1. Stefanie Graves says

    My father’s shoeshine kit was a soft exponentially wrinkled brown paper bag with half-used tins of black and brown polish, a shoeshine brush that looked like a scrub brush — only softer and with black bristles, polish-laden rags, and the warm, pungent smell of leather and polish. He used it whenever some occasion called for “dress” shoes and every few weeks on his standard, black work shoes.

    Coming out of the Depression and working in very blue collar occupations, my father never had many pairs of shoes. One for dress and one for work. House slippers didn’t count. Later, when the world became more relaxed, a pair of “running” shoes were added to better support his arches and serve as his every day shoes. But I remember those black and brown lace-up shoes, kept in excellent care and polished to a shine. A smear of oily black or brown polish, depending on the shoe, would be worked into their leather, him breathing in rhythm with the strokes, turning the shoe from side to side on one hand while the other covered the shoe in sure, circular motions. One shoe dried while he worked the other and when that one was done it was time to polish the first, taking the brush in hand and slap-slapping it across the leather, transforming the old into something new. And all accomplished in less than 10 minutes.

    My father’s shoes were born of this small, careful ritual. I still can see him taking time over his shoes and smell that tingle of polish in the air.

    • says

      Hi Stefanie,

      I was going to sit down this morning and write about shining my dad’s shoes and your piece brought back every memory of that ritual, the creamy black polish, the soft white rag, the stiff taut wipe of the rag as I buffed the polish to a rich shine. My dad, I think just had two pairs of shoes. I don’t remember adults wearing sneakers in those days–just us kids–Keds and PF Flyers.

    • Juli Richardson says

      I love your story. I made sure I didn’t read anyone else’s work before I wrote mine as I didn’t want to be influenced. That was such a good story starter. I think there will be lots of us remembering Sunday shoe shines with smiles.

    • Debbie says

      Like some of the others, your post brought back memories of helping to shine my dad’s work shoes, the polish, the brush, the whole kit. Thanks for the remembrance.

  2. Juli Richardson says

    My fathers shoes…. I remember as a little girl dancing on my dads feet. He always wore black dress shoes. We would stand in the kitchen and I would stand on his feet. He would put his arm out and dance around the room. I always felt so special and like a princess dancing with my dad. I thought at those times I was the only one in the world. I would look forward to those dances. When I was the important part of his day. Mom would be doing her thing and I got to dance. My brothers and sisters would be doing what ever they were into but I got to dance. I got to be who was important even if only for a few minutes.
    On Sunday’s dad would shine his shoes for church. I remember the old shoe shine kit with the outline of a shoe on top. He would stand at the fireplace and all the boys would line up to shine their shoes. Dad would go first when his shoes were had the polish on and rubbed in he would put his foot up and buff them out as the boys started to apply polish to their shoes. The ritual would continue till everyone’s shoes were church worthy. Upon reaching an age that I was big enough to help dad would apply the polish and rub into the shoes then I got to use the buffer. Sliding my foot inside of dads big shoe I would put my foot up on the shoeshine box and buff away. I thought I was so grown up.
    When I got a little older it was such a thrill to get to shine my red Sunday shoes.
    I remember when I opened my own can of red shoe polish for the first time. The polish was so dark red and smooth and shiny in the can it glistened. Dipping the rag into the polish extracting a small amount of the gelatinous goo and rubbing it into my shoes. Making sure it was rubbed in well before the buffing process was to begin. The polish would get on my hands staining them. But knowing that was OK just part of the process just as long as I made sure not to get any on my Sunday dress.
    When I first joined the army and got my first pair of army boots. I remember all those memories flooding back. The connection to my dad was there with me when I was shining my boots even if he was with me. I remember the time and effort I put forth making sure my boots looked like a mirror, that I had the best boots in the unit.
    In dad’s later years as he was aging I remember him wearing sneakers. I always kind of felt bad for him. I knew that was not who he was. After all he was a military officer at one point in his life. Not the old man who wore baggy pants and dirty sneakers. I grew up with a dad who was always dressed properly and always was presentable. I watched him wither into an old man who needed to be reminded to take a shower and comb his hair and who wore old sneakers. When dad passed he wore his dress shoe. He needed to leave this earth the way he should always be remembered. As a man with honor.

    • Debbie says

      Juli – I enjoyed your piece about polishing shoes, too. I remember how it would stain my hands, like you mentioned. And the expectation that we would all look our best as we prepared for Sunday’s church excursion. Thanks for sharing!

