In My Father’s Hands

Despite their fragile state, every winter I’ve continued to wear a pair of my dad’s old, rough woolen mittens. Parts of them have been literally hanging on by a thread, brown suede-covered palms and tattered Thinsulate lining in danger of coming loose and falling away entirely. 

I have grown careful with them over the years, saving them for light chores, winter walks, and those times when I just needed to feel comforted by their ratty but familiar presence.

They are fingerless gloves, actually, with tops that fold over when you want mittens instead, their insides all soft and cozy. They are too big, of course; they always were. They are men’s gloves after all, and even though I have kind of large hands for a woman, I could never really expect to fill them.

But I think somehow that’s part of their appeal.

I remember sneaking them on as kid, stuffing my fingers into their warm and too-big embrace, feeling somehow safer, more prepared going out into the great big, cold world. Dad used to wear them around his farm, working with the horses and cattle or doing chores in the barn. Winters aren’t terribly snowy in Missouri, but they can still be cold and icy, and the gloves were reliable companions for work.

Every time I look at them, I smell the animals again, feel the dust of hay on my face, remember scraping up what little snow we got to try and build a snowman. I recall the good memories I have of my father, helping him around the farm, sharing together the few things we both loved.

Putting them on has become, for me, a choice to look back, I think, remember the happy times, the feeling of being a little kid again and wanting somehow to connect with my dad. I know that now, but I didn’t then. It was just a sensation I was striving for, seeking out, but rarely finding.

I didn’t often have the desire to meet my father on common ground when I was younger. But being outdoors, on the farm with the animals, those were the places where we met and all hurt feelings were, for a time, blissfully forgotten.

Last week I dug the gloves out of my sewing pile again, where they’d been languishing since last winter. I felt the need to unearth them with the snow and cold that’s finally arrived, looking forward to wearing them on a walk or maybe even building a snowman.

But I still put off sewing them up, repairing their loose and tumbled threads, preferring instead to wait until another day.

This weekend, though, I finally sat down and made the effort to bring dad’s gloves back to life. I had some help from my boyfriend, who asked me again about fixing them. He got the repairs started, dusting off his high school home-ec training, and today I completed the task. 

I don’t sew things very often, but I’m handy with a needle and thread when needed.

With every knot and stitch I felt my fondness for the old gloves, rough and scratchy as their outsides are, and wondered at why I had put off the repairs for so long. Maybe it was because I had always liked their frayedness, appreciated the disrepair, admired their scars and the signs of age they represented.

But it was time to save the gloves before something truly vital ripped and they lost their usefulness permanently.

As I sat working the needle through the coarse wool, tucking in the lining and stitching suede and the Velcro closures back into place, I understood I wasn’t just mending the gloves. I was saving their warmth, their memories for another day, for more winters to come, preserving their long life for a future where I knew I would someday need to feel them again. 

Those are the things you can’t bring back once finally lost: The comforts of tangible things, when touching even the smallest, oldest, worn object might salve a wounded heart, or restore even one moment of joy.

So the old gloves are safe now, as I once felt, too, at slipping them on.

They will always be too big for my hands to fill. But their seams are strong now, tighter. And maybe I won’t have to be so careful of them anymore, ready as they are for winter, for work, for life once again.