My father retired on disability a couple of years before he died, though he never really stopped working. He had been diagnosed with Raynaud’s disease, which causes reduced circulation to the hands and feet. His fingers were swollen to twice the size of mine, and in cold weather the skin turned black. The bones of his fingertips deteriorated so badly that his fingernails curled over the ends of his blunt fingers and looked more like claws than anything else. He got to where he could no longer button his shirt easily, tie knots, or do any other fine work. Still, as long as he was able, he worked as the custodian at his church, cleaned house, cooked, and tackled plumbing, electrical and other problems that arose around the house, just as he always had. A couple of years before he died, at Christmas, he told me that he was going to divide his tools between my brother and me because he can’t use them anymore.
I look at my hands every day for signs of change, wondering if the disease that disabled my father is running in my veins. After he retired he took a part-time job as the janitor at his church, work that he undertakes with all the energy and pride that he exhibited in running duct or digging a sewer line. It’s the same pride that I feel when I hold my novel in my hands, a loose manuscript that I keep in the box that once held the blank typing paper; the same pride I felt one night as I drove down a mountain and saw the lights of a town burning in the valley, and knew that the electricity flowed through wires that I had strung in the air.