My Mother’s Shoes
Buying a pair of wine-red leather shoes for my mother, who still lives in Ukraine, sends me back not only to my childhood memories but also to the stories my mother told me about her childhood during World War II.
In an outlet store, looking for new shoes, I choose a pair made of wine-coloured leather. They seem to be of good quality and should last a long time. Sturdy low heels with a good grip will be comfortable for walking and could be worn with a dress or a skirt. These shoes will travel over the ocean, and soon my mom will be wearing them on the streets of my childhood. But first, when she takes them out of the box and runs her fingers around the cute little button, she will think about me, as I am thinking about her right now.
I left Ukraine on an early September morning, many years ago–the single luggage bag beside me, the only pair of shoes the ones on my feet. At twenty-five, I was venturing into the unknown, all by myself, to visit my fiancé and his family in the big country called Canada. Staring out of the train window at the passing houses with the first frost on their roofs, tall yellowing trees, and whitened dying grass, I thought about my destiny and about my mom. I had just said goodbye to her at the station. She was the only one there with me. Even though she was trying not to show it, I saw worry in her dark eyes. I had to think like her now, believing that things would work out somehow.
My mom grew up in a small town, in a simple little house at the bottom of the hill. At the top stood a domed church, painted light blue, and beside it, a wooden bridge over the meandering river Huyva. She and her three siblings worked hard helping their mother to tend the garden and animals in the barn. Their father hadn’t returned home from the war. They had one pair of heavy, too-big soldier boots between them. In winter, each child would take turns slipping and sliding on the ice of the frozen river while the rest of them waited inside by the enormous clay oven, their feet covered in sheets of rough linen instead of socks. I, too, remember having my feet wrapped in fabric before putting winter boots on when I was a child—an extra layer of warmth for the freezing toes.
My wedding was held on a frosty November day in Dartmouth. I wished my mom could have come. I hummed a Ukrainian folk song on the way to the small wedding chapel. The familiar tune gave me the feeling of home.
When I visited my mom for the first time with my husband, I brought a new pair of black shoes with me–comfy and dressy, with a short pump heel. She loved them, and since we wore the same size, I gave them to her. She put them on right away.
Since then, small packages arrive at my mom’s house on holidays and throughout the year. There are always shoes inside: boots to keep her feet cozy and dry; summer sandals–she likes the ones with the covered toes or comfortable walking shoes–she loves her walks to the market and church when she chats with her friends. Sometimes it’s just a pair of slippers or garden shoes–at eighty, she still plants vegetables and flowers in her garden by hand.
She says to me with a chuckle: “I need to live for a long time, look how many shoes I still have to wear.” She doesn’t know, and I won’t tell her that I’ve already planned another outing for some new warm winter boots for us both.
VALENTINA KENNY is a Ukrainian immigrant who came to Halifax in 1995. She is a busy mom, real estate agent and emerging artist spending her free time close to nature, discovering new places and making videos for her YouTube channel.