…mill hands, farm hands, factory hands…hands….hands…hands…
— Eugene Debs
Ironworker Devonte Merrifield makes sure he takes care of his hands. He jokingly points out that the strength of his marriage depends on two strong – and sometimes soft – hands. “My wife complains because I can’t rub her back anymore because of my calluses. My hands can be a little rough,” he says, lifting his hands and smiling.
Merrifield is in some ways similar to my electrician father who believed that the feel of a person’s hands might indicate something about their character. Shaking my father’s hand was not merely a polite ritual. The absence of thick pads of calluses was, for him, one indication that you might not be contributing much to society.
Merrifield knows that what he does with his hands is deserving of a measure of respect. His identity is partly bound up with what he calls his “working man’s” hands and the confidence drawn from meeting the challenges of apprenticeship.