Just a pair of shoes.
Bing, Liv and I went to see a movie yesterday (Everything Must Go...it was not great, don't bother) and afterwards, we decided to hit a nearby Goodwill.
We are all Goodwill fans. Bing is leaving for Berlin next week and part of her agenda involves touring a mosque, so she has to buy a dress to wear. Believe it or not, she does not own one. Nope. Not even one. She bought one last year when she was in Africa to wear to a mosque and when she came home, she had a friend make a pillow out of the dress so that she could have a memento, but no..she does not own a dress. So, she wanted to buy a cheap summer dress to wear.
Liv always finds great buys and so do I. I have a Mary Quant dress that I found at a Goodwill and only had to pay 5 bucks for it. We also have an 8 piece setting Noritake china set that we paid 65 bucks for. It is worth over a thousand dollars and so delicate and lovely that we only use it for holidays or special occasions.
We only have one rule: no undergarments or shoes.
So, yesterday we went to Goodwill and immediately separated, Bing sheepishly going to look at dresses (I actually took a picture of her on my phone, fingering a bright blue summer frock..figured this will never happen again, so why not?), Liv off to look at cds and books and me, just wandering.
I always look at glassware first. I love old patterns of china and that is what we eat off for everyday. I don't have a plain set, I just have a mismatch of different pretty plates, bowls, glasses and coffee cups. Each is lovely and I like to be able to pick a bowl to match my mood when I have oatmeal, etc. I didn't see much, so I headed to the clothing section. As I was walking past the shoes, a pair caught my eye. I slowed and then stopped.
I never buy shoes at Goodwill. I have a theory about shoes. You buy new and break them in to fit your own foot. Goodwill shoes have already been worn in, so they will not properly adhere to your foot. But, those shoes were lovely. I picked one up and fingered the fine leather. I glanced at the heels, which were in perfect condition. I casually checked the size. It was one size too big for me. As I was looking for the size, my eye caught on some ink letters written on the inside instep of the shoe. I looked closer and was able to decipher the words:
my wedding shoes, 1954
I smiled. Turned the shoes around to get a good look at them. How lovely they were and they looked as if they had only been worn once or twice. Just for fun, I tried them on. They were too big, as I thought. I sat for a few moments staring down at the shoes, trying to think what the world looked like in 1954. Before I was born. I have a pair of Peter Fox swing saddle shoes circa 1953 that I adore. I have several 1950's style sundresses that were given to me by Bing's Aunt when we were vacationing in Louisiana. It was an interesting fashion era.
These shoes have a great story, I thought to myself.
A story that I will never know. And that made me sad. I sat with the shoes cradled in my hands and thought about how they had ended up in a Goodwill store. Their owner probably had died. If she was in her 20's when she got married in 1954, then she would be around 80 years old now, I surmised. I absentmindedly tapped the shoes with my fingers, gently, gently. She may have only worn these shoes once. They did not look worn, did not look like they had been worn to a few summer cocktail parties, maybe a nice dinner out with her husband with no children allowed.
I closed my eyes and let myself imagine her life.
Her name was....something 1950's. Debby? Linda? Barbara? No. It was Sherry. She was tall for her age, maybe 5'9 and this always made her feel uncomfortable. She may have slouched a little because of that. She was madly in love when she married her husband, an insurance salesman named Herb. They settled into their little house and she popped out her first child nearly a year to their first anniversary. By the time John F Kennedy was president, they had 3 children. Two girls and then they got their boy.
She idealized Jackie Kennedy. Wore a pillbox hat for the first time on Easter Sunday because of Jackie. I could see her sitting in church, probably a Methodist one, with her pillbox hat perched on her flipped hair, her toddler son on her knee, her daughters with their starched dresses in pastels and Easter hats sitting between her and Herb. Herb had started to go gray already, a fact that distressed him and made her laugh indulgently and tell him that she thought he looked distinguished.
They raised their family in their little house and every once in a while when she was cleaning her closets, she would take out the box with her wedding shoes in them and look at them longingly. Wow. She had been so young and so naive when she wore those, she would think, running her finger along the fine leather. Now, well...she was not so much. She and Herb were still happy, but she thought he drank a little too much at parties and this worried her. And her oldest daughter, well, she had been born boy crazy but honestly, she was only 13! Why was she asking to wear nylon pantyhose already? And their middle daughter? She was her clear opposite, all wrapped up in her science experiments in the basement. She worried that she didn't have enough friends, always seemed to be a loner. And Johnny, her son, her baby. She thanked god for the sheer boyness of him every day. The way that he was always running his little matchbox cars all over the house vroom vrooming everywhere.
