By Ethel (Huber) Orthner – Kelowna, B.C.
My mother was born in 1902 and died in 1994. Although she’s been gone for some time now, remembering her, I think of her hands.
All she ever wore on her hands was the plain wedding band my dad placed on her finger when he took her for his bride in 1925. Her hands were strong and could do almost anything, she was a talented lady.
Had she hoped to marry an up-and-coming business man or a farmer that worked the sod? I don’t know, but marrying a farmer she soon learned to milk cows and churn cream into butter; raise chickens the old-fashioned way, setting the eggs under a clucking hen; grow a big garden, hoe and weed, to provide healthy meals for her family; learn to make do with very little during the Depression; and rip apart old hand-me-down coats to make over for a member of the family. We were always well-dressed.
Those same hands could turn out beautifully embroidered tea towels and pillowcases from bleached snowy-white flour bags, knit pairs of socks and many mittens.
Her hands made good bread that she baked each week for us. I can see her with that big blue enamel bread bowl, punching the dough, and forming the loaves, and I can remember the smell of that homemade bread when we came home from school, famished.
Those hands rubbed our chests when colds laid us low.
I can see her hands on a busy washday, hanging clothes on the line in her special way with everything sorted – socks all in a row and towels on the line, side by side.
In winter she nearly froze her fingers hanging clothes outdoors, then, hauling them in frozen stiff as boards. There was the folding and ironing and teaching us to do all these things. Sometimes her hands were chapped and sore from the cold winds, but they were always willing to help someone in need.
She faithfully placed flowers in church on Sundays in the summer months. Almost every Sunday she prepared meals for company. These were my mom’s hands!
The years crept up on her and so did ill health. Her hands became unable to do what she once did so capably. Failing eyesight left her unable to do much more than dress herself. Her mind became feeble and finally was unable to remember the names of us five children she had cared for.
I see her there, sitting with her hands folded in her lap, resting after so many years of dedicated service. She changed frequently between periods of fog and seeming vitality which sparked hope in us, and finally of the disorientation and declining energy and memory which gravely saddened us all.
Her last few years have touched deep emotions and we wished for her to be released from the enslaving ‘cage’ she were in.
What would life have been without our mom?
She gave us life, nurtured us, and fed us, clothed us. She made sure we helped her in so many ways: doing dishes, picking berries, weeding the garden, hauling in wood and water and snow, and carrying out the slop.
Some days we would rather have had a new dress instead of having a bit of lace or buttons to make the old one look new again, but now we understand.
She never made us feel sorry that we had to wear those pretty sackcloth dresses.
Thanks mom, for all the things you taught me to do with my hands.