About 25 ago, I received an envelope in the mailbox in front of my townhouse in Phoenix, Arizona. It was July, I think.  I pulled the overstuffed envelope out and opened it up.

Inside was a pair of hand knitted socks from my aunt in Danville, Indiana. They were elaborate, beautifully made, and stitched of pure wool. There was no letter, but she had included a quick note written on a piece of her telephone pad. It said, “These are for wearing with boots.” 

I knew she had made them on circular needles, had blocked them on a towel on the kitchen table, then mailed them at the post office. She would have had to guide her Chrysler out of the driveway to do that, and the thought of that alone made me a little sad. She was a widow, and always looked like a small bird driving the big car alone around town. Maybe because the Buick was brown, and her curly hair hair was feathery, I thought she looked a little like screech owl peeking out of a tree trunk. 

This particular aunt was not overly demonstrative, and I was surprised that she had taken the time to make me a gift — regardless of what time of year it was, or what she had chosen to give me. I was as surprised as I was puzzled, and I was moved by the entire uncharacteristic gesture. I was also happy to get the socks. I knew that winter would come again, I would put back on my cowboy boots, and I would enjoy having special socks to go with them.

They assumed a place of honor in my sock drawer. When my children came along and got old enough to borrow my things, I always headed them away from my aunt’s handmade socks. Eventually they knew that although most of my personal belongs were open for discussion, nobody touched my boot socks.

My aunt has now been dead for 22 years. She died in her favorite chair one evening, sitting up and addressing an anniversary card to a friend. A neighbor noticed that her light was on all night, and let herself in. My aunt was fully clothed, sitting upright, and had been doing something thoughtful when she stepped into the next world.

Her death impressed me as being almost as inscrutable as her relationship with me, who was not her favorite niece. I will say that I truly did miss her when she died, and avoided driving past her house for several years when I went home on visits.

The socks remain in fine shape, and I herald the beginning of another desert winter by taking them out and putting them on. They are aging better than I am. And the purpose of their existence has never changed.