Mama always said that a lady should not wear white shoes before Easter Sunday; but, I don’t recall exactly when she said you should put them away for the season. Near as I can recall, it would be the first hint of Fall or perhaps October 1st. I would have said September 1st with the exception that given global warming (whether you believe it or not) we continue to have triple digit temperatures into my first son’s birthday of October 7th.
Last Friday we experienced our first rain fall in months. It was glorious. I was so ecstatic about the weather and my fall wardrobe that I didn’t question my one-hour commute with oil soaked highways and the inability of already nut-job drivers having to tap into all of their caffeinated brain cells to meander the roads safely so I could arrive promptly at 8:30 am in Fairfield without incident.
I pulled out my new gray/burgundy/cream block wool sweater that was now two-month’s old, squeezed into my jet black tights and my black go-to pants and grabbed my black boots.
These weren’t always MY black boots. I discovered them in my mama’s closet during her first round of chemotherapy in 2009. It was winter and I was visiting for the weekend and Sunday morning we all went to church. While I could pull together an outfit based on what I had packed for my weekend in Chico, I had failed to bring dress shoes. Mama sat in her Lazy Boy rocking chair with her feet up in the recliner mode, still in shorts, her compression knee highs and her slippers. She looked me up and down dressed in black velvet leggings and a long sweater sans shoes and told me, “Go try on the boots I have in my closet. They should fit you.” Into her closet I went.
Mama was a bit of a shoe horse. I understand why now that my feet hurt all of the time. Bad Feet + Expensive Shoes = Less Bad Feet. Mama would find a shoe she liked and buy 3 pairs – brown, black and navy, typically Farragamo. For decades we wore the same size shoe, but eventually my feet outgrew hers by a mere ½ size. I moved her see-thru sealed Tupperware shoe boxes to the side, I counted at least 8 boxes (These were only the boxes that I had to move. There were at least twice that many on the other end of the closet). I finally settled on a tall pair of black boots nestled in the dark back of the closet. They had a ½ inch heel and silver buckles. They were really pretty. I put them on fearing they would be too small; yet, they fit like a glove. I felt a bit like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. I peered at my reflection in the mirror and thought I looked pretty snazzy. I clicked my heels together and waited for mama to get ready to go.
We attended mass at the Catholic Church down the street from mama’s house. She knew the priest and he blessed her on her way in as she adjusted her walker. Her husband, hands folded in front of him, staring straight ahead in the pew — classic JFG. In retrospect I wonder what drove him to go to church regularly. Lord knows, he didn’t go for the fellowship. Every time the priest bestowed, “peace be with you” and it came time to reach out to those closest to us, he would often look right over my head as though I wasn’t there.
JFG had attended this church for decades, long before he married my mother. He went up to take communion like the other catholic attendees—placing the wafer on his tongue to be swallowed by a hint of red wine all blessed under the name of Jesus Christ. It wasn’t until shortly before my mama’s death that it came out that he wasn’t even Catholic. For those of you who are NOT Catholic, you are discouraged (or not allowed really) to accept communion. JFG’s difficult personality obviously made no adjustments in the eyes of God. I sure hope God has an efficient memory on his subjects and took copious notes on Mr. JFG’s disregard for the rules inside of the Catholic Church (and everywhere else, for that matter).
We arrived back from church in just over an hour. As with most Sundays, this is the time that I begin to pack my weekend overnight bag and begin my drive back to Livermore. There wasn’t much to load up. I looked at mama hopefully, “Can I take the boots with me?”
“Nope. They stay here,” mama said.
I peeled off the boots and put them in their rightful spot in the back of her closet and moved her eight see-thru shoe boxes back into place. We repeated this practice during the Fall and Winter over the next 2 years of her illness.
Mama never once wore those boots. Not once. She wore her slippers around the house, shuffling to and fro. She wore her oversized heavy white tennis shoes on her outings, clomping heavily about as the shoes, over time, became too heavy for her legs to move freely. She has her summer slip-on SASs she would wear on occasion, but never her boots. Meanwhile, I would wear them when I visited and religiously placed them back in their proper holding place.
Mama passed early Sunday morning after a week of hospice in mid-September. I sat with her, bathed her, dressed her, wiped her eyes and held her hand. Her husband said, “This is what she would have wanted. To pass early on a Sunday so we could all be back in our places to return to regular living by Monday morning.”
Sometimes, when you don’t know what to say, it’s better to just say nothing at all. Nothing would ever be “regular” again. What was clear was that after the coroner came and went, JFG wanted me gone, too.
For a final time, I collected my weekend bag that held over a week’s worth of clothes. I packed certain items that she had wanted me to take with her. Everything was loaded into the car which was now running. My final act was to go back to my mama’s closet, move the eight see-thru boxes to the side and reach into the darkness for that supple black leather. I picked up my mama’s boots, left the eight see-thru boxes right where they were. I walked out the front door with a simple good-bye.
I wore my boots last Friday, feeling my mama close by. I received numerous compliments to which I replied, “Thank you. They were my mama’s”. Most smiled and nodded with the exception of one woman who replied, “My mama never owned boots like those.”
All I could think to myself was, “That’s because she wasn’t MY mama.”