I sat on the edge of our bed, my nightgown flowing over my gelatinized belly, the skin underneath my silken gown all soft and stretched and excessive after giving birth to my fourth child. I sat with my new little girl in my arms, her tiny head tucked up under my chin, her round plum of a bottom cupped in one hand, her legs curled up in the familiar fetal position, my other hand patting her back. I instinctively rocked back and forth, lulling her to sleep after her first Sabbath morning feeding. Sunday in early June, all fresh and warm and luscious, the lilacs and peonies at the end of their bloom and the leaves of the scrub oaks that pepper our hillside finally burst with their own leafy emerald birth. It was the one week of the year when the air outside was perfection, when the furnace was once and for all put to rest for the season and the windows were thrust open; that idyllic time when there is a slight breeze and the gauzy sheer curtains in the living room dance with newborn sunlight. Tomorrow we would need to close the windows and flip the thermostat over to A/C. But today…this blessed Sabbath day…all was well.
I sat on the edge of our bed, rocking my child as I looked through our master bathroom door and into the large mirror over the long sink top. There, like a portrait painted on my heart, stood the man of my dreams, all shower fresh and pressed, his dark hair cleanly combed and parted, his strong chin newly shaved, his crisp white shirt and deep red tie looking so beautiful against his olive skin; sun baked by early spring yard work and the building of a new deck out back. I watched the reflection of him as he lifted little Katie Did onto the counter top, her chubby 17 month old toes wiggling to find her balance.
I watched, as I rocked, as I patted…watched him draw a brush through her hair. Watched him pull her dress over her head, down past her white petticoat, watched him pull at the hem to make it even. I rocked and patted and stretched my head over to catch the full scene as he placed his lips on her forehead and drew her head into him, then held it back, looking her over and declaring her a princess like her big sister, Sarah. He turned her to see herself in the mirror.
“What a lovely little princess you are, my Katie Did. Can you see your loveliness?”
And as she stared curiously in the mirror I watched his large man hands gently maneuvering to button the little buttons on his daughter’s Sunday dress. I watched his thick fingers fumble and twist, trying to find tiny buttonholes for tiny buttons. I watched until the love fell in blurring pools from my eyes.
Good strong manly hands, able and gentle and holy and kind.
He wraps them around his boy’s…hand upon hand…positioning them on the little metal bat for his first little league game. He clamps them on the covers of a book, his oldest girl’s head pressed against his chest as she turns the pages before them. He washes and warms and lathers with baby lotion, rubbing the tiny bellies of his littlest ones after their baths. He runs them through my hair, all wet and hot with labor, kissing my forehead and whispering trust. He lays them on my head, over sacred oil.
Good, strong, holy, loving hands.
Tonight he stretched then out toward me as I sat on the couch at Gram’s house…reached out his still-strong hands, looking me straight in the eye.
He positions his legs to handle the weight and pull me up out of a deep soft couch. We clasp them in a sacred grip and he helps me rise. We walk down the basement stairs and out the back door, not 50 yards from our own front door. We walk, hand in hand, down the driveway, commenting on the clarity of the skies tonight; on the brilliance of the moon sliced in half; on the sweetness of the early spring trees who have finally given birth on this, the anniversary of my husband’s birth. Their scent is a sweet salute to him, I say. And I squeeze his hand.
Good, strong, gentle, loving, manly hands, wrapped firmly in mine.
Blessed, sacred, holy hands.
Happy Birthday, my love.