I think that is one sexy part that is often overlooked. Just had a little conversation on another board about the hands of a blacksmith. I knew one…once. It got me stirred up a bit in memories.
He had hands that I can describe as nothing but pure brawn: He was right handed, and that hand was just slightly more calloused than the left. He could switch what hand he hammered with, but he tended to use the right more. When you looked at his hands, his fingertips were smooth, yet firm. As you followed the fingers down to where each one joined the palm, there is a round pad of flesh that is rough and very hard. His were like smooth little pellets beneath the skin, worn down from years of pounding. I remember tracing over them with my own fingers. Both thumbs were flat and smooth. His left hand was just as weathered, but his wrist was not as thick. He was lean over both arms, and I could usually see the smallest ripple in the muscles of his forearms and wrists with even a slight movement. He was not a young man, having been a smith for twenty years, but his hands were like a man half his age. Only his skin betrayed his occupation and experience.
I was 18 years old and I can remember it all. I think that man will always stay with me. I would not call his skin leathery, especially if by leathery, you mean uncomfortable or rough. His skin was tough and taut…like it was thicker than my skin, especially his hands. It was always a deep tan color, no matter what time of year, because he did his job through all seasons. If he had a horse that fought, he might bear that on his palms; there were a few times when he tore the deep callouses on his hands. For the most part, his skin was merely…deeper, I suppose is one way to describe it. But his touch was soft, it never felt abrasive. I think he was smooth in places from the years of friction. Like one might expect, we both had stained skin from working on a farm; at the end of the day the edges of his fingernails would be blackened and the creases in his skin would stand out darker, but it always washed away in a hot shower. Most of the horseshoes he put on did not take very much heat to fit, they were premade and he knew his horses well, so he did not spend long periods in front of a flame. He had scars, but not from heating shoes. His veins were defined at all times, which may have been from age, but I suspect it was his work that made it happen. I think it made him softer, somehow, because veins compress when you grip them, and he had so many that stood out. Despite the thickness of his skin, there was that. And his smell? Well, his skin carried a scent of the earth with a hint of salty sweat. Putting a hot shoe on a hoof would leave a lasting smoky scent that clung to the skin and hair. A good, honest smell was that was more real than any cologne could ever be.
Sometimes now, as a nurse, when I am about to put an IV in a man, I can remember how his skin used to feel, especially if I catch a taste of that outdoor barn scent. When I take a man’s hand in mine and hold it, stretching the skin and examing the veins, I can feel the depth of his flesh. I know that it will be difficult, but not impossible to pierce with a needle. I usually ask the patient, “Do you work outside all day?” and the patient laughs. It is just something in the way it feels when I touch that sort of skin. It is aged, but not old. It is tough, but not abrasive. Just thicker, and more practiced than the rest of us.
Phew. The years have sure flown by. Seems like yesterday talking about it.