Tucked away in the private clutter of my pack basket is a pair of moth-eaten wool mittens covered with cracked leather shells. The mittens, knitted by my grandmother, and the shells — commonly called “choppers” — given by my grandfather, were among the Christmas presents I unwrapped nearly 60 years ago. Out of respect for the mittens’ age, and because I’m about 13 years older than they are, I use them sparingly nowadays, but nonetheless appreciatively. Warm reminders, they are, that if not for my maternal grandparents, the late Mr. and Mrs. Duncan L. MacDonald, I might have taken the wrong fork in the road.
Aside from being warmer than gloves, the mittens could be shed quickly while hunting, ice fishing or even spring fishing. I never could shoot well with gloves on, let alone handle fishing tackle on frozen water or frigid lakes soon after ice-out. Thus, my mittens became well-traveled. But of all the miles we’ve covered, the most memorable are of excursions handy to home. Netting shiners through the ice at Snowshoe Pond with the late Carroll Soucie, for instance, to supply Foster’s Sport Shop with live bait for ice fishermen; rabbit hunting with the late “Bootch” Jameson and his hounds Pete and Tally, smelting on April nights when nets were fast-frozen between dips; deer hunting and duck hunting, of course.
Little did I know that the trails I followed then eventually would lead me to the occupations of painting sporting scenes and writing outdoors columns. All things considered, however, I have to say my mittens remind me, first and foremost, of my grandmother. In a word, her patience with my growing pains was saintly. Moreover, the love, interest and encouragement she expressed for my young drawings of fish and wildlife gave me guidance and direction when I was wandering without a compass. Small wonder that those old mittens and shells — gifts that keep on giving, you might say — are still tucked away in my pack basket. Touchstones, they are, to special people and the slower, quieter and much friendlier times that made growing up in South Brewer so memorable.
Have a merry and meaningful Christmas.
Tom Hennessey’s columns and artwork may be found at www.bangordailynews.com. His e-mail address is: email@example.com.