A Winters Tale: We could all use a hand

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Growing up without a father, it fell upon my widowed mother to impart to me some of the important habits every man should adopt.

One of them I completely ignored.

“Learn to play golf,” she advised, “because all the business deals are made on the golf course.”

But I was never interested in hitting a little ball all day long.  Plus, I figured I was capable of making deals in other ways.

However, another bit of her sage wisdom was something I have applied throughout my life.

“Have a strong handshake,” she would tell me.  

When I was little, she even made me practice on her.

“No one likes to shake hands with a limp fish,” she would say.

As I grew, I viewed the handshake as a great expression of human interaction, a way to make friends and seal business deals (without golf), a truly human gesture which many today wish to obliterate.

Those who do are a little too germophopic for my taste.

Just a couple of weeks ago, my fellow Express columnist who, best as I can tell has always been wary of handshakes, wrote that he hopes the pandemic will end this important way of greeting.

He hopes “that habit becomes something we tell our grandchildren we used to do.”

I couldn’t disagree more. 

Handshaking is a habit which dates back to ancient times, when two enemies would meet.

The handshake was a way to show they were not holding weapons.

Some historians even suggest the up-and-down motion was intended to dislodge any knives or daggers that might be hidden up a sleeve.

Two fierce warriors elbow bumping would look as silly as two middle aged men bumping elbows today.

Some have dated the modern day handshake to the 17th century, practiced by the Quakers as a more egalitarian version of the bow.

It’s a very democratic custom, a very American way of greeting, not to mention that handshakes have also changed history.

Grant and Lee at Appomattox. Churchill, Stalin and Truman at Potsdam. Sadat and Begin at the White House.

I’ve participated in a few memorable handshakes in my day.

My former managing editor, Dan Rather, always delivered a powerful Texas sized shake, fingers splayed wide open, with the force of a pneumatic oil rig.

Here in Winters, I remember meeting my friend Lynne Secrist for the first time, back in the good old days when human beings drifted in and out of Steady Eddy’s in the morning.

I’m afraid I gripped her hand so hard, she recoiled in pain. I apologized profusely and modified my shake in later meetings.

I even shook hands with a Pope.

I have a photo of me, taken at the Vatican, extending my hand to John Paul II.

By the way, I also fearlessly kissed the papal ring–God knows how many other lips had touched it before mine.

Most of all, the handshake is a way to touch a fellow human being, a key to keeping us emotionally connected.

As to consigning handshakes to “habits we tell our grandchildren we used to do,” let’s substitute the word “handshakes” for “mask wearing,”  “fist bumping,” and “social distancing.”

Let’s make those little circles at the checkout lines something our grandkids will laugh at.

Let them look at us quizzicly at the mention of  “contactless delivery” and “touchless menus.”

Let’s hope they associate the word “surge” with tidal waves, and “spike” with a favorite dog’s name.

Let’s agree that these new habits we have invented lately are the ones which should not last for two more generations.

In fact, let’s shake on it.

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