Once upon a time, a little girl lived with her brother, her mother, and her father in a happy brick house in a smallish sort of town. It never got too terribly cold in this smallish sort of town, but winter still did come, as winter does to every town, not matter how big or small.
The little girl’s father loved to walk. And the little girl loved her father very much. He worked a lot, and most days, no matter how hot or cold or wet or dry, her father would walk to work. He would make his way down the cement sidewalks from the happy brick house, around the dangerous yucca plant by the mailbox on the corner next to the old infirmary, and between the tall pillars in the stone wall that surrounded the university campus. Then he would walk briskly past the acres of green grass and majestic buildings with their white marble columns and tall casement windows, down the little hill, and beneath the dark underpass, where the trains ran clickity-clackity above his head. He kept going still, for miles, past the tangled thicket of woods, past tall, fragrant pine trees, and past wide meadows, until he reached his work. It seemed to the little girl that is was a very long way to walk, but she knew that walking made her father happy.
The little girl and her father used to take walks together on the weekends. She loved their walks, when it was just the two of them, and he would hold her small cold hand in his big warm one, and they would talk about everything. They walked in the spring, when she would see the leaves starting to emerge from their slumbers. They walked in the summer, when she would take her shoes off and feel the soft grass beneath her feet. They walked in the fall, when she would kick through ankle-deep piles of crunchy brown leaves. They walked in winter, when her mother would wrap her feet in plastic bags to keep them warm inside her tall red boots.
One day, the whole family decided to walk together. To decorate the happy brick house for Christmas, they were going to gather branches in the tangled thicket of woods that her father passed each day on his way to work. The little girl wasn’t very happy about taking this long walk, because it was very long, and that day it was VERY cold, so cold that there was even some snow on the ground. Her mother dressed her warmly, in her little red coat, and her white hat with the pom on the top and the black and orange pattern around it, with its matching mittens. The little girl loved her hat and mittens. She thought they were the prettiest things she’d ever seen (after the Easter bonnet and parasol purse her grandmother had given her), and since she knew she wouldn’t be able to hold her father’s hand the whole way (because her brother was there), she was happy to have them to help keep her warm. But she was still grumpy about the walk.
They walked and walked and the little girl was so cold, and exceedingly grumpy because no one would carry her. After what seemed like weeks, they reached the tangled thicket. The whole family tromped across the snow to enter the woods, and began to collect branches and boughs and sprigs in bags to adorn the house. The little girl’s mittens kept getting stuck on the branches, so she took them off and tucked them in her coat pocket. It got colder and colder, and then dusk started to settle into the shadows of the trees and the family started for home. But when they had left the thicket, and the little girl went to put her mittens on…. one of them was gone. She began to cry. She begged her parents to go back and look for it, but to no avail. They promised her a new pair of mittens, but she was inconsolable. She knew that mitten would be cold and lost and lonely and would never know why it had been abandoned. She wept as if her heart would break, and would not be comforted. Not even when her Mother told her that it had probably become a nest to keep some baby animal warm.
Years passed, and the little girl grew and grew, as all little girls will, until she was a young woman. She had never forgotten her lost mitten, and, as a rational person, she found this odd. She knew that she had lost many things over the years. Why had the loss of one small mitten been so profound?
At 17, she found herself walking back to that same thicket, which was much less dense and tangled than it had been so many years ago, to look for the mitten. She knew it was beyond fanciful, but she felt she could not leave the now not-quite-so-smallish town without looking for it one last time.
Of course, she didn’t find the mitten.
More years passed, and the woman, who was not quite so young anymore, had moved thousands of miles away from the town, that was now an actually-pretty-big-town. She herself had a little girl, and the little girl, probably because she was so close to the ground, had a wonderful talent for finding small and beautiful things whenever they went anywhere. She would find coins and marbles and jewelry and all sorts of treasures.
She made the woman remember the mitten.
One day, when the dog ate one of her little girl’s favorite little winter gloves (which were black with bright orange and red flames) and she could not be consoled, the woman went to shop after shop until she found another pair that was exactly the same. She knew just how her little girl felt.
Even more years passed, as years do, and the woman’s little girl became a young woman herself, so the woman went to work in the big city. Because of her daughter, the woman still kept an eye out for treasures that others had lost, and whenever she found something, like a hat, or a nice pen, or a handkerchief, she would put it somewhere up off the ground, near the place she found it, in case the person who lost it came back looking for it. She never knew if they did, but she hoped. She hoped that they did, and that they would be happy when they found it again.
The woman still loved to walk, just like her father had. One day, the woman was walking briskly down the street in the big city, for it was a cold winter day. She was going to meet her fiancé for lunch, and she was very happy because she had been able to stop to pet a pug named Duke, and she was wearing her favorite sparkly earrings, which were old and unique, and which swayed and played softly about her ear lobes and made her feel pretty. When she got to the restaurant, she hugged her beloved, and took off her hat and realized…. one of her lovely, sparkly earrings was gone.
The woman was sad. She knew it was silly to be sad. She had reached an age where she knew that things were just things, and that everything goes the way of all flesh, and you can’t take it with you, and numerous other platitudes that people tell themselves to make themselves feel better when they lose something they were fond of.
She knew in her heart that she was still just a little girl who had lost her mitten.
She kissed her fiancé goodbye and walked back down the busy street, back the way she had come, back to work, with her eyes on the ground, looking for a small sparkly earring among the shiny patches of ice on the sidewalk. She knew the chances of ever seeing it again were so slim that they were nearly invisible. She crossed where the buses ran, looking for a telltale sign of crushed crystal and gold. She passed the planter where she had stopped to pet Duke the Pug. And out of the corner of her eye, on the corner of the last planter in the row, someone had carefully set a sparkly dangly earring, just so, so that in case the person who had lost it came looking, they would be sure to see it, if they had faith, and if they noticed.
The woman knew that there was another kindred soul in the big city who understood about lost things.
And for the rest of the day, the woman (and the little girl inside her) smiled with her eyes and her mouth and her heart.