My Father’s Hands and American Indian

The best, worst and biggest thing about my father were his strong hands. They were a heavy mass of muscle hardened by construction jobs building stone houses, and by the never-ending farming tasks in Stankovci, our Croatian village. With their own tranquility, the fields complement the village and their seven hills, reminding one of the Eternal City of Rome. Those miles of farming land had been sponsoring a chance for the survival of my forebearers. My father had to take that chance, too. That chance always came with strong hands. My father used those hands to bring us — his family — out of poverty and to make us proud of having the largest and best-looking house in our village. He used them while talking to make a point, to count his hard-earned money, to greet his friends, to scare his enemies, to protect his possessions, to hold his four children. Without them one could never endure the work. My father was aware of it, and would look at his own hands as the most precious possession he had. His fingers, swollen with frightening strength, were intimidating reminders to stay out of trouble in his presence. My father used those hands to bring us — his family — out of poverty and to make us proud of having the largest and best-looking house in our village. He used them while talking to make a point, to count his hard-earned money, to greet his friends, to scare his enemies, to protect his possessions, to hold his four children. In hard times, he used those hands to pray when communication with the world around him ceased. With his hardworking and powerful hands he proposed to our mother — the most beautiful girl in the village, according to him — giving her a bouquet of red and white roses. In sickness those hands used to carry us children to our country doctor five miles away from our house. They would also bring us back, cover us, and tuck the woolen blanket under our bodies, hot with fever or sick with flu. Those strong hands would close the door on our bedrooms silently, as if they belonged to a friendly, giant ghost who didn’t want to wake up the inhabitants of the house. The same hands would feel our sweaty foreheads. On a sad occasion when my mother broke her leg and couldn’t walk, those strong hands would carry her every night upstairs to their bedroom. He would bring her down to our country kitchen on snowy winter days and would sit her by the fireplace. Then he would go about his daily chores, cutting the thick air of frustrations with them as if playing golf and not getting an expected result.

Life’s path brought my father to quite a few unusual situations where his strong hands had to live up to their name.

In the early fifties, fate arranged for my father to use his strong hands where he never dreamed of: the birth of his youngest son, my brother Zeljko. It was a late afternoon in the middle of the fall. My father was working in the fields alone now that my mother was bringing her pregnancy into the ninth month. She was almost ready to give birth, but according to my father, not on that particular day. When my mother started going into labor (to her own early surprise, too), I was the only person there who might help. I was a six-year-old boy, confused and frightened by the situation. My father came home just at the right time to save all three of us: my mother, her newborn son and myself. He did a doctor’s job before the doctor arrived. The country doctor congratulated him on the job well done. That was the topic my father always talked about with special pride — helping his own son come into this world!

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