Baby Shoes in the Garden
I took my first steps in these red leather baby booties. My earliest and most powerful childhood memories are of the private heaven of a fruit garden in our old home in Isfahan, Iran, where I wore them. But when I was six years old, we moved to a modern city, and my passion shifted from trees to books and ideas. When I left for Canada, my mother gave me these booties. I found a use for them when we bought our first house here.
The sour cherry trees were at the foot of the garden, before the place where the apricot trees bent under the heavy crop. My younger sister and I knew we’d better not climb them. The branches might break. The small, blue, wooden door on the north side of the house would open to this private heaven of ours, where hawthorn trees would welcome us. They were very tall, with no branch we could reach by hand, so not suitable for hanging. They were not a matter of interest until early fall when their small pinkish fruits started to fall. The main treasures were farther back—the cherries, sour cherries, apricots, plums, prunes, apples and the lonely gigantic walnut tree.
I am told I walked into this garden in these red, leather baby booties in the first spring of my life. But I could not walk at that age, so I must have been carried there by my parents, who had just moved to the old house with the garden in the city of Isfahan in central Iran. Over the next six years, I don’t remember any human, other than the old toothless gardener with his bicycle, in the garden. I do remember spring beginning with quince blooms and early autumn with the fall of hawthorn fruit. We competed with the sparrows, hoping they would leave some fruit on the ground for us.
By the time we left the garden to move to a modern condo, I had already learned to read. In my adolescence, I developed severe allergies to dust and pollen. That stopped me from walking in gardens altogether, which didn’t upset me. I had a new garden: my father’s library. The self-centered romantic teenager in me was quickly moving toward the cement streets of tomorrow. I did not return to our Isfahan garden when everybody else in the family was still going back there in summer to pick fruit. I had my nose in books, stunned by the magic of novels: Great Expectations, War and Peace and One Hundred Years of Solitude.
In the years to come, I finished college. Hungry for modern life, I settled in Tehran, a city of 12 million. No trees, no gardens—just buildings, cafes, movie theatres, people frivolously smoking cigarettes on every corner and passionately moving their hands while talking about Kishlovsky and some American short story writers. Trees were the last thing I cared about.
A few days before I flew to Canada to start a new life, my mother gave me the red leather baby booties. I had seen them in her closet, among the things she kept from the babyhood of each of her four children. She said: “You wore these when I first took you to the garden. You had better take care of them from now on.” I did not know why she said it, and I didn’t dare ask.
Immigrants don’t have much old stuff. They are about the future. They dream of things they will have, places they will go, and stories they will collect. Of what they left behind, memory has to suffice. But fortunately, I had the red baby booties.
The day I bought my first house in Canada, I needed to make it my home. Canadian life had already awakened the forgotten love of trees in me. The baby booties were the oldest objects belonging to me on this land. I took them to the garden again. And I planted a sour cherry tree in my backyard.
MARYAM NABAVINEJAD migrated to Canada from Iran 11 years ago. She is a blogger and is launching an internet-based radio for Persian speakers of GTA.
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