66. The Mitten Tree

66. The Mitten Tree

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

The Mitten Tree

Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories.

~From the movie An Affair to Remember

As a new teacher, I did not believe the myth that children’s behavior could predict the weather. But after three years of teaching first graders, I no longer had to watch the weather on TV because I had twenty forecasters in my classroom! The way in which they were behaving one winter day led me to believe we were in for a major snowstorm.

I knew we had to get outside, even if it was just for a few minutes, to release some of their energy.

At our lockers, I made sure that the children put on their coats as well as their socks on their hands.

Socks on hands? You might think this a little strange, but since ninety percent of the students in this school were living in poverty, mittens were not a priority for their families.

Buying twenty pairs of mittens was something this new teacher wanted to do, but since I was still attending graduate school, and my husband was beginning graduate school too, I could not afford to do it. But I could always get my hands on some socks! Especially socks that had lost their mates.

After playing “Duck, Duck, GOOSE!” several times, it was time to go back inside. When we arrived back at our classroom, the children’s rosy cheeks matched some ornaments that were now hanging on our classroom Christmas tree. There were twenty pairs of beautiful red mittens that had not been there before! How did they get there?

The children were so excited and all wanted to try on a pair. After they put them on, they did not want to take them off! So we did everything in them (math, reading, and going to the library) — except (after much insistence from me) eating lunch.

Before the children were dismissed for the day, we talked about who could have left these beautiful mittens on the tree. Most of the children thought that they must have been a gift from Santa. I had to agree, because I still had no idea who else would do such a wonderful thing.

After the bell rang to dismiss us, I walked my students outside and that is where I spotted Santa’s helper.

Oohing and aahing at the children’s beautiful mittens was Miss Johnnie, a senior citizen who volunteered at our school in the first grade classrooms. One of my students informed her that Santa gave them all mittens. She just smiled.

And just like Santa, her “eyes how they twinkled,” as she replied, “Or maybe it was Mrs. Claus?”

Miss Johnnie’s warm heart, as well as her warm mittens, chased away the chill, not only on that particular winter day, but still today.

After twenty-four years it still gives me a warm and cozy memory — thinking how precious the experience was. A special Santa’s helper saw a need in my class and did something about it on her own without having to be asked.

I smile and think of her kind act every time I see a pair of red mittens.

~Stephanie Ray Brown

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