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Rebecca Davis is the author of “Chasing AllieCat,” and “Jake Riley: Irreparably Damaged.”
By Rebecca Fjelland Davis | Photos by John Cross
am wearing my mother’s hands. I see them in South Central College, Room E-104, my Creative Writing class, with my little friend Elmo. Elmo is a machine who can project any image from my desk onto the classroom screen, like the opaque projectors of my youth, only Elmo magnifies size and color. I put a copy of Langston Hughes’ story “Salvation” on my desk, and along with the words, Elmo shoots my hands onto the screen, like six-foot trees with knobby boughs, knuckles like branches big enough to support a tire swing. My mother’s hands. Bigger than life and back from her grave. Gangly hands are agile hands. All of us in this Norwegian line of women who have passed hands from mother to daughter like recipes, a long rope of passage from Norway across the Atlantic to the black soil of Iowa, have used these hands, clean or soiled, through the generations, to caress babies and husbands, milk 26 • February 2015 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
cows, pick eggs and tomatoes, stroke the broken heart of a teenage daughter, remove tiny splinters, knead bread, roll out lefse, play piano. The lineage of solid, gardening, praying, proper Norwegian hands. Each has taken a turn at the end of my arms. These Norwegian Lutheran Minnesota hands—have grabbed hold, knobby knuckles and all, with considerable strength to survive. At the Twin Cities Marathon Fitness Fair one year, I stopped at a booth to test my “grip strength.” The fitness specialist, one of those kids who fancied himself brilliant until he flunked organic chemistry for the third time, and finally had to change his major from pre-med to exercise science, shone me a smile and handed me a turquoise rubber baseball. “Squeeze,” he said. “As hard and fast as you can.” I breathed in, I breathed out. And I squeezed. He blinked, looked at his numbers. “Something’s not right here,” he said. “Try again.” I squeezed.