“Get your duds on!”
That was what my mother always said when I was a kid. “Duds” was her word for outdoor trappings—hat, mittens, snow pants, coat, and boots. I don’t know how the word “duds” came to be used in that context. It could have been a then-common phrase that has since gone extinct, or it might have been a regionalism used only in the micro-community of the western Maine mountains. More likely, it was just something my mother made up.
Getting your duds on takes an eternity. I remember wrestling with every piece of winter gear. I remember putting on one article of clothing and then realizing another piece needed to go on first. I remember wrong feet, knotted ties, crooked zippers, missing mittens, and then having to go pee after finally getting it all on straight.
It isn’t any easier for parents, either. I remember working up such a sweat getting my little boys all trussed up in winter duds that I wanted to throw myself in the snowbank by the time I was done.
Getting dressed up to go outside is a less onerous venture nowadays, especially in a winter as mild as this one. But it is still so much more complicated than simply walking out the door in shirt sleeves and Tevas. My hallway is littered with options—mukluks for snowshoeing, barn boots for tending the livestock, and pull-on suede ankle-highs for actually leaving the homestead.
The dog has duds, too. Honey loves winter, but the cold and snow hurt her feet. She sits in longsuffering resignation while I slide each blue fleece bootie over her paw and wrap the Velcro fastener tightly around her leg. She wears a vest, too, made of blaze orange fabric with reflector strips around the chest and shoulders. The vest is probably unnecessary on all but the coldest of days, but it makes the task of toweling her off afterward a bit easier and aids in visibility if she wanders out of sight on the trail.
The thought of my mother telling me to don my duds reminds me of how much I miss her. The twentieth anniversary of her death is approaching. The time has flown by, and I am startled by the realization that I have lived more of my adult life without than I have with her.
I would like to think that she is watching. I hope she gets a chuckle out of my morning duds routine, and even more of a chuckle at the fact that I still call them duds.
Maybe she is happy to see me at last starting to embrace lots of other things she tried to teach me, too. Homesteading and prepping and family and forgiveness and faith are all finally starting to move onto center stage.
I want to think that my mother is proud of who I have become. My brother told me he thinks of her less in terms of dates and anniversaries, and instead feels more connected to her when he is barefoot in the garden or enjoying the view of Mt. Speck. He too hopes that she approves of at least some of his choices.
In the end, it’s not about duds, or even about the idea of my mother using a term that nobody else ever heard of to describe winter accoutrements. It’s the fact that a single small word can transport me to a place where my mother is watching over me. But when I arrive, it becomes clear that I’ve been there all along. Some things never change. It’s winter, it’s Maine, and going outside is complicated. And I can still hear my mother telling me to get my duds on.