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Once at an office party, I overheard a woman tell my wife, "Oh my gosh, you have the most beautiful hands I've ever seen."

And indeed she does.

Long, elegant fingers. Perfectly shaped nails. Tanned skin. My wife's hands are among her best features.

There is a 20-year-old photograph on my desk of her cradling her face in her hands — showing off her engagement ring. The sun is splashing across her face. She is smiling. It's an honest, eyes-closed smile that she shares with her father.

A few months after that photograph was taken, we were married in an early morning ceremony at Signal Point, surrounded by a few close friends, family and a Baptist preacher that we barely knew.

To cut the tension of the moment, we decided to thumb wrestle — a bad idea for me because she "pinned" me instantly and bit her lower lip for emphasis. I was a never-before-married 38-year-old and she was a pretty, young teacher. I couldn't believe my good fortune.

As time went by, I saw my wife use those beautiful hands to hug her first-grade students, who grew to be college students, who used their own hands to pen notes of tribute to her for making a difference in their lives.

On the day in early 2001 that we learned my wife was pregnant with our first child, we thumb wrestled again as a nod to our wedding day and to cut the tension of emerging parenthood. At 41, I was deeply ambivalent about my ability to be a good father — not yet knowing what a life-changing and restorative experience fatherhood would be.

We held hands again five years later as we discussed having a second child. By then I was reveling in parenthood, but uncertain about the effects of my age — 48 — on the life path of another newborn. In her own way, my wife convinced me to swallow my fears, and we were ultimately blessed with a second child — a funny, loving, quirky little boy that has become a light in our lives.

Nowadays, my wife is no longer cradling babies with those hands, but she puts them to work pulling weeds in her flowerbeds and tending some of the world's loveliest hydrangeas. She grew up on a farm, so these hands, so elegant and perfect, are at home in the dirt.

Sometimes now our hands will brush together on afternoon walks or clasp after long talks in bed, as we rise to the challenges of mid-life, confronting new risks and swallowing new fears together.

Our hands are no longer young and smooth. Mine are developing age spots. My wedding ring clings stubbornly to my ring finger, which grows chubbier by the year. The pulse in my wrist is quickened by age and hypertension.

My wife is tending a gardening wound in her right palm, a quarter-sized blister that popped up after a night of energetic weeding.

Yet these scars and imperfections come at a time of hard work, of emerging wisdom and personal insights.

Today, though, I'm drawn to the memory of our wedding day 20 years ago this week, when our hands came together in playful anticipation and our lives seemed like an open road.

I would not walk back a step of the journey. And I cherish every touch from those beautiful hands.

Happy anniversary, baby.

I love you.

E-mail Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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