  3. laura urtuzuastegui says

    As his little girl I would wait for evening to come so I can untie his shoes, take them off and hop on his shoulders. My fathers shoes were black shoes, my father was a cook for my grandmother’s business of catering back in 1960 in Los Angeles. His shoes were hard but always cleaned and shined! “Mija he used to say no matter where you work you have to alway have clean zapotos (shoes)”. His other shoes were his zorris all his life as I remember as a little girl were those zorris loved his home especially had his style of watering his lawn, loved his lawn so green and plush hours would pass and he was still out there every morning and evening . This has brought back many wonderful memories of my dad I miss him so much but he taught me a lesson in life to always take care of your shoes!

  4. Fran Stekoll says

    My father wore moon shoes. When he was a little boy his Mother, My Grandmother bought shoes that were too small. As a result he had hammer toes. Each toe was bent up like an upside down V and each step he took was
    painful. He never complained. He never took time from his work to have his
    toes broken and straightened out. Each morning he would put cotton corn plasters on the top of each toe to protect them before placing each foot into his moon shoes. These shoes were worn for every occasion. One was light
    brown, the other pair were black. They were ugly. When I had my children I was careful to purchase shoes that fit properly.

    • Debbie says

      What story reminded me of how a generation of people, some who grew up during the depression, rarely complained about things we would hardly find acceptable. An observation of the differences, without judgement as to which is “better”. Thanks for this insight.

  5. Elena Tucker says

    Twelve years ago, still reeling from the stillbirth of my daughter, I took out a large piece of thick, watercolor paper, crayons and watercolor paints. Although the only crayon I used was white and the only color I made was gray, I thought the painting I created was one of the loveliest I’ve ever made.
    I secured the paper by taping all the corners to the thick cardboard, so when it dried it wouldn’t warp. Then I drew winter trees using the crayon, white on white, invisible. I made their branches reach toward the sky, and towards each other, at times at a distance, at times intertwining. My strokes were sure and even, though I went on muscle memory alone; I loved drawing bare trees since I could hold a pencil in my little hand. Not dead, only hibernating, I thought, they wait for spring to come back to life.
    Done with the trees, I mixed black and white water colors, and began spreading the gray onto the paper. I loved the effect, it was like clouds on paper. I used more black color for the top, more white for the lower part of the painting. The trees became visible – sort of. They were the negative space, since paints couldn’t penetrate through the crayon. They were a stark, white relief in the grey haze, like ghosts in the mist.
    I have always loved Novembers. I loved the rains that sometimes turned into snow, the stark trees and early coming of nights, the coming cold and the comforts of warm, thick sweaters and bundling under blankets while while watching Sesame Street with my 18 months old daughter and my husband. The leaves had already turned and fallen, but no one could say, “Dead of winter,” not yet.
    I get weather euphoria. I love rain and snow, winds that bring stinging tears to my eyes. I remember being 8 years old, dancing and singing outside, feeling so very happy, amid the swirling white snow. The world was white – the earth and the sky and the air around me and I never wanted to go inside, always wanted to feel that high. To this day, whenever I smell the sharp ozone smell during thunderstorms I want to throw my head and laugh.
    But the stillbirth of my second child, my daughter Ruthie, on November 3, 1999, robbed a great deal of pleasure from my love of Novembers. It was like the opposite of removing tarnish from the silver dishes – this laying of stains on many things I looked forward to and enjoyed. During the first year of grief, raising my first-born between crying jags and the numbing blanket of grief, I thought that I lost a hell of a lot of heartbeats.
    I became worried for my daughter. What if she became too much of a people-pleaser, wanting to cheer me up all the time, taking care of me while still in diapers instead of me comforting her, taking care of her? And what if she’ll think it’s the only way, since it’s the only way she’s ever know in her young life? I knew I had to get some of my joy back, give my heart a little jolt that came from creativity, and not to cheat my baby out of her mother during her formative years.
    I painted that painting exactly a year from the date of Ruthie’s birth. (Death? More than 12 years later, and I still don’t know what to call it.) And in doing so, I felt my heart expand a little. Like the trees in my painting, I wasn’t dead yet. Just sort of “hibernatings.”


    • Ilana says

      Elena- This is striking. It really made me think and your descriptions are so clear I felt like I could see the paintings and your tears. I loved how you compared yourself to the tree; hibernating, not dead. Thank you for sharing.

