Monday, April 23, 2007

It Seems Like Only Yesterday

The Red Mittens of a Mother’s Love
Laura Deringer-Pemper-Miller
1924 – 1996

A small pair of red, hand-knit child’s mittens hung on a hook at my front door. They are the legacy she left behind. This was part of the warmth on a cold winter’s day, from the heart as big as all outdoors that always gave no matter how little she had. She taught us what “love one another,” really meant.
When someone gave her a winter coat too large for any of us four girls to wear, though it would have fit her perfectly, she carefully took it apart.. Each seam carefully dismantled to preserve the integrity of the fabric. She made two smaller winter coats, one for me and one for another child who needed it more than we did.
She wouldn’t accept charity, or welfare, that was for poor people. She never let us feel that we were poor. We may have had less then some, but we had more than others. We may have had to share beds, and clothes, and toys, but we were rich beyond measure in those growing up years.
A warm homemade quilt, a warm meal shared; there was always room at our table and a place to sleep for those in need, or for a friend we dragged home with us.
Sometimes we carried water from a neighbor’s pitcher pump, because we didn’t have running water when others did. Sometimes we carried firewood that dad had cut and split for kitchen cooking, heating water and heating the home, when others had gas, oil, or electric heat and cooking fuel sources.
In spite of that we never felt deprived and we learned to share with those less fortunate then we were. We learned to work for what we wanted, and save and dream.
She never wrote the great American Novel, though she encouraged me to write it. She never became a famous movie star, but she instilled the dream in me that I could—I could be anything I chose to be as long as I helped others climb up with me. “Do not ever step on another to make yourself larger,” she would say.
“Waste not, want not,” was a favorite phrase she spoke often. She could unravel a too large or too small sweater and remake a suitable sized one or several pairs of warm mittens and a warm scarf or two.
She was famous for her delicious Stone Soup. Whatever morsels stewed with her loving and giving nature, it turned feast in her determined hands.
“Where there’s a will there’s a way,” she seemed to have a saying for every occasion, every reason, and every season. She taught us perseverance, by example, as a way to deal with rejection and disappointment.
When our questions were too large for her, like when daddy died too young from a heart attack. Our why’s echoed her own questions, but she stilled our sorrow with prayer, and trust. “God knows best,” she would say her faith never faltering, showing, never preaching or demanding blind obedience, we learned to trust and believe.
I finished those wool mittens she had begun for my Fireman brother, who had frozen his fingers fighting to save someone else’s home and life. I hung the little red child’s mittens by my front door to remind me to give and share and love.
Ten years later my niece had her first child. She had been especially close to my mother, and her heart still ached for the camaraderie she always found with grandma. She was filled with the sorrow that grandma would never hold her baby Zakk. I gave Julie those little red mittens, the last pair of children’s mittens mother ever made, so that grandma could hold Zakk’s hands through his winters and know the warmth of her touch, and her caring, giving heart.

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