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Pamela den Ouden

When I was a kid, we couldn’t afford real presents for our parents. Every year, my father said all he wanted was a package of flints for his Zippo lighter. These tiny, apparently essential pieces made the flame burst out of the lighter when the little wheel was spun by his thumb, sometimes taking two strikes before the blue-ish flame leapt up. Five flints came packed on a small yellow rectangle of cardboard, about one inch by two inches. The cost: 15 cents. That was my budget for my dad. My mom? My two sisters? Sometimes I drew a picture of a dog or a horse, or cut out paper dolls and created a wardrobe for them, being very careful not to tear the tabs that held the outfits on at the shoulders and sides.

The tradition at our house was to not put anything under the tree before Christmas morning. On Christmas Eve, there was nothing there, but early on Christmas morning, my two sisters and I would rush to the living room and our eyes would gather in the glittering lights and the presents under the tree. We didn’t believe in Santa Claus. We knew it was our parents who made Christmas what it was. Clearly, Santa had abdicated his role to them. 

Ah, the mittens. The mittens were brown leather on the palms and brown rabbit fur on the back. A stretchy brown knit cuff to keep the cold and the snow out. They were beautiful. They were soft and fuzzy. Of course, as an eight-year-old, I could never have afforded those mittens that were a delight to my eyes. I could feel their warmth just looking at them. 

I felt sorry for them. They were lost, separated from a woman or teen who had carelessly left them in the seat of the shopping cart. I checked out the aisles nearby. I saw no one looking behind them, checking their purse, shoving their hands deep into their coat pockets feeling for the mittens. No one in dairy or produce. Not in the meat aisle either.

 I decided to rescue the mittens and give them a new home. I slowly wheeled the cart towards the door, scooped up those mittens in one smooth move, and then, as casually as I could, exited the store. It was a long walk home and I had time to do a lot of thinking. I did not think about the person whose hands would be cold walking home. They were probably driving in a nice warm car anyway. I did not think about the word “steal” – the mittens were so forlorn there in the cart. Instead, I thought about what a surprise the mittens would be on Christmas morning! I assuaged my conscience by repeating, “Finders keepers, losers weepers!” as I walked along.

I wrapped up the mittens in Christmas paper, and stuck a label on the package: To Pamela from Santa. On Christmas morning, I was sure to be first down the stairs. I tucked the package under the tree with the other presents. Not at the front,  where it would be handed out first, but back a bit, by the trunk of the tree, so there would be other presents around it.

Well, it was a surprise all right. “Oh,” I exclaimed when I opened them. “Look at these; they’re so beautiful and soft!” I put them on and held up my hands so everyone could admire them!

My parents looked at each other and at each of us girls. My mom asked what the tag said. “To Pamela from Santa,” I read off the little label. There were scowls, and raised eyebrows, but who could argue on Christmas morning?

 I wore those mittens and cherished them. I often laid the fur against my cheek, caressing my face. Eventually the leather on the palms became worn and the fur became a big ragged. I had them for a few years. I don’t really know what happened to them. I probably left them in a shopping cart at the grocery store. Mittens are like that. 

This is the very first time I’ve mentioned those mittens since then.

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