Memories of 50’s Paterson: Wet Mittens

I pulled off my mittens and stomped the snow from my rubber galoshes. Before I unzipped my parka in the back hallway, I saw Nana trudging up from the coal cellar with a tiny drop of blood suspended from the ball of her nose. I ran and grabbed her around the waist.

“What happened to you? You’re bleeding.”

“It’s nothing. The shovel handle hit…  Ach! Shoveling the coal is hard. Your mama and papa are so busy at their work. I have to make sure the fire don’t run out before they come home. We go upstairs now and get you some hot cocoa.”

Nana pulled a wrinkled hankie from her coat pocket, wiped her nose, and squeezed her nostrils hard. She sniffed in, crumpled the bloodstained cloth into a ball, and smiling, she pulled out the lacy hankie I’d just given her as a birthday gift. “See? I wouldn’t use your present on a bloody nose.”

“I made a snow fort today…”

“Come,” she said. “You tell me about it when we go up where it’s warm.”

I stuffed the wet mittens into the pocket of my parka, and took Nana’s hand. We trudged up to our third floor flat in silence. I wondered, “Will Nana surprise me with apple strudel to eat with my cocoa?”

Outside our door I handed Nana my mittens, pulled off my galoshes, and stripped off my leggings, parka, and scarf. It was toasty inside from the kitchen radiator where Nana put my mittens to dry. She filled the small dented saucepan with milk and turned on the white enamel gas stove. I watched her mix the cocoa powder in my Charlie McCarthy mug and stir in three spoons of sugar (Mom never let me have three spoons). Then she opened the oven door. I smelled the yummy aroma of apples, cinnamon, and raisins. Strudel!

I warmed my hands over the radiator’s clanking irons. The musty smell of the damp woolen mittens reminded me of hugging my sweaty Dad when he would come up from the coal cellar in his woolen maroon sweater.  To this day, depending on my mood, the musty smell of damp wool recalls those winter days when Nana made cocoa, or the image of my young Dad in his sweat-dampened maroon sweater hugging me tight.


  1. More good writing. I find memoirs among the most interesting books I read. Leslie is able to bring by-gone circumstances to life and find common ground with her readers.

  2. “Wet Mittens” reminds me so much of Wintery days of my childhood in Fair Lawn

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