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What I inherited when my mother died

The same knuckles, the same tapered fingers...what is it about our mothers that make us look at ourselves for the sameness?

At a certain point, I looked down and saw my mother’s hands.

She told me it would happen – she told me when I was young and I laughed because it was impossible.

But then it happened right after she died – it happened when my dad told me “kiss your mother goodbye,” and I didn’t want to, because she was so cold already and just lying there, leaden, and she wasn’t even there to begin with anymore, and I didn’t want to kiss her, so I touched her feet.

She was wearing fuzzy blue socks – ones I got her with little pads at the bottom so she wouldn’t slip. I touched them. Her feet were still hers – they were always a little cold anyway, so I could pretend they weren’t nothing anymore only bones and muscle and skin.

I touched her feet because she liked when I rubbed them – especially on nights when we would lie head to toe on the couch in the living room and listen to old radio shows from the 1940’s on the small cassette player.

Sometimes, we would light a fire in the big old fireplace even though in LA you don’t need to. It wasn’t about need – it was about wanting to see the shadows thrown against the walls while all the lights were out except that burning log crackling in the grate.

As she got sicker and colder, we lit more fires. And her body hurt, so I would rub them more because I found this pressure point that took away pain, and it helped, and I couldn’t do anything else except rub her feet.

So that’s why I touched them when she died – because I didn’t want to kiss her because it was too awful, and it wasn’t even her, but I could touch her feet for my dad’s sake.

And that’s when I saw her hands — well, my hands, technically. But her hands, wrapped around her foot.

It’s like, she dies, and I get her hands along with her her pearl earrings and perfume collection? I don’t know – I was 23 then and my hands were small like hers, but still smooth, with seashell finger nails. But in that moment, in that room, in that fading light in the place where had been alive just an hour before, I saw her hands.

And then it went away – or maybe I just didn’t think about it.

But it’s become more obvious over the years, especially after the kids were born — my daughter first, and then my son. My hands grew into hers completely – Like, there’s no way you can’t NOT see it. The same knuckles (a little big) the same tapered fingers (thin and small) even the same freckles, and my big veins stick up just like hers, thrumming with the heart she broke when she died and left me standing there holding her feet in those fuzzy socks.

And more and more, I do the same things she did with these hands – like planting flowers in our little garden. That was her thing, not mine, and when she would ask me to pick the yellow leaves off the laventaria plant outside her window or off the geraniums on the kitchen window sill, I would roll my eyes and stalk outside and rip them off, until she would say “that’s no way to treat a living creature. Don’t do it if you can’t do it with love.” And now I’m out in the garden picking the goddamn yellow leaves off the geraniums because I want to, pulling back the weeds, hanging wind chimes as she did with the same hands.

Or like doing the dishes – I love it now, like she did. The hottest water, and a lot of soap, and little bubbles catch the light off my – her – hands.

Or like writing, too — actually, she was the writer, not me. I would struggle and get lost and frustrated and end up crying, so then she would sit with me and help me make each paragraph right, and I would hate her a little for not letting me fail on my own, but loving her so much for being there and helping me. But now that I have her hands, I can write them on my own – although sometimes I wonder if she’s writing through me.

What is it about our mothers that make us look at ourselves for the sameness? Her hands were just the beginning – and the other things have followed: the gardening, the dishes, the writing — and being a mom, too. Like foot rubs lying head to toe on our little couch, and a bigger sense of looking down at my hands right now and wondering what my daughter will inherit from me

And last night when I tucked her in, and she put her hand against mine, our palms touched, and her little golden apple hand, and mine like the roots of a begonia, and she said to me: “Look how different our hands are,” and I kissed her goodnight, without saying a word because I know the truth that she’ll unearth with those very hands herself

About the Author
Sarah Tuttle-Singer, author of Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered and the New Media Editor at Times of Israel, She was raised in Venice Beach, California on Yiddish lullabies and Civil Rights anthems. She now lives in Israel with her two kids where she climbs roofs, explores cisterns, opens secret doors and talks to strangers, and writes stories about people. Sarah also speaks before audiences left, right, and center through the Jewish Speakers Bureau, asking them to wrestle with important questions while celebrating their willingness to do so. She also loves whisky and tacos and chocolate chip cookies and old maps and foreign coins and discovering new ideas from different perspectives. Sarah is a work in progress.