An Oral History of Hands as Told by My Grandmother

by Mercedes Lucero
Featured Art: Seated Youth Writing in Book – Raffaello Sanzio

This all began because Mother was making tortillas. This all began with mothers and kitchens. We live in Crowley, Colorado, or maybe Rocky Ford, Colorado, a place where there are not a lot of doctors. We live in a place where there are always mothers in kitchens and daughters who wait nearby to watch their mothers watch the tortillas.

The year is 1949 or 1950 or 1951. I am nine or ten or eleven and not allowed to touch the stove. We have a wood-burning stove with a large at surface for cooking. I stand on the pile of wood at the edge of the stove to see the tortillas. I like to stand close to watch Mother. Father has a habit of kissing me on the back of the neck and I fall. It is the middle of winter and water from the well is cold.

I want to be like Mother. I have a rolling pin Father made me, small enough to fit inside my hands. Father is always making things with his hands. He makes things for me out of wood. Father has a habit of kissing me on the back of the neck. I am the youngest of nine and they say I am his favorite.

Mother hands me a small mound of dough and I flatten it with my rolling pin. I watch Mother put dough on the stove. I stand on the pile of wood at the edge to see the tortillas. I stand close to watch Mother place dough, perfectly round, on the stove. I am not allowed to touch the stove. Father has a habit of kissing me on the back of the neck and I fall.

I can hear the sound of my hands sizzling on the stove. My hands sound like a stick of butter in a frying pan. We have a wood-burning stove, with a large at surface for cooking. I like to stand close to watch Mother watch the tortillas.

I cannot pull my hands off the stove. I am nine or ten or eleven. Mother scrapes my hands off with a spatula. This is the spatula she uses when she makes pancakes. It is 1949 or 1950 or 1951.

Father grabs me and throws me outside into the snow. We live in a place where there are not a lot of doctors. We live in a place where there are always mothers in kitchens and daughters who wait nearby to watch their mothers watch the tortillas. Their hands are quick. Father has a habit of kissing me on the back of the neck. I am the youngest of nine and they say I am his favorite.

It is the middle of winter and water from the well is cold. I do not go to school for months. Father keeps a bucket of snow near my bed. Father buys a little cloth purse and places it by the bed. I lie in bed and sit with my hands in a bowl of snow. I can hear my hands sizzling on the stove, a stick of butter. I do not go to school. Each time Father comes to see me, he puts a penny inside the little cloth purse.

No one thinks my hands will heal. We live in a place where there are not a lot of doctors. The year is 1949 or 1950 or 1951. Father is always making things with his hands. I am the youngest of nine and they say I am his favorite.

I stand in the doorway, from then on, watching Mother watch the tortillas. I am not allowed to go into the kitchen anymore. It is the end of winter and water from the well is cold. No one thinks my hands will heal, but they do. We live in a place where there are always mothers in kitchens and others who wait nearby to watch.


Mercedes Lucero is the author of Stereometry (Another New Calligraphy, 2018) and the chapbook, In the Garden of Broken Things (Flutter Press, 2016). She is the 2017 winner of the Langston Hughes Creative Writing Award for Poetry and her writing can be found in Puerto del Sol, The Pinch, Heavy Feather Review, and Curbside Splendor, among others. You can see more of her work at mercedeslucero.com.

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