    • Debbie says

      Hi Elena. I really enjoyed your post and these lines that you wrote especially caught my attention and admiration, ” It was like the opposite of removing tarnish from the silver dishes – this laying of stains on many things I looked forward to and enjoyed.” Great description! Thanks for joining us!

  6. Paula Hill says


    Barely visible amid the growth of mossy, green lichen grasping the branches, a few black walnut leaves are just beginning to unfurl. The squirrel has made it through Winter for he’s scampering from one side to another of the naked tree even though it’s raining today.

    Holding a warm cup of hibiscus and spearmint tea, I bathe in the quietude of this early morning. In thirsty gulps, I drink up the offerings a day of solitude brings, bundled in my small studio surrounded by a garden just awakening to the promises of Spring. Memories have a way of slipping into perceptive openings in times like this. Those buried impressions have a way of seeping into spaces that go unnoticed within the rhythms of daily distractions…the offspring of routine….the mundane.

    ….It was just another Sunday, I was 13, my brother 12. My dad had turned 40 in the Fall, Mom was 37 years old. My grandparents had gone home after sharing our regular Sunday early afternoon dinner together. As was the usual for the time, something handed down by at least my grandfather’s generation, Dad pulled out his varnished oak shoe polishing box. There were polishes for black and brown leather shoes that he and my brother used, and a bottle of white liquid polish with a sponge top under the lid for my shoes. Sometimes saddle soap was used to replenish the older leather shoes, and my mom’s weathered purse. Soft brushes of various sizes were neatly arranged amid clean, soft old dishtowels. The brushes efficiently worked the polish into the leather, with time given this stage something akin to the kneading of bread. We would put the shoes on our feet and give the final touch to our shoes with the rapid swivel of the cloth, held in both hands across the tops and sides of the shoes.

    This particular Sunday was special. Dad had been a high school history teacher, miserable at his job. Being an avid fan of the popular Perry Mason show, he was inspired to take the pre-law exam with dreams of attending USC Law School, in what was his opinion,“the best law school of the day”. Well, he passed that exam with flying colors, landing his vision and dream into reality. In those days, it was unprecedented to attend a professional school at the age 37. The University, not able to ignore the results of his high test scores, negotiated with terms stating he could not work while attending their institution. Dad agreed, signed the agreement, but lied. He worked full time at a night job for the local water department, allowing him enough time to study for the courses he rose up to early each morning to attend all day at a University that he commuted to every Monday through Friday, an hour away.

    For three years, Sundays were time Dad spent with his family, making especially sure that we had clean, shining shoes before following our usual ritual of eating popcorn while watching Perry Mason. The ritual became lost into oblivion after Dad finished law school. Though busy with his new practice, a family day was no longer designated to Sundays since he was able to join us for dinners every day of the week along with the occasional TV show, and baseball throws to mine and my brother’s leather mitts.

    On this particular Sunday, extra care was given to our shoes, along with a new dress for me, a suit for my brother, and new shoes for my Dad. Knowing Mom, she pulled out a fancy dress, wrapped in plastic and kept in the closet for special occasions. We were ready for the following Friday afternoon, my Dad’s commencement from USC Law School. We were exceedingly proud of his hard-earned accomplishments, and he was verbally appreciative of his family for standing by him throughout the three years, keeping the house quiet while he studied, going without playtime with him, and for Mom working hard at Douglas to help pay for the tuition. It had been a family effort, and we were sailing high and relieved that the day had arrived, overflowing with thoughts of future rewards.

    We were getting out of the car after arriving at the campus and I noticed under my Dad’s graduation gown his shoes…..My meticulous, prideful, handsome father had unwittingly worn one brown shoe and one black shoe for the occasion…..After the initial feelings of devastation and our respect for his feelings, my Mom burst out laughing, followed by uncontrollable giggles from my brother and myself….until Dad, too, joined us in deep gulps of hilarity that even my stoic grandmother and serious grandfather couldn’t help but join in…..

    The storm is picking up outside…..sporatic bursts of wind give dance to the slender limbs of my neighbor’s tree…I listen to the rainfall upon my roof…. grey skies lend a mood to feelings both white and black….as tears cascade, in rhythm to this particular Mother Nature’s day, down my cheeks, a heathered pink…

    • Debbie says

      Paula – I so enjoyed the story about your father’s shoes and the fun surprise at the ending. But I had to go back to read, and reread these lines that are just wonderful! “Holding a warm cup of hibiscus and spearmint tea, I bathe in the quietude of this early morning. In thirsty gulps, I drink up the offerings a day of solitude brings”. Thanks for joining in this week!

