Hands Down: There’s A Price For Grabbing Onto Life

By Mike Paulus | December 27, 2017


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The skin on my knuckles has been dry and cracked for weeks. My fingertips, too. I’ve got little scabs from all the little places my skin has split open, little drops of blood slipping through. It hurts to type.

I literally bled as I wrote a sentence.

I blame the parched winter air. Maybe I should wear gloves when I wash the dishes. Maybe I should stick them in my pockets when I scurry outside to start the minivan.

And this reminds me – late in life, my grandfather ended up with these big, knobby, wooden spoons for hands. Stiff and gnarly. The skin had been worn thin from 80 years of really grabbing onto things.

He grabbed onto hammers and rammed nails deep into two-by-fours, framing up entire houses. If a board didn’t look level, he’d just give it a heavy slap and say, “We ain’t buildin’ a piano.”

But I’m pretty sure the board was always level.

He grabbed onto the barrels of shotguns and hunting rifles, pushing shells into their chambers. He pulled their stocks tight against his shoulder and picked out animals through clumps of trees, across dead fields crusted over with snow.

And most of the time, it was legal.

He grabbed onto the handles of spatulas and frying pans while he and Grandma ran their bakery, diner, and drive-in. He cooked food for the people of Danbury, Webster, and Siren – just like he did for a ship full of sailors out in the Pacific Ocean as World War II stormed over Europe. One time, he grabbed a pipe from behind the counter and smashed in the nose of a violent, drunk customer.

Afterward, he drove the guy to the hospital.

One bright summer afternoon, he used those hands, which had grown chunky and graceless towards the end, to cradle my newborn daughter.

He died later that year.

Here’s the last thing I remember about my grandfather’s hands. He used to lean over in his favorite recliner and let one arm dangle as he talked. His hand would bounce up and down the side of the chair, like he was jigging for bluegills. His fingertips tickled the upholstery. Aimless.

I think his bent old paws were testing their cage. They were penned up in here, in this house! They wanted to slap nails into some wood. They wanted to pull triggers. They wanted to slam shut the door of his old pickup truck and go somewhere. Anywhere.

I am not a fidgety person. I’m able to sit perfectly still for hours on end, my hands resting at my sides. I can rip into a laptop keyboard, and I can handle a pair of chopsticks, but my hands just don’t do what my grandfather’s did. My skin cracks because it’s cold outside, and I’m too lazy to put on gloves. It happens every year – the cracked skin and the blood. I wince at the pain.

Well, maybe someday I’ll grab onto something. And earn the blood on my knuckles.

Mike Paulus

Mike Paulus

Mike Paulus is the online editor for Volume One Magazine in Eau Claire, where he’s been writing his “The Rear End” column for over a decade. 
2018-02-10T23:06:30-06:00Tags: , |

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