Monday, November 26, 2007


My Auntie Andrea's shoes arrived in the mail last Friday--a white bubble pack package with Mama Jean's handwriting on it. My Aunt died two years ago last August of complications from breast cancer. She was in her forties, though if you asked her, she was likely to tell you she was 25.

When I told Mama Jean about this project, she offered to send me some shoes from Missouri, a pair that were my aunt's. Andrea had lots of shoes. Mama Jean asked me what kind I wanted, and I told her it was up to her to choose. My grandmother thought that Andrea would want me to have a pair of shoes "from the happy times," and the shoes she loved most were high heels.

I didn't recognize the pair that Mama Jean chose--light pink heels with cut outs at the toes, delicate straps, and kind of leaf-shaped elements in darker mauve-like pink. They seem brand new apart from a couple small marks on the heels where I imagine her feet brushed by each other. I spoke with Mama Jean over the weekend and asked her what occasion Andrea wore them for, and she didn't know. But my mom happened to recognize them when she was here last night. She said that Andrea wore them to Jonathan and Julie's wedding (Jonathan is a cousin of ours), that she had a pink skirt suit that went with them, and she was really happy that she found these shoes on sale. It was the spring before she died.

This made me think about how "happy" doesn't describe the whole story. I imagine that it was a happy well as sad and challenging. Pictures from those days show her smiling as ever. And also thin and tired looking. I didn't go to the wedding--my mom was the only one who made the trip to St. Louis--so I don't know much about what these shoes have experienced.

I knew that I wouldn't be able to wear them for long--not only are high heels a challenge, but Auntie Andrea's feet were half a size smaller than mine...enough to make the shoes very difficult to put on, and even more so to wear. Andrea's shoes felt painful on my feet.

(This picture is funny to me--I didn't intentionally try to embody my Aunt, but this is very much like how she might have posed for a picture. Except she would have been making eye contact and smiling. My brother used to joke about how Andrea must have been able to detect cameras somehow, because every photograph she was in looked so well posed, as if she were on stage.)

But I thought about my Aunt and how it was important to her that her outfits match well, and how one of her favourite things to do was to dance, and so I decided that if I was going to only wear Andrea's shoes for a few minutes, I would wear them with something pink, and I would dance in them.
So I did.

It was a little difficult dancing in shoes that hurt my feet so much, that were unfamiliar and pinched, but I mostly just found myself caught up in trying to have a heartfelt dance (and taking some pictures).

I found myself wondering what shoes Andrea might have chosen to lend me if it were her own choice...I wondered if she might have chosen a pair of higher heels, or her tap shoes, or ballet slippers. I wonder what she might have told me about this particular pair of shoes, or any.
It was interesting in her shoes--they are so unlike any shoes I've ever chosen for myself. They seem so delicate and lady-like. I suppose I can be those things sometimes...but not in heels. I really didn't recognize my feet as I danced in Andrea's shoes.

Also, I thought about how the experience of another's shoes is dependent so much on who the wearer is. This seems entirely obvious, but I hadn't thought much about it before. Someone with smaller feet may have been more comfortable in Andrea's shoes, or even found them too big. Someone who wears heels regularly may have been at ease in these shoes, or seen themselves reflected in them. And I imagine the experience would vary between genders, as well. So I guess there's something important about the relationship between two particular sets of feet and a particular pair of well as the relationship between the the owners of these sets of feet. It somehow seems like it's not so much about Andrea's shoes, but about my feet in Andrea's shoes...not your feet or his feet or her feet. That would be something else entirely.

This reminds me of a beautiful piece by Shannon Gerard, who makes very heartfelt bookworks. I'm thinking of part of a work called "Four Failed Proposals":

First failed proposal for a world that won't hurt:
In this world,
it is widely known that the holes in
each person's socks correspond
to weaknesses of character.
Upon meeting, people
take turns trying on one another's socks
over top their own.
If the holes in two
people's socks cover
for each other, they
instantly mate for
life -- together
making one whole sock,
perfectly fitted.

I don't know whether or not my holes and Andrea's overlapped, or took care of each other. It's a difficult question, and an interesting thought.

Andrea's shoes are neat and trim, and they seem almost brand new and hardly worn. I wonder where else she might have worn them if she had lived longer, or if they would have steadfastly marked their space in her closet regardless. Andrea's shoes have a quality of lightheartedness about them, and are very delicate and careful. And while they were difficult for me to wear, I did so gladly.