I was looking at my hands on Friday afternoon and, unlike many other times I was not reminded of my mother or grandmother, but instead was reminded of Mrs. Dempsey. Mrs. Dempsey was the home economics teacher at my high school. She was not what I would describe as one of the most 'put together' people around. Her clothes were often a little worn, a little rumpled. Her hair always had a windswept look….but not in the attractive sense. And her hands were always a little calloused, her nails discolored, no manicure for her!
But she could sure teach a group of giddy teenage girls to bake a cake or hem a tea towel. Mrs. Dempsey, you see, when she wasn't corralling female students, lived on a farm with her three sons and husband. Their farm was actually an orchard and so she was always 'putting up' some kind of fruit. They grew apples and peaches but she also probably canned all manner of other fruits and vegetables. Having her hands in lots of hot water, fruit and sugar, gave her nails an odd, reddish-brown tinge that seemed to last all year.
On Friday I did my yearly trip to the strawberry fields to kneel on the ground and give thanks for the sweetness of this June fruit. While picking I watched as the tips of my fingers turned red and then faded to pink. At home as I cleaned the berries, cut them and prepared them for their new life as jam, I noticed the redness moving further down my fingers, under my nails. As the jars sterilized in the canner and the jam began to take shape in the pan, I cleaned up the red stains that dotted the counter and the table. But those stains on my fingers took more than a dishcloth and soap. They needed some time to wear off.
I am sure Mrs. Dempsey's hands weren't always stained. It just seemed that way to me in my self-centered place as a sixteen year-old girl addicted to fashion. At that point I couldn't have imagined the unspeakable joy that picking, cleaning and 'putting up' strawberries would bring. Before 'buying local' was the hip thing to do, Mrs Dempsey was sacrificing her nails to the gift of earth's goodness while at the same time storing away the glorious taste of summer in a jar.
And that, my friends, trumps beautiful nails any day!
"May God who gardens the galaxies, fueling star-fire, watering the world, greening the earth-May this God guide you, guard you, and give you growth." ~Sam Hamilton-Poore