“It is good people who make good places.”
The first few weeks of December always make me think of my great aunt Georgie.
I have no real memories of Grammy, her sister. Everything I do know about Grammy comes from scraps Grampy would tell me. And a photograph, one of the last ones ever taken of her. Me, a toddler in neon green overalls smiling at her as I push a scuffed toy shopping cart over my parents’ orange shag carpet. Grammy, staid, observant. With my dad’s eyes. Her expression inscrutable.
Her sister Georgie, however? Georgie, I will never forget.
Summers in her camp, Georgie and I would sit and watch terrible television together. Family Feud. Phil Donahue. A Current Affair. Baseball games between teams neither of us cared about. I wondered about the Oakland A’s. It seemed a bold move to go by a single letter. A step further still than even the single-namers — Cher. Madonna.
And while the TV blared on, Georgie would always listen, patiently, to whatever prattle I insisted on inflicting upon her.
“That’s lovely. And what did you do next?” she would say.
“Of course, dear.”
Georgie was a flood of agreement and encouragement. Always.
“And what did she say?”
“Oh, how funny!”
If I close my eyes, I can almost hear peals of her tinny laughter. Punctuated by the slamming of the camp’s screen door as my cousins clamored in and out. Looking for fishing gear. A snorkel. Candy.
Georgie always had a full candy dish. Off-brand Jolly Ranchers. And those weird ones that looked like lace. Antiques you could eat. The style an echo of the Depression — of the luxuries she had wanted then but were swallowed up by selfishness, suspicion, pettiness. Sweeter things, she never thought she would see again. And then one day, it all came back to her, like a sunrise over a planet that had been dark and cold for unbearably long.
Every year in the weeks leading up to Christmas, Georgie would send my family mittens that she knitted herself.
The yarn color was unpredictable. Whatever she’d found that was a good price and caught her eye. The patterns whatever she was itching to try.
Some of them were downright hideous. Hot pink and brown anyone? Is that a tree? A triangle? A shovel? No one knew.
But the mittens were always warm. And you could tell she had focused just as hard on knitting them as she had encouraging me.
There were years that a snowbank ate one or both of them. Swallowed them up in a moment of inattention at recess. But most of the time? I ended the winter with both mittens on my hands, putting them away just at the cusp of spring in Maine. When the sun shone enough to make my hands sweaty. But before any of us were really comfortable bare-handed.
I usually outgrew Georgie’s mittens before I lost them. The same with my brothers and sisters. Between the four of us, we ended up with quite a collection of mittens in various sizes and colors. Pouring out of drawer of an end table next to the front door.
In Georgie’s last few years, her health took a turn for the worse. She still smiled during the summers, but there was a heaviness about her face that I’d only seen once before: On Grammy, in the photo with the toy shopping cart.
Each December the mittens continued to come – although they became odd and misshapen.
A thumb would be missing, or one mitten would be much larger than the other.
Georgie’s final December, I unwrapped my package to find one giant mitten that was only vaguely shaped like a hand.
That was 20 years ago.
Even now, I find myself thinking of Georgie in passing, nearly every time I slip on a pair of gloves and head out into the cold unknown.