  7. Bobbie Anne says

    This is about my father-in-law’s shoes. In some ways, he was like a father to me.


    He got the call
    early in the morning
    the doctor told him
    his father was gone
    and suffered no more

    Now he’s the man
    in charge of it all
    head of the house
    the one you can
    count on through
    thick and thin
    the one who makes
    all the decisions
    the one who knows
    just what to do

    He sees his dad’s shoes
    by the edge of the bed
    slipping them on only to
    find out that the shoes
    are way too big to fill

  8. Jean says

    When I was young, my father invariably wore Florsheim wingtip shoes, black, brown or oxblood. Each weekend he would get out a tin biscuit box in which he stored Kiwi wax in different tones. He would apply the wax it little circles, covering every bit of the shoe’s surface, the distinctive scent filling the room. Then he would buff up the shoes with rag that he held so taut, it snapped. Every pair was restored to a spit shine before he began another week at work.

    Now, Dad walks with a cane. Between the congestive heart failure and the kidney cancer, he favors a pair of slippers or black tennis shoes that close with Velcro, which is kinder to his arthritis-ridden hands. They are worn and scruffy. The Velcro has thread and dog hair which cling to the outer loops. Since his recovery from edema, his skin flakes into the shoes. And yet, they are comfortable and serviceable, and above all he can manage to get them on and off on his own. They are not shoes for fashion or shoes for work, but shoes for dignity.

    • Debbie says

      Jean – “shoes for dignity” – I love this line. It makes me think of my mother in law who recently died. We scoured shoes stores and catalogues to find her shoes that she would take off and on by herself. Thanks for sharing this on the blog.

  9. Jennifer Ire says

    March 13th, 12
    Tell me everything you know about your father’s shoes:

    What a challenge to face today. Tell everything about the father’s shoes. Father alone, is a challenge, and being in his shoes with the family all my life! I could go in many directions. Let’s see which one wants to talk.
    The statement that put me in his shoes is one I heard all the time while I was growing up, “You’re no good just like your damn father.” It puzzled me, especially as I entered adolescence. It was a constant refrain mainly from the grandmother. Now as I age, I find that I have a hard time claiming, these women, grandmother and mother as relatives. That is why I use, ‘the’ instead of ‘my.’ So as I heard it, being in his shoes meant that he was no-good, whatever that meant. I did not know because he was not a part of the actual living portion of life. I don’t remember ever seeing him or being with him. In my life, he was the ethereal male father responsible for how I was viewed. I am in ethereal shoes.
    The father’s shoes probably hurt like hell after he got my mother pregnant and was forced to marry her. We were a poor family headed by a matriarch, the grandmother. She was a tall very dark woman of mixed ancestry. She strove to lighten the family line. It was the thing to do in colonial Trinidad, or colonial anywhere for that matter. The lighter skinned you were the more goodies of life became accessible to you. The lightening meant that you married a person lighter than you. This is what the grandmother did. She wanted up out of poverty and access to more of life’s goodies. I can’t fault her for that idea.
    The story I heard was that mother was engaged to a light brown man. She was friends with the father and was part of a group that went out together. I met the father when I was in my late forties, and asked him about the conception story. I asked him, “Did you rape my mother?” He literally blanched and said, “Oh God girl, things happen eh!” That was enough for me.” He was the spoiler. His shoes were those of the betrayer, the bad-fitted sandals of one whose feet were dirty.
    And so the mother was pregnant with the first of the new generation, in a family focused on lightening up the gene pool. Then here I come, a girl, dark skinned, kinky hair – another spoiler. I was not light-skinned, I did not have good hair or light eyes or any of the things needed for the family’s salvation. Then when I met the father, I realized that I looked just like him, I spoke and walked like him, I liked the same foods, everything. I was a constant reminder of the spoiling of the grandmother’s dream. Those were heavy shoes to carry around. Those shoes of his were very heavy.
    I finally understand the meaning of her words, “You’re no-good like your damn father.” I spoiled her dream by coming out black. It has not been a fun journey for me either. This being black in this world feels like wearing shoes made out of concrete and too large for my feet. The ironic thing about the family’s need for being lifted up out of poverty, is that I came with a great mind and love of learning. I had abilities at the mental level, that with cultivation that could have lifted our boat. The family could not see that, could not help me use it to our advantage. The father had a good mind that his family could not help him utilize. Those were the comfortable shoes, made out of the finest, softest leather sitting on a shelf barely used. They could not help any of us, not him, not me, not the family because we were both black. I cannot describe the fit of those shoes because it still hurts my heart to think of this.
    Given his role in the family’s dream, it is not surprising that he ran. He put on his mercury winged shoes and ran for his life after the wedding. The thing is that he came back often enough to have two more children with the mother. That would have meant that he had shoes that provided invisibility and protection. I still do not know how the timid mother and the father were able to pull that off and twice. Those were the shoes of wily coyote in my opinion. He came and left leaving his legacy behind.
    I would like to know how to get to wear those comfortable shoes of the father figure that means that one has provided for one’s comfort and well-being and that of your family. It would be a divine way to walk out of this life and a dark-skinned black woman.

