In Her Shoes
My grandmother was born in a small town near Izmir during the Ottoman era, in the early days of the First World War. She was part of the first generation growing up in the newborn Turkish Republic. A glamorous woman, she told me the stories about her life. At her funeral, I asked for her ‘inside’ shoes, which she used to wear when she hosted her family. Eight months after moving to Canada with my two teenage boys, I became reunited with these shoes. I hope they will carry the family memories to the next generations after my bedroom light is off.
I looked at the worn-out, flat, black suede shoes with silver and golden embroidery on top. There was a stripe at the back that was attached to the golden rim. I simply loved the idea of wearing them the way she used to.
“Can I have them?” I asked my relatives with the ignorance of youth. We were at my grandma’s funeral in the house that had belonged to her. Sitting on her bed, I looked around the bedroom where her belongings were spread out, waiting to be picked up by her relatives. Whatever remained would be donated. The bedroom light was on. But it was going to be off soon, as soon as her soul left the house. That is our belief.
My grandmother was born in a small town near Izmir during the Ottoman era, in the early days of the First World War. She became part of the first generation of a newborn Turkish Republic. She was a powerful, brave and determined woman in her family and her community. She told me stories about her life. She had chased a policeman to get a child out of his cruel hands. Each night she had to check her bed and drawers to clean out the snakes before going to bed. She had been considered the most beautiful woman in town. She had good taste in everything. She would not hesitate to spend a large amount of money to buy shoes or clothes. She hated village life, which my grandfather loved. Finally, she convinced him to buy an expensive house in the heart of Istanbul where she could shop or dine as soon as she stepped out of her home. She died there at the age of 78.
She used to wear these black ‘inside’ shoes when she hosted important events such as religious feasts. The whole family used to gather in her clean and tidy house on every Eid. We used to bring a box of chocolates as a part of the tradition. We grandchildren would wait for our turn to kiss her hand and then put it on our foreheads to show respect for the elderly. I remember her looking at me with her deep blue eyes through her thick-framed glasses and asking me tough questions.
“Tell me, Simten, who do you love the best? Your mother or your father?” Thank God we were not expected to answer her questions to get our Eid treats. If I felt trapped and trembled at the question, she would give the proper answer for me. Then I could get the special treat of the day, always an elegant, white handkerchief with embroidery on it. It was filled with pocket money along with some chocolates and candies. Then we would sit around the dining room table, which was filled with delicious, traditional dishes, always including our grandmother’s specialty, Izmir kofte.
One sunny day, on her last morning on earth, my grandmother took a shower and wrapped her hair in a towel to dry and then put her slippers next to her bed before lying down on beautifully-scented, white linen.
I wore her shoes with pleasure in my house when I hosted my guests. However, when I was preparing to come to Canada, I had to leave them in Istanbul, along with most of my other belongings. We had to pack our lives and memories into only two suitcases, each not heavier than 23 kilograms. After eight months apart, I am now reunited with my grandmother’s shoes in beautiful Toronto. I hope they will carry the family memories to the next generations.
I am in her shoes,
She is in me.
SIMTEN OSKEN is from Turkey. She moved to Toronto in 2012. In Istanbul, she worked as a child psychologist. In Toronto, she works in a daycare centre.