Hand Prints

My hand prints, the very first ones.
In the month of September, in 1996, my mom covered my hands in neon pink paint and placed them on the walls of the stairs leading down to the basement. Those hand prints are still there, with dozens of others, decorating those walls with memories of friends who’s lives intersected ours, if only for a little bit.

I’m not sure where the idea came from. Maybe mom read something about hand print paintings in a magazine. Maybe the idea was hers’ alone—she is a creative person. But it doesn’t really matter where the concept came from—it’s there now, decorating our walls with color and love.

My whole family’s hand prints are up there. My brother’s from December 1996, when he was just a little more than a year old. Mom and dad too, have their prints up there. In colors they chose, with my mother’s perfect loopy script beneath. Their names. The month. The year.

It’s not something we really do anymore. I suppose it seemed less cool to teenagers to slather their hands in paint as my mother guided their hands, attempting to keep them steady, so the prints wouldn’t smear.

But as we sat down for Thanksgiving dinner, the whole family gathered around the table, my youngest cousin pointed out (not for the first time!) that his hand prints never made it on to the walls. He was born a couple years after we stopped forcing friends to leave their marks, and though his brother’s hands were on the walls, his had never made it.

So sometime after we had all eaten much more than people should really eat, and the coffee had brewed and the grandparents were telling stories, my mother took my little cousin’s hand and led him down to the basement to look at colors of paint.

He chose a dark blue, just like his brothers had, and we found a spot for him near where the rest of his family had left their prints 7 or 8 years before. My mom squirted out some paint on to a paper plate, and carefully took a paint brush, and coated his left hand, until it looked properly smurf-like.

She took his paint covered hand and pressed it against the wall. Held it there for a moment, to make sure he didn’t move around and smear the print. She pulled his hand back and he nodded, content with the mark he had left.

They repeated the process, so both his hands were there—left and right—on the wall, along with my parents and his, his brothers, my brother, and me.

Those walls are full of names. Some family. Some old friends. Some neighbors, moved away years ago and mostly forgotten. Most of the names don’t mean that much to me anymore.

But I’m glad my little cousin’s hands are up there now. Blue and bright. His name soon to be under them in that same loopy scrawl. It made him happy. And it makes me happy that he gets to be part of the history of this place. Of the hand prints left behind by people we, at one point, loved. Even if i can't remember their faces, I know all these people were important. And it's nice to have a little of that left behind.

the newest handprints on our walls

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