Mitten mania


It’s January. Do you have any idea where your Christmas mittens are?

It used to be easy to know exactly where mine were. They were right under my Christmas tree. Then they were hanging off my coat sleeves for as long as the little bungee grippers clipping them on did their job. After that, I wound up at least one hand shy of a full pair, suffering from severe mitten amnesia.

Many winters ago, it was customary for my sister and me to pick one present to open on Christmas Eve. For reasons that weren’t apparent back then, my mother tried vigorously to sway our hands toward Grandma Haley’s gift.

“Gee, that humongous red and gold box over in the corner sure looks tempting,” I’d declare.

“Yes,” Mum would pipe in, “but look at these packages your Grandma sent all the way from Wisconsin. There’s one for each of you.”

“Yeah, but I like this one that’s making the rattling noises,” my sister would say, shaking a box that sounded like it had a couple hundred non-assembled parts.

“Well, just because these don’t make noise doesn’t mean they aren’t nice,” Mum argued.

We should have been more skeptical. We should have known no fun would come from two identical boxes too thin to hold anything of recreational value and too fat to hold money or a Beatles Rubber Soul album. Instead, we let Mum persuade us. It took us a couple years to catch on to the fact that Grandma’s thin, silent boxes always held mittens. They were handmade, of  course, from multicolored yarn back before kaleidoscopic garments were in fashion.

“Oh, they’ll go with everything,” Mum would exclaim.

Except for the thumbs of the mittens, where the tremendous yardage of lime green always congregated, she was right. So we had no excuse whatsoever not to wear them to church on Christmas Eve. Then we’d always be sure to thank Grandma when we called her later that night. She was so tickled she began sending a new line of multicolored knitwear: neon slippers. These slippers were like booties for big kids—with giant pom-poms on the tops. At least we didn’t have to wear those to church!

When I became a mother myself, I understood why Mum was so anxious for us to tear open those mittens. It was well into cold weather and probably a couple weeks after the first snow and we’d already left a pair on the floor for the dog to demolish, dropped a mitten or two somewhere between the library and the bank, and deposited one in front of the school bus tire. We needed new mittens to wear during Christmas vacation, at least until one of them got slashed by a skate blade or permanently bonded to an icicle.

I  learned that having mittens (and matching hats if you’re really lucky) where you and your kids need them from November till March is a feat that could keep the world’s top strategic planners on their toes. Before long, outfitting my own girls in winter hand wear became my primary purpose in life and turned me into a real mitten maniac. Come the first cold snap, I’d pick up a pair every time I hit the department store: a waterproof pair, a really cheap pair, a frilly pair, an extra pair (times two different sizes)—plus a couple of those super stretchy gloves even I could wear if little Becky didn’t leave them out on the wood pile. Even so, I’d still rely on my supply being augmented by close-by Grandmas who never exceeded two colors per pair in their yarn selection.

Despite my best efforts, though, having any given pair in the right place at the right time still eluded me. Half way through the winter, Helen would be up to her elbows in the school’s lost and found box. She’d spend time roaming the neighborhood with a mitten clutched in one hand like a missing person photo, asking everyone for clues to the other’s whereabouts. And poor little Becky would make many trips between the car, the house and the kindergarten crying, “I don’t know, Mama. I had the red pair yesterday!”

By the time Helen was in middle school, I’d become wise enough to insist that she inventory her mitten/glove options carefully before marching in the Christmas parade with the chorus. She gathered up the frilly ones, the skiing/snowball fighting ones, and the stretchable ones that would keep her warm for all of a quarter block down Main Street. She’d end up choosing the practical, all-weather ones, and then leve them in her pockets so her purplish fingers could turn the pages of her caroling book. I was the only mother ready to run into the parade route with an extra pair…if only I could have found one.

What I wouldn’t give for a pair of Grandma Haley’s mittens right now…and an adult-sized set of those bungee coat sleeve grippers! I didn’t get any Christmas hand wear this year. Didn’t deserve any, I figure, because by now, I’d be missing at least half of that pair, too. I’d have left it in the lady’s room at the Red Onion, or in my cart in the IGA parking lot. Or my best pair may be even farther flung had I made it down to the Rumford car wash. I’d be halfway back up the mountain before my naked hands would alert me: Where did I lose my driving gloves? Oh, probably atop the coin-slot control box—that way too perfectly sized resting spot for fishing quarters out of my pockets…and leaving my gloves orphaned. If, by some rare stroke of luck, they hadn’t fallen into one of those black holes yet, a worse form of mitten memory loss would surely have kicked in and sucked them right into oblivion. I’d lapse into the old “I put them right in my lap/in my pocket to keep track of ’em” illusion and wind up endlessly retracing my entire loop between here and town, praying that just once my mitten dementia hadn’t gotten the best of me. Yup, those psychedelic Grandma Haley mittens would have saved the day. They’d be right where I left them, shining like beacons half-way down my snowshoe trail or, I’d bet, even in the post office parking lot after the plow swiped them into the snow bank.

Christmas mittens or not, I’m in total denial. After years of swearing “the other one will turn up somewhere,” I now have an odd-ball mound of mismatched knitwear in my closet that’s packed deeper than the best trail on Saddleback. If I dig way down, I figure I might be able to match up a multicolored pair that still goes with everything.

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