My mother’s high heels were way too big when, at four years old, I put them on and clumped down the hallway, lurching dangerously, trying to look big. There is an old photo of me wearing them, smiling at myself in a full-length mirror.
When Mom wore her shoes, they made a grown-up click-click sound on the pavement as we crossed Courthouse Square in downtown Santa Rosa. Even in my own well-fitting shoes, my short legs had to hurry to keep up.
There is a reason why Mom always wore sophisticated “click-click” shoes. When she was about four, doctors pronounced her pigeon-toed and prescribed orthopedic shoes. My mother started kindergarten wearing unfortunate white lace-ups to the offense of pint-sized fashion police everywhere. She was, of course, the most offended of all, so when given the choice she filled her closet with everything but practical. As an adult, Mom didn’t own a pair of athletic shoes save for one pair of black Reeboks, a reluctant concession in the name of walking for exercise.
Later, when my mom worked as a marriage and family therapist, she was attacked and nearly killed in her office. Her shoes were found in her car although she lay inside, unconscious; just one more puzzling detail in an unfathomable crime. But to me it wasn’t that weird: Mom routinely liked to drive barefoot, so her high-heeled shoes on the floor of her car weren’t really that mysterious. She had thought she was going to drive somewhere, that was all. She didn’t end up driving for another two months.
After recovering from a subdural hematoma, multiple fractures, and a couple of surgeries, Mom was doing pretty well except for numbness in her right foot. Due to this, she wore shoes even less often than before. There is a humorous story about Mom driving to work to facilitate a group and discovering that she had not brought any shoes at all. She had to borrow some from a colleague.
Even with the residual balance and proprioception difficulties stemming from her injury, Mom still refused to wear practical shoes. High heels, pointy toes, treacherous slip-ons – her shoes weren’t purchased for comfort or ease of wear. They were purchased to look good, and look good they did. She didn’t shop the sale racks, either. Mom wore nice shoes. Always.
I sold my mother’s shoes at a garage sale about two months ago. My dad and I had the job of cleaning out her house after a rare cancer caused her to suffer in ways we’d never conceived of, then took her life on April 2nd. She was 60.
My mom’s fabulous shoes never did fit me. She was taller than I am, with bigger feet. Alone in her closet shortly after she died, I slid a couple pairs on for old time’s sake. They were still too big. I glanced in the mirror and for all the world looked like a kid trying on her mother’s shoes. I guess some things never change.
I could see the excitement in the eyes of the women at our garage sale when they discovered Mom’s shoes were their size. Some of the pairs had hardly any wear; none were even approaching worn out.
I don’t feel too badly about letting Mom’s shoes go for only $3.00 a pair. She certainly doesn’t need them anymore, and I can’t use them. As the months go by, though, and I settle more deeply into the ample armchair of grief, I wonder: should I have kept a pair?
No, I conclude. They’re just shoes. The feet they were molded to are gone. I’ll always be my mother’s daughter, but I’m not a little girl anymore. It’s time for me to step into my own shoes and walk on.