In our large meetinghouse, which was all in tones of brown, there was a mitten tree. I was young enough that this apparition of evergreen and bright color, placed between the raised facing benches where the elders sat, was a marvel. What a thing to put on a tree! A mitten, then, could be a sort of jewel.
During meeting for worship, someone stood up and talked about the war for Algerian independence using words I didn't understand. I tried to picture War. The only clear image I could muster was of something like a tennis court with enemies on either side, only these Algerians (and was it the French?) used guns and didn't take turns politely lobbing bullets. Or did they? And it was a huge court, the size of a whole country. People who didn't want to watch the war tried to leave, and so I learned about Refugees. I pictured them in a line, trudging, with goats at their feet and bundles on their backs. It was years before I understood that not all refugees were from Algeria. That my Irish friend at school was here in the US because her ancestors had fled a potato famine. That refugees could be from Vietnam, the Americas, from anywhere, and that they were the lucky ones if they actually could flee from poverty or harsh injustice. It was years before I understood that many would arrive to re-create their lives in places that did not know them or care to learn their language.
It was a delight to go to with my mother to a department store and choose a pair of bright red mittens with a blue argyle pattern to send to a refugee child from Algeria. Maybe this girl would have a white Christmas. Certainly she would be able to play in the snow this winter, now that my gift hung on the mitten tree in the Quaker meeting in Philadelphia to be sent wherever refugees go, sent by someone, maybe a United Nations ambassador in a white shirt and tie, who would pack them in a big, exciting box, and and the child would know that she had the best pair among all the refugee children since many of the mittens on the tree were so dull-colored, dark blue or green, and probably those would go to boys, who wouldn't even notice the color before they started making snowballs to lob at one another.