At our Elks rehearsal the other night we were walking through the ceremony that we will be doing in ten days time.
At one part of the rehearsal, the group are called to hold hands during a bit of the ceremony. I took the hands of the people next to me. To my right, a little old lady, her paws cool, the skin dry and papery, reminiscent of my grandmother's grip. To my left, a middle-aged gentleman with a crew cut. He picked up my hand in his roughened tradie's mit, studied my hand in his and commented, "My you have small paws."
My hands aren't anything out of the ordinary, though they're a favourite part of my body. I've got long fingers, elegant, yet squared palms, well-shaped fingernails, thanks to my mother's gene pool. I keep them plied with hand cream regularly so the skin is smooth and even. I have a silver ring on the middle finger of my left hand - a leaving gift from workmates many years ago - the mother-of-pearl feature fell out years ago, but I still love the ring. On my right hand, the ring finger is adorned with a silver and garnet ring I found in Ubud, Indonesia a few years ago. As I write, massage, sew, knit, cook, crochet, you name it - my hands get a lot of use. They also raise quite a few comments about the fact that they're "pretty", "lovely" and "nice".
I also know that I missed out on the genes my sister was blessed with, thank goodness. Affectionately-known-as-Manhands is known by this moniker for a reason. Bless. Thankfully her hands have the same attributes as mine - just quite a bit bigger.
For those who've received a massage from me, people have commented that I have "hot" hands, able to produce great healing heat in seconds If you feel them after I lose contact, they're just normal temperature.
For me, holding hands is a particularly foreign feeling. I know it happens, but when it does, outside of lodge ritual work and helping friends children cross the road, I never know what to think. I always find when somebody holds my hand it's rather surprising.
Maybe it's something cellular. I remember taking my mother's hand at my grandmother's funeral. Grandma passed on at 104 years of age. She'd given Mum the runaround for nearly two decades in some ways - up until the last three years she was pretty good. Mum's hands and mine are similar, square palms, long, shapely fingers, good nails, and they're about the same size. All I can remember is Mum's hand rather limp in mine. It was one of those days. Tactile isn't a word I'd use to describe my mother.
I think back to other times my hand has been held. Undergoing minor surgery to have some cysts removed from my scalp over twenty-five years ago - the first time it happened - a nice nurse held my hand as the doctor injected the numb from under the surgical drapes. I think back and look at how I get this done now every few years when the bloody things grow back , in the doctor's surgery, chatting to my doctor about all sorts of things, no theatre lights, no drapes, no nurse. It was good to have the nurse there that first time, keeping the gremlins at bay.
Holding hands often means drinking to me. Dim memories of trawling the sex shops of Soho with Lachlan in the early hours of a winter's morning, hand-in-hand so we didn't lose each other in the crowds, plastered on lager and crisps. The last time anybody held my hand outside of lodge, a friend and I were wandering around town trying to find some dinner - far, far too much beer had been imbibed. Again, holding hands was practical - we wouldn't lose each other on the busy, warm, February night, my hand quite nicely fit in his palm.
The funny thing about holding hands is once you start, stopping is hard. If you break for any reason, you normally search each other out to join hands again. I'd forgotton about that too.
Sitting next to an ailing friend as he lay in a hosptial bed a few years ago, I held his hand - he gripped onto my for dear life. "There's warmth going up my arm." He mumbled. As he was not in a state to do anything more than lay there, I gave him a thorough hand massage. What frightened me more was as he was feeling warmth up his arm, all I was aware of was the cold despair I was feeling coming from him. I returned the following day to sit by his bedside and hold his hand once again. Though he could barely string a sentence together or know what day of the week it was, it was demanded that I massage his other one to even him up. He was quite insistant.
Of course then there are those who hold your hand because they want to be with you. Fingers laced together walking down the street. That's been years since that happened.
It's quite sad and scary, really.
I get all angsty when my mum and step-dad hold hands in public. Thinking about it, I think it might be a bit of jealousy.
It's struck me a while ago that I have very little touch in my life - monthly massages and the odd hug off friend excepted - the last time anybody kissed me - hell, four years ago now. But I can almost count the times that somebody has held my hand in my adult life.
So surprising is the act to me that it burns in my memory like a brand.