When I was 10 or 11 years old, I was leading my family out of our church’s sanctuary when our senior pastor stuck out his hand.
I thought it was intended for me. Maybe it was. But my dad, right behind me, apparently thought the pastor wanted to shake his hand first.
So just as my hand went into the pastor’s grip, my dad’s big paw followed. My hand got sandwiched in the middle of their handshake and I was almost lifted off the ground as they shook.
It could have been a funny moment … but it wasn’t. Both men seemed a little embarrassed by the extra digits inside their clinch. And I felt like a dufus.
Over the years, a handshake has often been a hardship for me.
While trying out the Cub Scout handshake, an assistant Scout leader — just a teen-ager but half a dozen years older than me — chided me with, “Don’t give me a wet fish.”
I guess my hand was a little sweaty. OK, it was really sweaty.
Throughout my youth and early adulthood, I always had sweaty hands, especially when I was in a social setting and a little nervous — which was most of the time.
Before I shook with anyone, I would first rub my right hand down my pants leg to dry it off. Almost unnoticeable, it was like a quick-draw movement from the Old West.
And when I was off to an interview for the paper, I would often blow on my hand or hold it in front of the car’s air vent in an effort to keep it dry for the inevitable five-fingered greeting.
Later on in life, my palms weren’t so sweaty, but I had another problem. I never seemed to correctly gauge how firm my handshake should be. I didn’t want to squeeze too hard but I sure didn’t want to come across as Mr. Limp Hand, either.
Nothing was worse than having an elderly lady go “Owww,” after a handshake with me. Yet I was once brought to the verge of tears by a woman at the gym after responding too slowly to her ferocious grip. Of course, I usually would take the bait when some guy wanted to make our shake a mano-a-mano thing — allowing us to both look silly.
Humbug to handshakes, I thought on those occasions.
Then came the pandemic. For hygienic purposes, peace signs, elbow touches and fist bumps replaced the traditional handshake.
I prefer the fist bump. And like all of you, I wish I could take my fist and punch the pandemic into oblivion (along maybe with that assistant Scout leader). But that isn’t going to happen.
What might happen, though, is that the handshake may become history — at least for me.
I could be very content fist bumping my way through a crowded room or a gaggle of friends.
Yeah, I know some handshakes are not only historic but symbolic — Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee’s grip being a prime example. And I always liked any guy who would say, “Shake on it,” to seal a deal or stop a dispute.
And I do think of some of my most memorable handshakes — with Ernie Banks … Father Hesburgh … Mike Ditka … George Plimpton … Jane Pauley … Hank Aaron …
… those required a double-draw motion down the side of my pants to wipe off the perspiration.
For now at least, I think I’ll stay with the fist bump. It is, after all, a “no sweat” decision for me.