Part One: Ooma
During my illustrious career as a recorder player in the primary school orchestra, I had gone on many field trips to nursing homes to perform. As there wasn’t a lot of responsibility involved (the recorder a hollow tube that makes blasting honk noises, it is hardly like I was First Violin), I had plenty of time to stare blankly at our audience and come to conclusions. There was definitely a distinct smell and stance. Lavender and musk. Slump and hunch.
So, when I went with a friend to visit her grandmother at a nursing home, I expected a small feeble woman. She’d be swaddled in blankets, barely aware of her surroundings. No. This force of nature threw the door open wide when we arrived, barking a frustrated hello, as if our visit was just one item on an overstuffed schedule. She had a thick Dutch accent and looked like what I imagine Ian McKellen would look like if you asked him nicely to put on lipstick and a matching pantsuit.
She thrust her hand out at me, squinting at my awkward hairstyle. In that year I had attempted ‘The Rachel’ … but with naturally wavy hair and a haircare routine limited to “wash and let dry”, the only thing Rachel and I had in common was we didn’t really know if we had a crush on Ross or not.
I offered her my hand and she shook it. Frowning, she bellowed at me, “come on, girl. Your hand feels like a jellyfish. Try it again”. Terrified, I squeezed her hand harder with my sweaty palm, searching in her eyes for approval. She pursed her lips and nodded at me, satisfied, then roared, “what was your name again?”
Later that year, I had to go on stage at school to get an award from the principal. He went to shake my hand and I offered mine back to him, feeling Ooma’s grimace loom over me, like that giant head in The Wizard of Oz. As I shook his hand, he took a slight step back, raised his eyebrows, and said, “Wow. Nice handshake”.
Mr Farquhar’s approval still rates highly in my list of life accomplishments. And since then, I have remembered both his praise and Ooma’s scorn. My handshake is now a formidable threat. A chokehold on unsuspecting mitts everywhere.
Sadly, my newfound power came at a price. I have a superman handshake but it brought with it some kryptonite baggage … to this day, I can’t look at Ian McKellen without breaking out in a sweat.