I can still tie my shoes.

I remember learning that skill and it’s one of my earliest memories. At the time we lived in an oddly configured apartment on the second floor what must once have been a private house. It had a large room at the front and another at the back, connected by a hallway. The room at the front was my parents’ bedroom and the one in the back was the kitchen, dining room and living room all in one. My crib was in the hallway connecting the two and, yes, I remember being in that crib. On a given day, I must have been between two and three, I sat on my parent’s bed and my father patiently taught me to tie my shoes. It’s a skill that has lasted over seventy years.

Before Velcro became ubiquitous, shoe-tying was an important step in the process of using necessary tools. It required the development of the small muscles of the hands and progress was marked by a growing dexterity: from coloring with crayons to cutting and folding paper and then to forming letters and numbers with pencils. For girls the learning moved on at some point to include using knitting needles, crochet hooks, and increasingly fine sewing needles. We all seemed to acquire these increasingly challenging skills without any of our conscious attention. Who knew that dexterity might gradually disappear in the same unnoticed way?

I should have learned from my mother’s experience. She lived with me in her seventies and over those years she first bought us an electric can opener. Then she started to grumble over dealing with coins at the grocery store. Finally she expressed a strong preference for shirts, jackets, and housecoats with snaps rather than buttons. She insisted on doing the dishes every evening. The hot water soothed her stiff hands, she said. I was sympathetic. I thought I understood.

I think that I first noticed the new awkwardness in using needles. I had given up any serious sewing years before, but I still took care of hems, buttons, small darns and enjoyed embroidery. Now all I can manage, and only if I use the largest possible embroidery needle, is replacing buttons and sewing up a hole in a pants’ pocket.


Next I noticed how hard picking up coins had become. I always pick up the penny that lies on the sidewalk or parking lot. It’s a superstition thing–someone once told me it was a good luck charm. Now it takes several tries to get that penny and only if the fingernails on my right hand are long enough. Since I can no longer squat–one wonky knee–I have to be careful about where I am when I bend over to grab that penny, knowing it might take a while. It’s not a recommended posture for sedate females.

Most recently, I have begun to drop things–more than usual, I mean. The enlarged knuckles on my right hand, my working hand, prevent my hand from closing completely and strongly. I’m a threat to our everyday dish ware and, especially, the vases in which I like to position bouquets around the house.

This Christmas season I discovered that the bows on presents is the newest loss. I always use real ribbon, cloth ribbon, of various widths so it’s not a problem of inferior product. I can manage the first loop fine. It’s poking the second loop through that defeats me, or almost does. Next year: stick-on bows. Sigh.

Still and all, not all is loss. Crochet hooks, those you use for wool anyway, are big enough for me to manage so my production of baby afghans can continue. The hot dish water does soothe the stiffness, at least temporarily. And the electric can opener I plan to buy won’t get lost in the drawer amid corkscrews, potato mashers, wooden spoons and whisks as this one does. Oh, and did I mention, I can still tie my shoes.


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