She would smile and tuck the shoes back into the box, carefully arranging the tissue paper all around them. Then she would sigh and get up, noticing that her knees were making this creaking sound that they hadn't made the year before. She would stop in front of the mirror and primp a little, turning her face this way and that, hoping that Herb still thought she was pretty.
The years would fly by as years do when you have children. Her oldest daughter would marry young to that boy who was a big mistake, they all could see this except her. She and Herb had spent a few sleepless nights discussing how to get her to stop seeing him but they hadn't been successful. And then their daughter had come home one night the summer after she graduated high school and twirled all around the living room holding her left hand up and trilling that "He asked me to marry him, Mom! I am going to be a bride! Finally!"
The marriage had barely lasted five years and now she was a 23 year old with a toddler and newborn. She and Herb tried to help her all they could, she babysat the kids while her daughter went off to her secretarial job. She had never gone to college.
Their middle child had fared better. She was in California now, some sort of scientist for Johnson and Johnson. She had never married but she lived with that really nice outdoorsy gal who seemed to be her best friend for life. Two unmarried girls who helped each other out. That was so nice.
Johnny had moved to Arizona. He was in insurance like his father and he had been transferred out there after his first year of working. He had met a nice girl out there, a sunny haired girl who seemed to worship the ground that he walked on. They were planning a June wedding.
She and Herb were happy. Their empty nest hadn't been very empty, not with two grandchildren who they were practically raising. Sherry had gone back to work part time as a receptionist in a doctor's office when the kids had all been in school, but she had quit that job to take care of her grandchildren when she had been needed. Family was family and that was what you did: you cared for your own.
More years passed. The grandchildren were in high school now and she was working at a dentist's office, part time, of course. Herb didn't want any wife of his working full time. And he had retired last year and wanted her to travel with him sometimes to go visit Johnny's family in Tucson. Her middle daughter was now working at some software place, still in California. She was making so much money that she had insisted on buying them things that they really didn't need: a new car every year and she had paid to have their carpeting torn up in the house and the maple floors beneath them to be all gussied up. She missed her carpeting, though. She had constant cold feet and the wooden floors didn't help. Plus, Herb was unsteady on his feet these days and those floors could be slippery! But, she didn't want to complain. Her middle daughter had announced that she and that woman she lived with were life partners when they had visited the last time. She had hugged that woman to her with her arm while Sherry had looked with questions in her eyes at Herb. WHAT WAS A LIFE PARTNER? Oh, well. It seemed that this meant that they were like two married gals now instead of just friends. The world was changing so fast now. There was a lot of gayness even on television shows like that new show, what was it called? Will and Grace. That was it. She had sighed and tried to be supportive although she honestly did not understand or care to understand what two woman could do in a bed together. It was their business and as Herb had commented, they weren't hurting anyone were they?
More time passed. Her oldest daughter remarried, this time to another man who was unsuitable, she thought, but nobody had asked her opinion had they? He was a back slapper and talked in this loud obnoxious voice. Her middle daughter refused to visit them because he had made some prejudicial comment about her at their wedding. So, family problems. She hated the drama. Wanted her girls to get along with each other as they had when they had shared a bedroom. She would hear them whispering after lights out and this had made her smile with joy. No more. They didn't speak anymore. A shame.
And then Herb had his heart attack and she had spent nearly a month at the hospital by his side. The girls and Johnny had come back to town then and stayed with her. One night as she roamed the house unable to sleep, she had heard them whispering in their old bedroom, tucked up in their old twin beds. Fear of losing their father had made their disagreements seem small and they had reached out to each other again.
She quit her job to stay home and keep an eye on Herb. He was not the same after the heart attack. Her dependable husband had turned into a dependent one. On her. He became anxious if she even went to a movie with her friends from church. She had wanted to see the new Harry Potter with her friends and he had looked fearfully at her and wanted to know how long she would be gone and when exactly would she be back? In time to make his supper? She had gone to the movie but spent the entire time feeling guilty.
So, she pretty much just stayed home with Herb and it was fine. They played gin rummy a lot and had their shows to watch. They really liked Seinfeld. Sometimes it was a little dicey and smarty, but that Jerry Seinfeld was a funny, funny fella, wasn't he?
