Those hands never got soft

By JAMIE PATTERSON,

Paw Paw’s eyes canvased over the work that I had done. Carefully holding a paper towel, I cleaned a few smudges that I had missed.

It wasn’t the first time Paw Paw let me paint his fingernails. He was a regular client of my bedroom hair salon.

“Now, let this hand dry,” I said, grabbing his other hand.

“Do you think this color is OK,” he asked, scrunching his nose up. “It looks like something the cat spit up.”

I giggled as I began to put lotion on his other hand. But I remember there was something different about it this time.

I think for the first time in my young life I noticed how rough Paw Paw’s hands were. I don’t believe there was a smooth inch on them.

His hands had deep wrinkles in them, dry with calluses. And no matter how much lotion I applied, they were still tough as nails.

At the time, I never put much thought into it. But my Paw Paw had the hands of a working man.

Paw Paw came from the dirt of a family farm. Buried deep in the Lawrence County woods, the Jackson farm provided for 12 people.

It was complete with vegetables, cows, hogs, chickens, you name it. Granted, it wasn’t a massive agricultural empire. But it was what put food on the table and life in the bodies of my ancestors.

Paw Paw slaughtered his first hog when he was a boy. He worked the fields just as hard as his own father, often skipping school to work the land. He would often have to trade his baseball bat for a hoe, but he recalled enjoying being the kid of a farmer.

They were a sharecropper family. They had a few acres of their own, and that parcel would expand through the years.

They thanked God for the land. They worked the land. And they loved the land.

Had it not been for the dirt of Lawrence County, the Jackson clan would have starved.

Yes, they may have been dirt poor. But it was that dirt that gave them their own riches.

When Paw Paw began his own family, he took a job at the paper mill after serving in World War II in the Army. But he would still have a massive vegetable garden with a few cows and hogs.

It was almost like farming was in his blood, and it didn’t seem right not to have some kind of operation.

When Paw Paw retired, he spent his days expanding his farming operation. He had dreams of owning a large cattle farm.

But a spinal tumor changed those plans.

Paw Paw would spend the rest of his days on earth confined to a wheelchair.

He sold the hogs at the market. The cows were sold to a brother-in-law up the road. The vegetable garden grew up with weeds. And the hoe remained leaned up against the barn.

There were no more tractor pulls with the boys. There were no more wheelbarrow races with me and my cousins. There were no more baby calves born. There were no more little piglets to help nurse. There were no more fresh tomatoes to deliver around the neighborhood. There were no more pounds of bacon and sausage when the cold hit.

It was all about store-bought milk, empty pastures and rotting pens.

I can’t imagine how Paw Paw felt when he realized that he would never plant another row of food. He would never look out his window and see animals.

His whole world changed.

But yet his hands remained tough as I applied the polish to his fingernail. Years may have passed, but the markings of a farmer’s hands never went away.

Those marks began as a child, and they run deep.

There is no way to get rid of them. And why would you ever want to forget?

Those hands built an empire, raised a family and even held still long enough for a little girl to apply some polish.