My sister Jackie had found them while cleaning out her attic recently. Her home is actually our family’s second house in Attawapiskat and mom had stored our children’s clothing and memorables in the attic space for safe-keeping.
Mom explained that it was a surprise to find these old mitts as not much was saved over the years. Most of our memorable items were lost when our family moved to different houses around Attawapiskat. Not much in the way of memorable items from childhood survived storage in damp, freezing and insect ridden places.
The sight of these perfectly preserved mitts brought back early days. I remembered playing with my cousins in the snow outside our home. Other Kataquapits, Hookimaws, Wheesks and Koostachins lived in the same neighbourhood and we played with miniature toboggans which we used to make mini trails in the snow. We trudged in deep snow to explore our community and we imagined every high drift to be mountains and the distances between our homes to be the empty tundra and muskeg we had to cross.
My mitts kept me warm as we wandered near our homes in heavy snowstorms, freezing temperatures and blowing snow. I never lost track of them even when I went visiting a friend’s house or when I went to school. Mom made sure I kept my mitts secured with decoratively coloured braided rope strung through my coat.
I remembered that these mitts were a matching set presented to both my brother Joe and me. I know mom’s work very well and I can tell now that these mitts were crafted quickly for a couple of small children who would probably lose them. The leather mitts were simple and unadorned with short fringes, a wrist cover made of store-bought sealskin and a decorative machine-woven coloured trim.
The thing I remembered most about these little mitts was the fact that I detested them. Even at a young age I understood that these simple little mitts were made for temporary use. I knew that the hide came from scraps after making gloves and moccasins, the woven trim was left over from making linings for parkas and the store-bought sealskin was what remained of another project she had worked on. I felt cheated with these mitts.
When Joe and I received our mitts, I remember witnessing my older brothers and sisters being presented with their beautifully beaded, fur-lined and fingered moose-hide gloves. I was envious of their more elaborate handware and I wanted a pair for myself. I remember that I wished to be treated like I was an adult and given the responsibility of receiving a pair of mom’s fancy craftwork. It really upset me that I ended up with a very bland, practical pair of mitts with strings on them so they would not go astray.
I wore that pair of bland sealskin-lined mitts for several years until I became a teenager and mom finally took the time to make me my first pair of fingered gloves. I graduated from the childlike stringed mitts to real moose-hide gloves, beautifully crafted in decorative coloured stitching, bright bead-worked wrist covers and a lining of long-haired beaver pelt.
However, by this time at the ripe old age of 13 the allure of traditional gloves had passed. Friends, events, gatherings, games and TV took my attention and the importance of mom’s gloves became lost. I lost those first pair of gloves in short time and many other pairs that mom toiled over and often in pain with the onset of arthritis.
I took for granted that mom would always be able to provide me with a pair of beautifully crafted gloves every winter. Unfortunately, by the time my teen years were over, mom’s capability to make gloves and even a simple pair of mitts had waned. Her arthritis had taken over and she was no longer able to mass-produce gloves and mitts for our large family. One year she presented my friend Mike and me each with a wonderful pair of moose-hide gloves. They were her finest creation and I knew they were special as they were produced with great discomfort for her over a long period of time.
In the past few years, I have regretted the fact that I did not keep or take care of all those beautiful traditional gloves that mom produced for me every winter. In a twist of fate, after losing all those gloves over so many years, it is ironic that my first little pair of simple, second-rate mitts made their way back to me. I keep them close to me at home now. They are a true testament of my mother’s love.