When you’re young, everything seems big.

I was a little boy, not much larger than the stuffed bear that sat on my bed, when we drove up to an old wooden barn the size of a factory, the wood gray as a porpoise. It was early fall and the trees were bright yellow, like a preschooler had colored them with a crayon. It was my fourth birthday and my parents had a special surprise for me, though I didn’t know it. I thought they were hunting for antiques, but there was nothing old about the golden retriever puppy they brought back to the car. It bounded and barked and ran in circles, its tongue lapping out to lick any skin in sight.

I was delighted. It was my first live present, and it was better than all my other toys combined. This one actually moved on his own, was unpredictable, and never seemed to get tired of playing. A dream come true for a little boy.

We named him Beau. He was only a puppy, but he was huge in my mind. I would hang onto his collar and let him drag me around. I even tried to ride him like he was a stallion and I a knight. As I grew older and began to play baseball I found the perfect center fielder. I could throw a baseball fifty yards and he would shoot away like a golden canon ball and bring it back to me. In winter, he would fight me to be the first inside our snow forts.

One of the things I loved best about Beau were his huge paws. He loved them too. They were big meaty paws with rough black pads sticking out from between golden hair. Sometimes he would get tears in those pads from running across pavement or digging up old bones, during winter, snow would clump in the hair between the pads, and he loved nothing more than playing tag with porcupines. We would have to take the time to crush the snow or rub ointment on the tears and pluck out the quills, but that never stopped him from bounding away to do it all over just so you would have to take time to treat his paws again.

Only my father had bigger “hands” than Beau. They were strong and rough, as if he swung a hammer or lifted lumber all day. That wasn’t his living, but he did teach me how to strike a nail just right so it went into the wood straight and easy, how to carve a bat from an old two by four so that the meat of the bat was thick and round and could pound a baseball half a country mile, and how to worm a hook so the fish didn’t steal it right off. Those hands were steady and calm and knew how to do everything. They were the best hands to hold at amusement parks and ball games and on the first day of school.

But my grandmother’s were the best hands to hold during prayer. She had soft hands that seemed to me not much more than silk stretched over bones. But at the end of our prayers she loved to give your hands a strong, quick squeeze that said “let’s eat,” “Amen,” and “I love you,” all at once.

Late in life she lost her eyes and her hands became her new eyes. They seemed to be everywhere at once, finding walls and chairs and tables on the way to the bathroom, searching out Aunt Kathy or a slippery pickled beat at family gatherings, and calmly clasped when you told her about your latest troubles over breakfast at the local diner. She fondled life when she lost her eyes. That was how she saw the world. The last time I saw her, I held her hand and read her the prologue to my novel. It was my way of letting her glimpse my future, because we both knew she wouldn’t be there to see it unfold.

My life has been like that since I was born, an affair of hand holding. It hasn’t hurt that those who draw close to me have had amazing hands.

One girl I knew, near the same age, had small, warm hands half the size of mine. They smelled good and honest and exciting all at once, a mixture of flowers and horses and woman that lingered in my nose and head like a good summer wine lingers on the tongue. I wasn’t real familiar with girls hands at the time, but hers seemed to fit perfectly in mine, the fingers twisting together better than two snakes ever did. Every time she got close our hands were attracted like magnets. I remember sitting on a couch watching TV or driving down the road and feeling her hand slither over to my knee and then up my leg, across my chest, and down my arm until it found mine. I liked how they twitched when we kissed as if some current of electricity was rippling through us.

And perhaps it was.

When I think back, I know I have been fortunate. It seems that whenever I needed it most, or when life was especially poignant, I was holding someone’s hand. I know that it was perfectly planned too, that God had that person come along at just the right moment so that I could share life with them. The hands have always changed. They have moved on over the years and other ones take their place. That is the way things go. But in their time, those different hands were just what I needed and probably what the other person needed too.

I am thankful for the hands I have held, and will hold. They are my paws, my hands, my eyes, my world, my life.

© Seth Crossman