My mittens developed a hole in the middle finger today. The fibers fell victim to the winter snow shovel.
It is the second hole in my homemade hand coverings. The thumb blew out the first year I received them while clearing snow. It seems the wool threads suffered severe wear under the friction of hand pitching snow with a shovel.
The gloves are two color, hand knitted, down home specials. The backs have an argyle pattern of dark blue diamonds on a gray background. The palms are a blue gray salt and pepper the width of a strand of wool.
I wear them with pride. When I pull them on and stretch my fingers out to feel the virgin wool, they become a link to memories of my childhood and the place I still call home.
The click of knitting needles, the smell of moose meat frying on the stove, the taste of fancy molasses on homemade baked bread, the feel of my moms fingers running through my hair as my head rested on her lap while watching Hockey Night in Canada on a black and white TV, round out all senses of growing up on the island sanctuary.
My father predeceased my mother when I was six. In the year I was 29, I discovered the real meaning of losing someone when death took my mother with cancer. She was my protector from death while growing up.
The missing left by her loss was a feeling I wasn’t prepared for. I never believed or wanted to even consider she would die. Cancer’s scythe made sure it took the first woman who cared for me, very slowly. I’m told she asked for me when she died. I wasn’t there to comfort her when she departed. Some regrets are never healed with time.
A care package from my home town has come every year after my mom died. A parcel with a homemade fruit cake and gifts became a tradition which Mr. and Mrs. Hulan began. My next door neighbours from my Newfoundland home of Stephenville, started sending a piece of home every Christmas. The neighbours names are George and Roma Hulan.
Out of a deep sense of respect I cannot call them anything but their salutation. Mrs. Hulan makes the gifts, Mr. Hulan is the professional parcel packer. A fruit cake, delivered every year through the postal system undamaged, is proof of his expertise. My first pair of homemade knitted finger warmers came as my share of the package two years ago.
Part of my holiday tradition is to make a phone call every Christmas to thank them. I shamelessly dropped hints I needed another pair of mitts last year. I commented on my girl’s pleasure from the knitted bubble mitts. I would have to make due with the gloves that had a hole in the thumb. I secretly hoped my pleas and images of cold fingers would motivate the knitter to think of the hands of the boy she has said she would welcome to be her son.
This year’s parcel contained a pair of Gunner (trigger) mitts. Brown and beige wool with the same checkered palm and argyle back pattern. The strange looking mitts, with a thumb tube, index finger in one tube and the other three digits share the same tube, makes my daughter laugh. From the island I grew up on, these thumb, and three finger socket knitted mitts were a common sight. Slipping them over my hands, I am rolled back years and am transported home, the world of my youth.
I remember getting mitts as a kid growing up. Those gifts were usually the slender boxes, or soft presents under the tree. Any kid worth his hard tack would make sure those presents were opened last. Dry, warm mitts would only be rummaged for from the clothes box at the back door for going outdoors. Warms mitts were one of the staples you needed for a game of road hockey. What kid in his right mind would want socks or mitts as a gift for Christmas?
No one was with me when the package from my island birthplace arrived this year. Maybe that is the reason I experienced the flood of emotion when I opened the gift. The three wrapped presents were fitted around the secured loaf size Christmas cake. I put the fruit cake aside to find a flexible gift in bright red, shiny wrapping. When I pulled out the pair of knitted mitts securely tied at the wrist, tears pooled in my eyes. Mrs. Hulan, Roma remembered my pleas.
As I slipped on the sheep wool coverings my mind was granted time travel. I was playing road hockey and dragging the back of my mitts across my nose after just scoring a goal on Bobby White. In an instant I was at Uncle Burns’ in the country, with my arms outstretched for junks of firewood to be piled for me to bring into the house for the wood stove.
A blink and my mind carries me back to the home of my youth and the sound of clicking needles. I looked for the fingers of the women that stroked my hair but the smell of cloves from a Christmas cake brought me back to the present before I saw her face.
I clinched my fists as I gazed at my brown wool beauties. I chastised myself for not appreciating the value of these home sewn treasures growing up. I closed my eyes and saw Mrs. Hulan knit one purl two, knit one purl two. The argyle back pattern was perfect, each diamond aligned with the other. The end tapered in to grip around the wrist. A single strand of wool at the wrist used to secure both mitts to each other. These hand coverings were a symbol of my childhood home and the people who touched, and were a part of my life.
If I could box these hand coverings and market them as transporters through time I would be a very rich man. To know that slipping on the wool comforts would take you back to a time and place of no responsibilities and the strokes of a mother’s fingers that left way too soon, would be riches. To market them on the television reality show Dragon’s Den would surely find me some investors.
Originally published on CNC Dec. 12, 2013