When I was a little girl, I lived in the small town of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. In town was a school for the deaf. Each school year, deaf children from the surrounding farming communities would live with families in town so that they could go to school. One year, Tom, age ten, and Bernie, age eleven, lived with our family. We didn’t have much money, but we had a lot of love to share.
The boys came with a limited amount of clothing, but it did include a warm jacket and hat for the bitter Wisconsin winters. However, neither boy had mittens or gloves. It just so happened that Mom was famous for her hand-knit mittens. She had made them for years as gifts for family, friends, and neighbors.
Mom asked the boys if they would like to have a pair of her mittens for themselves, and they both smiled and nodded. She had them trace their hands on a piece of paper and choose a color for their mittens. They both chose red. The mittens were completed in a few evenings, and Tom and Bernie wore them to school the following day.
After school, they returned home and excitedly told Mom that some of the other children at the school also needed mittens. They asked her if she would make some for them. Mom agreed and asked the boys to have each child who needed mittens trace his or her hands on a piece of paper and write the color of mittens wanted.
Tom and Bernie came home from school the next day with 137 pieces of paper, all requesting red mittens! Mom looked a little surprised, but she was undaunted. It was the end of September. She figured how long it would take to knit each pair and decided that she could have all 137 pairs finished just before Christmas.
At this point, I became involved in the plan. Yarn did not come ready to use, as it does now. It came in skeins that needed to be wound into balls. I spent many evenings for the next few months with my elbows propped up on several books, a skein of yarn stretched between my wrists, and Mom winding the red yarn into balls.
December 22 was a crisp winter day. Outside a light snow was falling. On this day, Tom and Bernie proudly took 137 pairs of red mittens to school. Mom had made it!
Many years have passed since that day in December. Dad died, my brothers grew up, and Mom eventually moved to Oregon. Through the years, Mom lost track of Tom and Bernie. When she grew old and became ill, she moved back to Wisconsin to live with my brother John. Shortly afterward, she died.
We held a small graveside service for family members in the cemetery, where she would be buried next to Dad. It was December 22—a crisp winter day. At the cemetery, a light snow was falling.
As the short service ended, I noticed two figures coming toward us in the distance. I didn’t recognize the man or the boy, who looked to be about ten. As the two came closer, I noticed that the boy was wearing a pair of red mittens. Then the man smiled, and my brother and I recognized him. It was Bernie!
“I read about your mother’s death in the newspaper yesterday,” he said. “I had to come. She was very important in my life.”
I noted the red mittens on the boy’s hands. “Surely those aren’t the same red mittens that Mom knitted for you?” I asked in surprise.
“They are,” he assured me. “My five sons have all worn them, too. They are a symbol of a loving, caring, and sharing woman whom I have never forgotten. I will treasure these red mittens forever.”