A Mother’s Gift

Juhua (Manna) Liu


As the plane gradually descended at the Calgary airport, I looked out the window and my heart sank. The suburbs on the edge of the city looked like rows of gravestones, and I didn’t see any high-rise buildings. Where was the developed western country I had imagined? I was so disappointed. At that moment, I pressed my toes into the bottom of my shoes, feeling the texture of the embroidered insoles that my mother had given to me. I recalled what she had said before I left: “A mother will always worry when her child leaves home, but she will feel better if she can make the journey easier.” In an instant, I felt a warm current flow through my body, from my feet to my heart.

My first pair of shoes was handmade by my grandma. They were embroidered tiger-head shoes to celebrate my first 100 days, drive away evil spirits, and bring good luck. My grandma was a great believer in the magical power of shoes. Early in my grandparents’ marriage, China had a civil war. Grandpa was drafted to fight. Grandma stayed up all night to make a pair of new shoes for Grandpa. When he left the next day, she didn’t say one word. She just hurriedly stuffed the shoes into his backpack while she cried. 

Grandma made many more shoes for Grandpa, waiting for him to come home, but Grandpa did not return. My mother was born a few months later without a father. When my mother got married and moved away, Grandma made two pairs of shoes for her: one to wear in the sedan chair on the journey and one for stepping into the house of her new in- laws. Grandma said, “Wearing shoes made by a mother will help the child walk steadily, no matter what her age.” Before I moved to Canada, I visited Grandma to say goodbye. She held my hand and said, “My sight is bad now, so I can’t make shoes for you.” 

That night, my mother and I sat together and I saw her eyes fill with tears. She handed me a pair of beautiful, embroidered insoles she had made for me. She said, “I am not able to make shoes like your grandma can, but the meaning is the same. With these under your feet, you will have good fortune in your new home.”

There were many challenges in Canada but the biggest one was the language. I was a librarian in  China. Here I felt blind, deaf and dumb. Everything was so difficult and strange. My mother kept  asking if I used the shoe pads. I thought she was a bit annoying. I didn’t believe wearing insoles could affect your luck! I put the insoles away and almost forgot about them.

After being in Canada for few years, I got a phone call from my mother telling me that Grandma had passed away. Before she died, she said Grandpa and I would be safe because we both had shoes made by her. I took out the tiger-head shoes and the insoles I had kept as mementos from another life. I held them in my hands and thought of my ancestors and my own daughter.

Gradually, I fell in love with Canada’s rich multiculturalism, beautiful environment, and kind people. I feel like I have been reborn. So when people ask my age, my answer is “seventeen!” (The number of years I’ve been in Canada)

In 2010, I joyfully returned home to visit. It was a night flight. When the plane took off from the Calgary airport, I was so excited. I looked outside and saw the rolling hills full of lights, sparkling like jewels.

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