Memories Handmade

“When life gives you hands, make handmade.”

Partially due to my d.i.y. browsing lately, I’ve seen this little phrase pop up a lot. When I ran in to a friend back on the UP campus today, she called attention to my hands, asking where some of my regular rings had gone. And later, during training for The Beacon, I found myself absentmindedly spinning the jewellery around on my fingers, noticing the writing-bump callous that’s formed where my pen rests.

All this got me thinking about hands…about the stories they tell, the touches they experience, the character they hold, and the power they have.

I’ve talked about feet; I’ve talked about doors; maybe I have a thing for collections. I’ve always enjoyed photography of hands, especially aged ones that seem to tell a story. It’s almost as if something was written there, in the lines of their knuckles and the crevices of their cuticles. Sherwood Anderson, in one of my desert-island books, “Winesburg Ohio,” spends long sections of the novel on beautiful descriptions of hands. Isolating his characters to this one body part, he somehow conveys more about their personalities than almost any other description I’ve read.

“The knuckles of the doctor’s hands were extraordinarily large. When the hands were closed they looked like clusters of unpainted wooden balls as large as walnuts fastened together by steel rods…The story of Doctor Reefy is delicious, like the twisted little apples that grow in the orchards of Winesburg. On the trees are only a few gnarled apples that the pickers have rejected. They look like the knuckles of Doctor Reefy’s hands. One nibbles at them and they are delicious. Only the few know the sweetness of the twisted apples.” (from “Paper Pills” in Winesburg, Ohio)

On my own hands, I wear many rings. They’re constantly changing as some fall off without me noticing, others get left in locker rooms, and others retire when they get bent or scratched. For years now though, there have constantly been little bands of silver on my fingers; I feel naked without them on. Maybe it’s because each one holds a story. They’re not simply bands, but like I imagine the lines of ages hands, each one of my rings is really engraved with meaning.

There is the fin-shaped, asymmetrical ring that my mother bought me on the day I left for London. The eccentric city of Berkeley, one of our favorite places to go together, was a quick stop on our way to the San Francisco airport. In a little Tibetan shop there we oggled silver rings for far too long. The one I picked out fits my ring finger perfectly, is interesting and graceful, and always reminds me of that sunny day. Looking at it made me smile and feel closer across the miles during my semester abroad.

The fin-like ring my mother bought me in Berkely as I left for a semester in London

On my left thumb is the sad ghost of my most recently lost ring: the Scottish claddagh I got in Edinburgh. Funnily enough, it was a replacement for another ring; for my high school graduation my five best friends and I all received a classic claddagh ring with a green stone. Over the past three years of almost perpetual wear, most of the stones have cracked. One day last year I looked down to find mine gone completely. Soon after, the ring was phased out. But I loved the Scottish rendition I found to replace this memento; it had celtic knots instead of the classic hands, and I wore it untraditionally on my thumb. But, like too many before it, I took it off to practice yoga, and somewhere between downward dog and hours later at home, it disappeared into the black hole of locker room lost treasures.

The Greek alphabet ring on my right thumb has a much happier tale. It too was once lost. I splurged and bought myself the ring as a remembrance on my recent trip to Crete. It’s coin-like face depicts the ancient Greek alphabet, a small Greek woman and her shop-owner husband explained to me. No one reads or speaks these characters anymore, but they curl around the ring in a beautiful spiral that often draws attention. After hopping around between a few Greek bars one night, a bit of dancing, and a cobblestoned walk back to the little “Olga’s Pension” room, I awoke the next morning one ring fewer and quite distressed. Somewhere in the Greek night my new treasure seemed to have disappeared. It was weeks later and over 6,000 miles away that the ring would find me again. (I’m forcefully reminded at this point of “the one ring to rule them all,” which had a life of its own. Yes, that’s a Tolkien reference. Somehow in writing this, my rings sound weirdly similar). Apparently it showed up in my boyfriend Bryan’s laundry, although how it ended up there is still a mystery to us all.

Next from left to right on my hands are two little stacked rings, the only remaining out of a 6 ring set my mom and I got to match when I graduated from high school. Though my mom doesn’t wear hers too often, we both love these rings. We had to order them specially in our sizes, and each one in the set has its own unique pattern. Until two weeks ago I had managed to keep four of them, two on each middle finger, and they practically never came off. Now they’re gone from my right hand, but there’s a good chance I’ll have two scars there to mark their place instead. In my bike accident earlier this month, the two silver bands were embedded in my hand and had to be cut off with an ER tool that looked uncomfortablylike a pizza cutter. Now the scratched and severed rings sit in a sterile plastic cup on my dresser.

My right hand, with bands from Greece, graduation, and Berkeley.

Finally, the newest addition: a little ring on my littlest finger. Again in Berkeley, I was perusing the street vendors with my friend Stasia when she introduced a new jewellery idea. Watching the classic Camelot recently, she noticed Queen Guenevere wearing a tiny band just below the top joint of her finger. We liked the idea, and suddenly finding our own little rings became the search of the day. Though a jeweler who handcrafts sterling bands had to dig through her stock to find me the smallest of the smallest rings, we finally found cute matching ones. I’m loving this one right now because it’s so different. It’s small and delicate, almost random in placement, and now feels natural on my little pinky finger.

So that’s the story that loops around my fingers in small silver circles, day in and night out. Bits of the story are missing or severed, and it’s a story unfinished, with lots of life to come.

“To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.” ~William Blake
“Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.” ~Carl Jung

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