My Hands Smell of Onion and Garlic

My mother’s hands
are not lily-white,
smooth and soft,
belonging to a lady of Victorian standards;
nor unblemished, bearing baby skin
as a wealthy plantation mistress
of antebellum days.

Her hands are work-worn and often weary,
betraying years of
hand-washing, diaper-changing,
rustling up family meals,
scouring pots and pans,
and cleaning sinks, showers, and stools.
They are surgery-scarred,
the remedy for hours of secretarial typing,
augmenting the family income in her spare time.

My grandmothers’ hands, too,
have cut too many messes of
slippery squash and prickly okra.
They have canned too many
pears, figs, tomatoes, and beans;
baked too many cakes and cookies;
planted too many gardens;
swept too many floors.

Newly married,
preparing food daily for the first time,
the stench arrested my hands,
onion and garlic,
claiming their territory.
Lamentably striving with
lemon juice or lotion, soap or showers
masked little for littler time.
The offensive odor always faded on its own--
just in time to dice one-half cup of onions
for the next recipe.

A few years later,
onions and garlic continue to waft upward
from my changing hands.
The once-smoother, softer skin
bears small calluses of kitchen knives, minor burns, and too little lotion--
if you look closely, as I do.
The ginger citrus of my body wash
lingers only a short time,
hurried away by the stronger scents beneath.
And I continue to chop onions and mince garlic,
wash dishes and clean the counters,
because I am a homemaker,
and I, too, will be a mother.

Proverbs tells us:
the children of a godly woman
will rise up and call her blessed.
I want them to remember,
my hands smell of onion and garlic.

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