Hands say a lot about us
I began working when I was 10. I sold Coca-Colas and blackberries. Bobby Moore, my lifelong friend, and I had a pine straws business as well. We would rake straw and strew it on flower beds in the fall for 35 cents per gunnysack. I did my share of lawn mowing and painting as well. It seemed like my parents worked all the time. They had to.
My mother had a standard request about her funeral. She wanted an open casket, but she wanted to wear gloves so “people don't see my hands and think I'd worked myself to death.”
I remember, early in my career as a nursing home administrator, a frail woman in a wheelchair lamenting, “Nobody ever touches me any more. Oh sure, they bathe me and change me, but no real touching any more.” The power of touch, the importance of hands in what we do.
My late Uncle Aubrey, who had a wrecker service, garage and cow pastures, had great hands. So did my late Uncle Clarence, who worked the night shift at the cotton mill. Both had calloused, hardened hands—with grease under the fingernails and embedded deep in the creases of the skin on those big, well-worked leathery hands.
I remember Jesse Barlow, Bob Young, Dalton Hollinger and Lewis Willis, all “maintenance men” (no gender slight intended) at Wesley Woods, had hands like Uncle Aubrey and Uncle Clarence. Hands that gave you the reassurance that they could do anything, fix anything. Strong hands.
Bobby Moore's daddy sold John Deere Tractors. An ex-marine from Alabama, Mr. Moore became a mentor to the boys in our neighborhood. He took us fishing, taught us how to barbecue and gave us instruction on handshakes.
I remember one Saturday morning in his living room, he gave us a lesson about the importance of a firm handshake—what it says about your strength. He had such big hands. They enveloped mine.
To this day, I initially judge people on their handshake. I remember the handshakes of key leaders I've known—board chairs at Wesley Woods like Palacia Seaman and the late Candler Budd—or friends like Dan Reingold or Judge Hilton Fuller, who shake your hand and pull you toward them for a hug—a manly hug. The hands of integrity and commitment.
You work with men and women in your organization who say everything about their values with that initial handshake.
My wife has given me a gift of a massage on several occasions. I travel a lot, so my shoulders and lower back take a beating. A massage therapist I went to for a couple of years had healing hands. I could feel their warmth before she even touched my skin.
The hands of healing are essential to the work we do with the elderly and disabled. Notice the hands of your nursing or therapy staff sometime. They look warm. And they are soft and gentle. Healing hands are the most important tool in our repertoire of caring.
And think of the power of a pat on the back when we need a boost or a thank you. Remember what it feels like to have someone embrace your hands with both of their hands during a time of grief.
Let's give ourselves a hand for the great and important work we do through people whose hands reflect their character, and compassion. Give a gift of a pat on the back or a 10-minute hand massage for every employee or resident.
Hands. Working hands.
No, I didn't put gloves on my mother in her casket. I was proud of those hands. They did a lot for me—and for countless others.
Editor's note: Minnix recently sent this essay to association members.