I saw the small, handwritten ”Estate Sale” sign hanging crookedly on a neighbor’s fence Sunday as I drove past. There were a few articles of clothing hung on the fence, too. “I would like to walk down there and check that sale out,” I thought, and I also hoped it was a generic use of the term “Estate Sale”, meaning “we are selling some of our things because we just have too much” and not a “the owners of this home and have died and we are cleaning it out forever”.
Late in the afternoon David and I walked to the sale, only about 5 houses down from ours. As we entered the yard, I saw it was FULL of women’s shoes. There were bed sheets laid out on the ground and shoe upon shoe was displayed. Two African American women stood outdoors – one trying on a shoe. “Wow!” I said, “Someone sure loves shoes!”. “They were my mom’s”, answered one of the women. “And yes, she sure did love shoes. There are lots more than these! We took some, and there is a big bin FULL of them also. And handbags – look at all of the handbags.” Oh she was right – there were lots and lots of handbags, too. “Did your mother pass away?” I asked – I had to really. “Yes, she did,” was the sad reply.
I offered my condolences, then smiled remembering my sisters and I going through our mom’s shoes almost exactly ten years ago. I was glad to have something to share with this woman – our mothers and their love of footwear. I told the women how I was the lucky sister, the only one with the same size feet as our shoe loving mother. How it was rather like Cinderella with my sisters trying to squish their feet into shoes that were just plain too small. She smiled and said the same was true with her family and the shoes. Maybe it’s like that in all families?
Her mom’s shoe collection ranged from 7.5 to 8.5. “Oh, rats. I am a 6.5,” I told them. The deceased woman’s daughter smiled in understanding, but her friend was not to be deterred. We were having a good conversation and she was going to get me some shoes to try on! “How about these??” she asked as she handed me a pair of faux-denim bootie shoes with very high narrow heels. “These look like they might fit you! Try them!”. So of course I obliged. And what do you know – they did sort of fit! I teetered around the front yard a bit modeling them. “Gosh, it looks like they have never been worn,” I said. (There was even a “Made in China” sticker still on the bottom of one.) “Yes, they may not have been,” replied the daughter. Those shoes were so NOT me – they were the wrong size, far too high of a heel, and just not my style at all. Yet, I smiled and said, “I need these. Can you hold them for me while I look around?”. I knew I wanted to buy something. Not that I needed anything, but I remembered the feeling of clearing out, of being overwhelmed, of wishing things could have a use and continue living somehow. So those shoes would be my small contribution to helping with the healing.
I changed back into my shoes and talked a bit more before heading into the house, which the daughter had explained would be sold. As I walked in the front door I saw three ladies using American Sign Language. “Are you Deaf?” I signed. Why yes they were. “Do you LIVE HERE?” I signed. Again, yes one did, and she had lived there since 1994. “AND I HAVE NEVER MET YOU???? I live right on the corner. I am your neighbor!”. Oh my! I had no idea we had a Deaf neighbor. She was the sister of the woman I met outside, another daughter of the deceased woman. I talked and talked to her and her friends. None of us could believe that we lived so close and had never met. I explained that we had met her mother one time when we were giving away peaches from our tree and her mom was out on the front porch and we gave her some.
David came by after a while and told me there was a man, maybe the father?, who seemed ill, possibly comatose, in the other room. Eventually I made my way to the kitchen and there he was – an elderly black man who I assumed was their father. He was sitting in a type of wheel chair but had a cane nearby. It was almost 4 pm but he was still in his pajamas. And he looked unwell. The Deaf woman, whose name I learned was Lisa, said this was her grandfather. “Not your dad?” I asked. “NO!” she explained, “My daddy left my mamma when she was pregnant with me. Never came back.” She said that her grandfather was in his 80s and diabetic. They had tested his blood sugar and it was very, very low and she thought they would have to take him to the hospital soon. She had given him a small orange juice box to drink to try and help bring his levels up. I said hello to him and he replied. I smiled at him and talked to him, asking his name. “Steve”. “Hey, I was supposed to be Steven! So were my sisters! I was the last chance and I came out a girl, too. They gave up after me.” That made him light up and smile a bit. I kept encouraging him to drink his orange juice and asked if he had eaten lunch. He told me he had a donut for lunch. Not the best meal for a diabetic! I saw boxes of pizza on the countertop and encouraged him to try and eat a slice, which he did. So I sat and talked with him as he ate pizza and drank juice. Turns out he was upset – nervous about having to move to a nursing home. He said they had found him one but now the home wouldn’t take him. Poor fellow. He seemed so very sweet and gentle. Made me miss my grandpas and David’s dad.
I went back and forth talking to him and Lisa, the Deaf woman. They were both very fun to talk with. Now, you need to know a bit about Deaf Culture to understand something. Culturally Deaf people are often very, very blunt. They are not blunt to be rude – it is just how many of them are. So during the conversation about diabetes and her mother’s death, Lisa explained that her mom was also diabetic, as was she. And that her mom died at only 69 years old and had been diabetic, had a bad heart, dementia, and had had BOTH FEET AMPUTATED.
No feet??? And with all of those SHOES? “But she loved shoes,” I signed. “Oh yes! Had hundreds and hundreds of pairs!” Lisa replied. “Did she, ummm, wear shoes even after she lost her feet?” I signed trying to understand yet be diplomatic. “Oh no – she couldn’t wear shoes after that.”
So THAT is why the faux denim booties looked unused. They had never been worn. Had she bought them right before she got sick and they amputated her feet? Had they been sitting in a closet for years?
And this is how I ended up with a pair of shoes. Shoes from a dead woman. Shoes from a neighbor. Shoes from a woman with no feet. Shoes that I will never wear.
Shoes. A part of the healing process.