One of the last conversations I had with my father was while I was massaging his frail hands. He was in the late stages of metastatic liver cancer and fading fast. We discussed what tales those square "Irish Mitts" could tell about his 73 years on this earth.
As tiny hands many years go, they held the handle bars of a bicycle when he would reluctantly deliver bread from the family bakery. During the Manchester blitz, that bicycle manouvred it's way through the rubble in as a small boy searched for wartime treasure. They held pieces of shrapnel, traded like swap cards as childhood trophies during the Blitz.
They wielded a mighty lacrosse stick during his years at Hume Grammar School. I remember his bruises and bashed shins after a game he was far too old to play but loved it and the 'old boys' club.
Those crusty phalanges endured four years of Salford University, no mean feat for a man from a working class background. They turned the pages of chemistry and textile texts, performed scientific experiments, dug up corn and wheat in the pursuit of High Amylayse starch, a product that is in just about everything but one that he developed. Their solid fingers, scribing pages in black fountain pen to prove that he could be something, could be someone, a phoenix from the ashes and more than a baker's son.
These tired, and rough old hands once clasped the hands of another, his one and only love, his wife. For the first two years of their marriage, those hands held her close through of tuburculosis contracted only a year before penicillin put a stop to its awful black death. She was a nurse, and contracted it looking after children. He cared not. He caressed her through surgery and those mighty hands brought her through the abyss and into safety. Until she died, his hands wrapped around her waist while she was washing dishes, dried her tears of lament at being so separated from her own family and rubbed her feet after long days delivering babies in maternity hospitals.
They have wrapped his four children and seven grandchildren in their embrace and occasionally left their imprint on a few deserving backsides.
They rested assertively on boardroom tables, laboured in five gardens, pulled thousands of weeds, repaired metres of fence and pruned tonnes of hedgerows.
They lead reluctant ponies along kilometres of roadside and applauded furiously at hundreds of soccer games.
They have slapped the kitchen table in heated discussion and firmly shaken the hands of friends and acquaintances. They made toboggans and assembled bicycles, go-carts and all manner of machinery to entertain.
Dad's hands had masterfully guided his favourite Waterman Pen through thousands of Herald crosswords and fumbled clumsily with a computer keyboard. They have firmly grasped many a glass of scotch and wine, even whilst he dozed in front of the TV they never fell from his vice like grip.
They have gently folded around a golf stick whose head and shaft has driven more than one hole in one and clutched the odd trophy.
They reached long and often into the lolly tin, plucking a handful for his grandchildren, and long and often into his deep pockets to subsidize his own children's mad exploits.
With these same hands, he consoled us through our personal trials, applauded our achievements, celebrated our milestones and softly pushed us forward. They were the hands of a gentle giant, a loving husband, dad and grandpa and I will forever miss their touch.