“You have beautiful hands,” said the woman at the manicure station next to where I sat, having my nails done professionally for the first time in my life. Matter of fact, I may be the first Menzies EVER to have his nails professionally done.
See, we are a working people. Ever since the invention of the time clock, my kinsmen have been punching it. Nobody ever gets pampered, and hardly any male who lives to be my age has a full set of digits, let alone beautiful ones.
My father had about nine and a half fingers, which was remarkable considering he’d worked around power tools his entire adult life. His right index finger had been reshaped not once but twice by a machine called a “shaper.” The only advantage, he always said, was that he could point around corners.
My own right index finger is slightly askew, the result of a dislocation I suffered as a boy. One summer day I was in the municipal swimming pool and splashed water onto this girl, who retaliated by grabbing my finger and twisting it. Hard! I never had the joint reset, and I’ve never told the story until just now. Where I grew up, one didn’t go running to one’s momma crying that he had just been injured by a GIRL. Nor does a grown man from Carbon County brag about his beautiful hands. Beautiful hands are the mark of someone who has never done any real work.
Writing isn’t real work, so apart from the slightly skewed index finger, my hands look great. My fingerprints are symmetrical: loop, whorl, loop, whorl, loop. Crime, like writing, would never pay for me—because my fingerprints at the crime scene would be instantly identifiable. No one else has symmetrical fingerprints.
The woman then asked if I’d ever done any hand modeling, and I answered yes, because in fact I have. Many years ago I roomed with a painter named William Whitaker, who did a lot of portraits for the Mormon Church. Sometimes Bill would strike a particular pose, and I’d take a picture that he could use as a template for a painting. On other occasions, I’d strike a pose, and Bill would sketch my hands. If you visit Temple Square, you’ll see my hands everywhere. I’m either praying, receiving golden tablets from the Angel Bill, laying my hands upon Oliver Cowdery’s head, or slipping a wedding band onto some young woman’s finger.
Once, when Bill wasn’t around, I posed as the martyred prophet Joseph Smith. Standing over me was another roommate, Robert Macri, posing as my assassin. But you won’t see that particular tableau at Temple Square.
Next to eyes, hands are the most expressive body part. As a photographer, I always try to include at least one of my subject’s hands in a portrait. On occasion, I shoot only hands, as in this picture I took of my paternal grandmother.
At the age of eighty, Grandma had attractive hands, which isn’t to say she hadn’t worked hard in her life. She’d come of age in a rough and tumble mining camp, but had never ventured inside a coal mine, nor did she work with power tools. Coal miner’s daughters seldom lose fingers; they just go around randomly dislocating those of little boys who splash water on them.