She had stumbled on those shoes and thought to herself that she really needed to put them in the Goodwill bag. It wasn't as if she could even wear heels anymore, no her varicose veins were troublesome. And neither one of her daughters seemed interested in her old clothes. Her oldest was always on the edge of the new fashions and the middle one? She seemed to live in sneakers. She hadn't even seen her in a dress in years. She carried the shoebox purposefully to the stack of Goodwill items that she kept on the back porch and then before she even got to the door, she turned around and put them back. Not yet, she thought. Not yet. I can't say goodbye just yet.
Herb died in his sleep. She was glad that he hadn't suffered but she missed him so. She missed his way of making a big pot of coffee every morning for them both. She had tried to make coffee since and she never could get it quite right. It was either too strong or not strong enough. She had never thought to ask him how to make it. And she missed his companionship. She missed their long walks outside when the weather allowed it. The way that they would stop to see how their neighbor's roses were doing. She missed their comfortable sex life. The way that even at their age, they still reached for each other every few nights. The way that his penis fit in her vagina like a bird in a nest. A perfect fit. Of course, one never talked about those things, so she didn't mention any of this to even her closest friends.
Yet she missed him. And she was free to spend more time with her friends now, but really, she had little interest. Many of her friends were dead now or had major medical problems. One was very incontinent and didn't like to leave her house. Another had to lug an oxygen tank everywhere she went.
How had she gotten this old? She sometimes looked down at her veined and liver spotted hands and sighed. Her hands had always been so pretty, so dainty. Herb had loved to kiss her fingers lightly in bed, tell her how he loved her tiny fingers.
She had to walk with a cane now due to the varicose veins. She could no longer garden or stand for long periods of time in the sewing store, looking at patterns.
Johnny and his wife wanted her to sell the house and move to Tucson to be with them. They said, "You will love the warm weather, mom. Those prairie winters are so hard on you now." They were right, she supposed. Soon she would be unable to even keep her home clean and she didn't really want strangers coming in to clean up after her even though her middle daughter was pushing her to do that and said that she would gladly pay for it and even for her to have a "companion" to make sure that she was safe.
No. She didn't want any of that. She liked her long days spent drinking cups of ginger tea. She liked sitting outside on warm days, although she did notice that no one sat out on their porches anymore. She had a man come to mow the lawn and tend to the flowers now. And when it snowed, her grandson or that nice young couple next door were always quick to shovel out the driveway.
And then one night as she was pulling on her nightgown, she felt a sharp pull in her left side. A tugging. It didn't hurt, really, just sort of pulled hard. She looked at herself in surprise in the long full length mirror before she hit the floor. And then she smiled. It was time. It was time. Finally.
Her grandson found her. He had stopped to check in when his mother asked him to since she hadn't gotten her morning phone call from his grandmother. And there she was, dead on the floor of her bedroom, her nightgown pulled discreetly over her hips as if even on her way to death, she had thought to be modest.
Her daughters cleaned out her house. They commented on how tidy their mother had been, how she was so thoughtful even in her old age. As if she knew that this would happen and she didn't want to trouble them. They both cried a little, in each other's arms. They were close now, as older women. No sense in fighting. They had been taught to love each other and even in their big differences, they did.
The middle daughter found the wedding shoes. She pulled out the box and glanced in, made a mental note that these could go in the Goodwill pile.
They did. And now here I was sitting, holding them in my hands.
I looked up, blearily, still a little lost in my daydream.
Bing came and tapped me on the shoulder. Held up a pink dress in front of her.
"Do you think I can pull this dress off?" she asked, ruefully.
I smiled, told her it looked great. It was a nice dress. Very plain. Very Bing. It would do for one wearing at a mosque in Berlin. Liv came up with a book about how to build birdhouses. She pointed at the shoes in my hand.
"I thought shoes were off limits," she said.
I looked down, thinking. "They are," I told her. "But, I dunno. I just want them."
Bing frowned and picked one up.
"CAREFUL!" I admonished her. "They are DELICATE."
She looked curiously at me, but said nothing. She looked at the size.
"Honey, these aren't even your size," she said.
I sat there, my throat closed for a moment. How to explain?
"I just...I just...want them, okay?" I finally said.
She nodded and took them from me..gently..and put them in the cart. No questions asked.
When we arrived home, I took the shoes and found an old Ferragamo shoe box to put them in. I tucked them into the box and pushed them to the back of my closet.
"They're safe with me, Sherry," I said.
And they will be.