“…they kneaded
and twisted
and unknowingly
youth back up
through their veins…”
– From “Making Taralli” – a poem of mine originally pushed in Ginosko Literary Journal

The women in my family have beautiful hands. Of all their pleasing qualities, this is the one that fascinated me as a child. Well-formed and graceful, not to be confused with delicate, they are the type of hands that served, cooked, and too often were wrung together over loss.

As they worked with dough or arranged chicken in a stock pot, their plump skin defined my notions of age in such a way that I found it difficult even to remember the changing age of my own mother. Learning French in grammar school, we were asked to recount a growing list of descriptions of our family members. The age of my mother? Always trente-six. I only realized this repetition when the teacher pointed out she must have celebrated un anniversaire over the course of three years.

The same could be said for the other women in my family, particularly grandmothers and great-aunts who had a perpetual age I set long ago and a dexterity that defied any diagnosis. Certainly all that olive oil, lemon, and sugar may have helped a bit to smooth the surface, but as for the structure and the shape, that comes from slicing and grating and stretching.

Their hands moved through ingredients as much as life. When they were faced with children and husbands who began to slip through their fingers too soon, they did everything they could – always moving, always grasping, always holding. Youthful hands find it hard to let go.

Despite the seemingly endless repetition of tending and cooking, I now see the spaces in their movement. This is what oriented me to enjoy processes and appreciate tastes. They would discuss dishes as if they were stories, punctuating their flurry with moments when the hands could relax. Kneading and rolling led to the warmth of a coffee cup, a needed respite for working hands. Soon they would be back to the kitchen, but for now they celebrated the pleasures of crispy, biscuity taralli with fennel seed and cracked black pepper.

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2 Comment

  1. Leslie says: Reply

    Thanks for sharing these “biographies.”

    1. Vanessa says: Reply

      Happy to hear you’re enjoying them!

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