Though they're not quite an octave's reach in breadth, my father's hands are larger than life. Whether they are lifting me up to the piano bench, whipping up batches of Granny's bread pudding, or urging tender young plants into the soil, these are the hands of a worker, and a performer.
This particular afternoon's rehearsal is in total darkness, except for a thin sliver of light at the podium, center stage. Hidden in the black night, but connected to that beam of light, is a hand, my father's hand.
Dressed in a black tuxedo, with white bow tie, he is holding a baton, and at a precise moment, he rises on tiptoe, spreads both arms like an eagle about to take flight, then slams his heels down to signal the opening downbeat. The stage lights burst forth; the orchestra explodes with the opening chords; and the wonderful, lighted baton pierces the air as it guides its subjects on their musical trek.
Backstage, the air is still and warm. I am seated on a stool near my mother, watching the audience watch my father's back. The brightness leaves the conductor in silhouette, but I can outline his features from memory.
His hair is wavy, thick, and almost black. Brushed straight back, it reveals a "widow's peak," which I have inherited. At eight years old, I don't even know what a widow's peak is, but I preen when told I look just like him. His eyebrows are dense, a resting spot for bits of snow in winter. They shield eyes of the deepest blue-gray, which seem to be sensitive to every sight and sound. He is described as "the gentleman's gentleman" in a press release. All I know is that he is funny, witty, constantly upbeat, and the warmest human being I know.
My father was raised with a strict code of behavior. He is polite, disciplined, and expects from others only what he demands of himself. His orchestra responds. At this rehearsal he praises the violins for a particularly smooth run through. Then he illustrates a tricky intro for the percussionists with his voice - soft and low.
Before the show, Daddy shaves again. Twice a day, when there are performances, I take part in the ritual. First, he splashes his face with warm water, making sure to spritz a few drops across my crinkled nose. He then lathers the foamy soap and carefully shaves to a smooth finish. The crowning touch is Lyme's rose water poured into both hands, applied to cheeks and neck, and gently patted on my upturned cheeks as well.
After the final encore, my father clasps his hands in salute to his orchestra and leaves the stage. I scramble down off my perch and wait for him to hand me his tuxedo jacket. It is damp from the lights and the activity, still exuding a hint of rose water.
Daddy runs his hands through his hair, says a few words to the stagehands, and hugs my mom. We head off to grab a late supper, Daddy jingling the keys in his pocket, a sure sign of contentment.
"How'd we do tonight, sport?" he asks me. I just grin and take his other hand.