of them with children of their own.

Mama's hands took care of her mother at the end of her lifetime, as mine are caring for her now, doing the tasks she can no longer do.

I read somewhere, sometime, a statement that a writer had made stating that she realized she was growing old when she saw her Mother's hands coming out of her coat sleeves. As I daily see Mama's hands come out of my sleeves, I hope that when I am as old as she I can say I have done as little harm to anyone and have been as little trouble to others as she has been. I feel this is a legacy which, like physical appearance of our hands, would be worthy of passing on to my children when my hands, and Mama's come out their sleeves.