Sunday, May 10, 2009

Birthday and Hybrids

No time to write it up yet, but I can post the pictures!

Happy Mother's Day!

I know I'm way behind in my blogging, but schoolwork has to come first, and I'm not done yet. That said, I had to post for Mother's Day.

Most years, I send flowers, but this year I saw something on Amazon that reminded me of fun times Mom and I have shared together. I can't think about this thing without hearing my mother's voice and laughing. Unfortunately, the package didn't arrive in time, so I can't say what that item is.

Well, until her package arrives, this essay I wrote for my creative nonfiction class will just have to do. In class, we were supposed to list every pair of shoes we'd ever owned. Then we had to pick one significant pair and write an entire essay about them. I went in another direction. This was first semester, but the story stayed in my professor's head so distinctly that when I told him this week that I'll spend my summer in Iowa, he asked, "Going to try on your mother's shoes again?" Here's why:


As a child in Iowa, I attended the school where my mother taught. She often wore high heels back then. My mother’s clack was distinct from that of any other woman I’d heard. I would hear her steps echoing down the hall and know she was coming to pick me up and take home, when we would sing “You Are My Sunshine,” driving up the driveway of our farm.

I loved to wear Mom’s shoes as a girl. I teetered happily in her heels, hiking up her old prom dress so I wouldn’t trip on the hem. By my teen years, we were the same size. I wore my mother’s navy pumps to my first job interview after college, when all of my shoes were either too casual or too sexy. Her shoes were grown-up shoes, professional.

A few years later, I became a teacher in New York City. One day, when walking to class, I heard a familiar sound. It was my mother, striding quickly down the hall. But it wasn’t. She was a thousand miles away. The sound I’d heard was me, wearing my own high heels, clicking down my own school hallway. The shoes, the path and the pace were mine, but the walk was hers.

This summer, I returned to the farm to stay for three months. I’d been away for years, with only brief stays for holidays. A few years ago, a tornado destroyed our family home, which had been in the family for 120 years. A new house was erected in its place, but I couldn’t picture it when talking to my parents on the phone, or when I dreamed at night. I hoped that a summer in the new house would make it more real to me, make it home.

I would stay all summer and help my parents on the farm. Every pair of my shoes I had that were suitable for farming had been lost in the tornado. Mom loaned me a pair of grungy white sneakers. I slid in my feet and laced them on. I was surprised at how uncomfortable they were. The dips and rises of Mom’s feet didn’t match mine at all.

The first few times I wore her shoes, picking up rocks from the pasture, or helping my dad build livestock pens in the new barn, my feet ached. Day by day, I wore her shoes as I worked the farm, watered the garden, or fed and watered sheep.

By the end of the summer, the shoes fit perfectly. Whether my feet had adjusted to the shoes, or the shoes to my feet, I don’t know. It was time to leave home again. Now I could picture the farm as it stands— changed but still my home.

My mother’s shoes were no longer things of glamor, items that hinted at who I might become. Now, they were tools of daily work, to reconnect with my past and the land. They let me be who I’d been: a girl in her mother’s shoes. I walk new paths, but always carry her rhythm.

Mom, you are strong and lovely and kind. I'm a lucky woman to have such a wonderful mother, and I am thankful for you, always.

Your Daughter