'My Father's Hands' Are Still Beautiful Twenty Years Later
A young teacher and a short story
Twenty years ago I taught English to a small Grade 11 class in a cracked, low-roofed classroom in the sticks. Today many of them are my friends. I was not much older than they were and I was oh, so thoroughly Afrikaans! I was standing in for a friend who was expecting her baby girl any moment. The file my friend handed me to teach from, contained a short story penned before I was born. It had been taken from a Reader’s Digest, copied more than once, punched and added to the file, evidently years earlier. And it was going to land in a bin shortly afterwards because the ‘new’ curriculum 2005 had hit South Africa.
But as I handed the story as a reading passage to my class, I did not know any of this. I only knew that it had touched me deeply. I handed it out, trembling, because I was a nervous first year teacher, scared I would burst into tears reading it with my students. That would have been the last thing I needed.
The struggle if you cannot read
I made it through that class without crying, and more I cannot really remember. Through the years following that day I thought of the story now and again, and hoped I would one day find it. Well, yesterday I found it!
And I did cry. It is the poignant story of the lifelong struggle of a man who cannot read.
I have a passion for teaching young ones to read and helping struggling readers. I think I know how they must feel. Once, alone in Denmark, I vividly remember the awkward feeling of being an idiot. I could not find the exit at the airport no matter how hard my brain groped for meaning in the strange letters on the sign boards. When I tried to purchase a train ticket to my final destination, the person opposite me laughed because I could not pronounce the name of the city. I have real empathy for people who struggle to read and I think the story touches that.
And of course, I love my own dad's hands so terribly much
It is also special for me because I love my own father’s dear, slender hands so much. Those hands that brushed away many tears and worked me through university. The hands that steadied my small bike when the trainer wheels came off. The hands that unveiled my face on our wedding.