I am not much use with my hands. I have bent them to work in an office on computers. They are weak, sore, pitiful. I hold a needle to a quilt a short while, the fabric and batting gathered and bunched in my left hand, the needle a steel splinter of my once-magic wand arm in my right; then my hands collapse, in pain or icy numbness, in the calico on my lap. The most basic tools have no moneyback guarantee.
But once, after the supremacy of Sunday morning church and dinner, these hands of mine built a home. I was five. I had three construction assistants in the yard between the house and the church — ages nine, eleven and thirteen; male; also inexperienced builders. It had snowed; the snow was deep. Then it snowed some more. It was January, the snows piled like ancient stone-dust cities of the Holy Land pilgrimage our parents showed us in slides. Then it rained on our cotton and wool hooded snow suits and on the snow; the rain froze. The black metal clasps of my red rubber galoshes froze shut. If we were very delicate, we could walk atop the crusted snow. With straight-edge machete fingertips, from the large age thirteen size to the small five, we punched out big rectangular snow bricks. Deep, deep I still feel the way of precision, my fingertips in wool mittens slicing snow stones from the whole quarry yard for layering in the masonry of igloos. No one taught us this. When the walls were an inch higher than the thirteen-year-old, my brothers placed the plywood ceiling and finished the exterior with a roof of ice-and-snow slate. We packed white mortar in each gap; smoothed with pearl-iced mitten-index fingers: a ten by ten closet or a small bedroom where the four of us could lie side by side hidden in mystery in the expanse between our father's parsonage and the church. We slept quietly in our civilized and insulated imaginations. We could live there, and survive. So warm; so home. So temporary.