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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


StoriesEtc: ‘Dog Skin Mittens’ tells chilling childhood story

Story features an eerie pair of gloves that seem to teach a lesson about reality of life, death
Greta Zimmermann

Welcome to StoriesEtc, a place where University of Wisconsin students can share their original works of creative writing with the community, whether it be poetry, short stories or anything in between. As a section dealing with the arts, it feels only natural to create an opportunity for students to share their creative talents.

With that being said, let’s meet this week’s contributor, Wade Dittburner:

The Badger Herald: Tell us about yourself. What’s your major? Year in school?

I’m a senior studying creative writing and two certificates, one in environmental studies and one in studio art. I try to spend a lot of time outside, usually climbing, but any way is fine with me. I’m also a music lover, trying to stay involved either playing or observing as much as I can.


BH: Define your writing, authorship and perspective.

Most of my work comes from where I grew up in central Wisconsin. I spent a lot of time in what feels now like a different era, different sayings, dialects, words and such from the farming community. My own speech reflects that, and I don’t try to stop it from coming through in my writing.

Besides language, I try to approach stories with honesty and empathy before anything else. I write about characters and places that seem forgotten in ways, and I don’t want to forget the good and the bad of it all.

BH: When did you start writing creatively?

Supposedly I wrote stories as a child, but I don’t really remember those. I started writing somewhat consistently in high school. I didn’t even know a person could study it in college. Learning that I could continue to write during college was a big part of why I came to school here. I think it was the main reason.

BH: Talk about your creative process. What inspires you, and how do you get from an idea to a finished product?

I try to always give a sense of place, but a place so heavily depends on the people who inhabit it. My places, created by my friends and family, are at the core. Wisconsin and its people speak to me — the woods, the marshes, the fields. I’ve never been good at telling people how I feel about them, so I try to let my writing do them justice. It’s never easy. I wake myself up early to be alone with my thoughts. It’s the only way I can get anything good done.

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Here is an example of Wade’s work:

“Dog Skin Mittens”

My great-grandfather had these old mittens that got passed down to my grandpa, then my dad and now to me. He had made them, back around the time when the rain and work dried up, and when things were stretched thin and dusty. I never met my great-grandfather, but I’ve seen the mittens. You’d think a leathersmith had made them if you didn’t know better. The mittens were perfect in size to one another — real even all the way around. The hide had been tanned and stretched just right, stitched damn near perfectly around the outside, down the thumb and into the crook of the hand. And the fur, the fur inside was still as soft as the day he’d made them. Good fur too, being oiled always.

Only thing was they were made out of dog fur. He’d had a Border Collie that he was extra fond of named Missy. Took that dog everywhere, I’m told. Fed it Hershey kisses like medicine — guess they didn’t know you weren’t supposed to do that back then. When Missy died, winter was on the way and he needed something to keep his hands warm. I can picture him, in the old machine shop behind the house, across the drive from the barn. The shop’s roof is caved in now, a green ash growing out of the hole. I think of it every fall when deer season comes around. I go down to the basement to clean the rifle and the mittens are there with it. And I think of him taking that dog he loved and having to skin her in the cold shop while there was still some warmth in the blood. And I think of my father wearing them and the first deer I killed.

We sat together in the stand that year. We didn’t see much that morning, just a little buck too young to shoot.

“Let him go,” my father said. And I did. Hours of nothing passed by. I remember being so uninterested, thinking we were out there to just shoot and kill and take. I remember the mittens in the afternoon. Dad had taken them off to have a smoke. His hands were always warm anyways. I picked them up. I had always been scared of them, of what they had been. The thought of wearing them always made me feel uneasy, like being on the edge of a cliff and feeling that urge to jump, knowing you shouldn’t but something pushes you anyway.

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I remember I made myself wear them. I had to. I could feel the imprint of their hands on the inside, the fur slowly wearing away beneath them. I couldn’t stand it. I thought I might vomit. But before I could take them off, the same little buck from the morning returned. I could only hear it at first, huffing hard. Then I saw it, the little pink piece of flesh hanging where it’s jaw should’ve been. I remember feeling it then, understanding that someone would do that, just fuck something up and let it walk away. I tried to imagine it was the bastard who’d done it. Out there in the thicket, in blaze orange, not red-spattered brown. It’d been easier that way. I’d shoot him. I’d cut him open and leave the gut pile for the wolves and coyotes and hawks. But that wasn’t easy. I didn’t want it anymore, the weight of it, but it was mine and no one else’s. I’d made up my mind that I wouldn’t give it up.

I slipped my hand from out of the old dog hide. I shouldered the rifle. The steel trigger was cold on my bare skin. One finger. One finger is all it took. A puff of smoke and ringing in my ears. Everything was still. My father shook my hand. We gutted it together. The blood stained my fingers, creeping its way under the nails.

“Better than starving to death,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “Yes it is.”

I wasn’t afraid of the mittens anymore.

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