It was a gift for my father: a dentist’s office had donated to the nursery school I went to many bags of plaster of Paris, a pink gooey solution that turned rubbery for making casts of teeth, and many small plastic cups; the project the nursery school directors had in mind was rather cute– plaster castings of each of our small hands.
I remember I had in mind to give mine to my father for Father’s Day, and a slow eternity crawled by with my hand in the little plastic cup, the pink goo squelching between my fingers after I eagerly plunged them into the container. My fingers went in straight, but I grew tired, curling them, fidgeting as I grew bored. “Can I take my hand out now?” Wiggle, squirm. “Is it ready yet?” Twitch, bounce. “How about now?”
Finally, it was done, they told me, and with a small sucking noise, I withdrew my hand. They labeled each cup, black marker on masking tape, and whisked them away. It would be Monday before we saw them again.
It was a forest of small white hands, that Monday morning. Plaster casts of everyone’s fingers, the tiny knuckles, our fingernails represented in the fragile stuff. My classmates each recognized theirs on sight.
“That one’s mine!”
“Ooo! There’s my name! That’s mine!”
I didn’t read yet, and I didn’t see the straight-fingered statuette I had thought I had made. There was only one left, after the frenzy of three- and four-year-olds was done. I looked at the remaining one perplexedly. “This one’s not mine!” I frowned.
The nursery school teacher bent over it, knowingly, wisely, kindly. “There is your name on it, here on the masking tape.” It was gently said, not contradicting, but very factual. To this day, few have ever stated differing evidence so kindly to me. But my little heart was broken. This, the gift I’d intended for my father, wasn’t perfect, wasn’t how I’d envisioned it. Lucky child, now I know, for this to have been my largest concern.
I took the plaster casting of my hand tearfully, reluctantly, almost defiantly, and two days later, haltingly handed it to him. I remember that he smiled. It was a slow smile, the kind that meant he appreciated something. I don’t remember what he said– but that smile, so rare, was enough. It was my daylight.
This week I was at my parents’, as my mother had told me they had a bunch of my things that they wanted to hand back to me. It’d been a decade since I had lived with them, and I couldn’t imagine what she had wanted to give me. I popped in the door, gave my greetings to Mom and Dad, gave hugs, and my mother directed me to the box.
“I wanted you to have these,” she said, opening the cardboard flaps. There was my baby spoon, handle curled into a ring, which she’d stopped using to feed me before I could talk. There were my baby shoes, that my mother had had bronzed before I could remember anything at all. And there was my little plaster hand, in the display dome my father had bought for it.
I had said “awww!” and “thank you,” to each item until that last. I looked helplessly at my father standing next to her, as my mouth worked open and closed, searching for the words. “But this belongs to dad!” I said, desperately.
I got no flicker of recognition from either of them. “He said it was okay,” my mother answered for him. He just smiled as if the whole thing were wonderful. My mother packed them all back in their box, and handed it to me. I said my good-byes.
I didn’t start crying until I got out to my car. I took out the plaster casting of my hand– my father’s casting of my hand– and shattered it in their driveway.