Sunday, February 28, 2016

We Are Stories--Story Canon #1

Our family stories stay with us. We remember. Stories shape our sense of who we are and the stories along with identity are passed down from one generation to another. Most of my family stories are oral renditions of experiences so indelible that they don't require writing. They are remembered. Yet, as a writer, I am compelled to write them down. The permanence of letters and paragraphs, guarantee the stories will last. If for no other reason, the writing will imprint them into my own mind, helping me to remember.

When I think of my mother and her story, I often think of the junior high dance she wanted to attend, but the soles of her required dress shoes had worn thin and wouldn't sustain her through a night of dancing. She took a cardboard box and cut out new soles, inserted them into her shoes, and had a lovely night. And a story.

As a child, as a teenager, as an adult, I've never gone without shoes, never had to worry about worn soles. I give my shoes away if they are scuffed, or I'm tired of the style, if I find someone in need; sometimes I feel guilty for the abundance of shoes, but I am consoled when I think the shoes may have a life for someone else.

On a home building trip in Ecuador, I noticed the daughter left at home while the mother worked in the fields, wore a pair of shoes that pinched her toes and looked terribly uncomfortable. I measured my foot against hers, and at the end of a workday, slipped the shoes off and insisted she take them. The rocky pathway to their cedar block, dirt floor home was a quarter of a mile and the short  barefoot-walk at the end of the day were some of the happiest steps ever taken. 

I doubt my children know this story, even though it's an important story to me.

When Tony and I were still in college and living as frugal a life as possible, when I was expecting  our first child, my father came to visit and found a need. My shoes were too scruffy and I needed some nice business clothes in my pregnant state. He and Mom took me to Nordstroms and bought me two beautiful maternity dresses. Dresses I would have considered an over-splurge. Now that I had nice dresses, I needed matching shoes. Dad gave me my first lesson on shoe styling.

"Always choose close-toed.  It's classy. A woman should never have her toes hanging out." I took Dad's advice to be sound. I became an observer of women's shoes and had to agree that female toes looked much better tucked inside the shoe (not including sandals). I was so committed to this principle that when I found the most adorable black cloth shoe with white polka dots and a white beaded flower at the instep, and it had a small window of an open toe, I felt down right rebellious for purchasing. I wore the shoes this week, with black pants and a white shirt with black polka dots, and I actually had fun thinking how wicked I was. Knowing how much Dad valued a little rebellion, he was proud I had broken the rule 30 years after he'd so impressed it upon my mind.

Dad was always a Florsheim man. Florsheims all the way. As a little girl, running errands with Mom usually meant a stop at the shoe shine store. It had a strong smell of shoe polish and the shoe shine man was an old African American who came to the front counter with a smile. 

As some point in Dad's life he became a cowboy boot man. He was a collector by nature and cowboy shoes lined his closet. As he aged, cowboy shoes turned into little-old-man slip-ons. This very minute, I wish there were a pair sitting in my front closet. 

These are my stories. My shoe stories. They speak of who I am and from whom I come from. Shoes, I guess, are a kind of family legacy. As I write these stories, I am flooded with other shoes stories I want to tell. I want to move them from the oral family canon to the written family canon. I am starting a written collection of life: a canon of stories.