    • Eugenia says

      thanks for sharing your story. I enjoyed it very much. I hope one day you will write your full story, no matter what would be the genre — fiction, autobio, or memoir. The main character (you) is an extraordinary, deep and imaginative girl/woman, the grandmother is a stern and strong personality, the father is someone I would love to know better.
      With great appreciation,

    • Debbie says

      Jennifer – your story was provocative and made me want to know more. I echo Eugenia in the hope you will continue to share more with us over time as you are willing. This is a totally great line ” I am in ethereal shoes” – which, I must confess, might find its way into something I write somewhere in the future. Thank you for that.

  10. Lynne Enyeart says

    My Dad’s shoes are empty now. Sequestered in the corner, abandoned and tired and alone. They wonder when the big guy with the big personality is coming back to fill them. So happy to take him anywhere he wanted to go, accepting the feet that were wet with sweat, or pained with gout. The leather is cracked and dusty and the the heels are uneven and the sole is worn and thin and none of this matters because they are beautiful in their service. I should
    polish them like he did but the anticipation may be too much for this inanimate
    pair. I shall leave them to their spot where he last left them, ready for morning. I shall not tell them they wait in vain. I will allow them their hope.

    • Ilana says

      Lynne- This is so beautiful and bittersweet. I love your last line, “I will allow them their hope.” I almost want to apologize for putting my, so starkly different, story next to yours. Thank you for sharing.

      • says

        Ilana, it’s only “monkey mind” at work that has you criticizing your own work. What makes a writing circle–and this blog so powerful is the diversity of voices and stories that can appear. The more diverse and varied the stories, the better.

  11. Ilana says

    Grandpa Solly Shoes

    What I remember most about my father’s shoes is that they weren’t my grandfather’s shoes. My grandfather was the first person I actually feared. I didn’t know why but a gloom of anxiety always settled over my family when he was around. He wore very distinctive shoes. When I saw those shoes by our front door I knew that Grandpa Solly was at our house.

    Grandpa Solly was the one who brought expensive gifts and candy but never played with us. He always watched us open the presents and then patted us on the head. “Run along and play. I need to talk to your daddy now.” I think a child knows that materiel gifts are not the same as love. Grandpa Zack loved us so much. I could feel it in the way he looked at me. He never brought gifts with him but when he came over he was there to play with us. Even as a child I much preferred the attention to the candy.

    The shoes were black wing tips. They were usually the shiny kind, like the fancy Mary Janes I wore on Shabbat but he had the plane kind too. I remember the pattern of the wings around the front of the shoe. It was a complicated design, though always the same. To me they said, “These shoes are worn by a busy important man, someone who has no time for little snotty nosed children.” Grandpa Solly and my daddy owned a company that was so big, it was all over the country. It was something too big and important for a little girl to understand. They were always talking business and business was always scary. Once we had been given our gifts and candy we children would make ourselves scarce and my mother would bring glasses of soda pop to “the men” on a tray. I would eat the candy and play with my brothers with our new toys. I felt ungrateful because I wasn’t entirely happy that he had come with all those gifts. I wanted him to leave so we didn’t have to be scared anymore.

    My mother had always said I was “insightful”. It may also have been that she told me things that little girls should be protected from. I wasn’t very old when I learned about the mean things he did that made everyone so scared of him. Grandpa Solly wasn’t a very nice man. He was too busy and important to be nice.

    I remember one time I saw the wing tip shoes by the front door and the familiar knot formed in my stomach. I went to the kitchen and found my mother but no Grandpa Solly. I asked her where he was. “Grandpa Solly? No he isn’t here. Why did you think he was coming?” I told her I saw his shoes. “No, Ilana. Those are Daddy’s shoes. Grandpa Solly isn’t the only one who wears those shoes.” I was relieved but I also felt betrayed. Why would my daddy wear those awful shoes? Was he going to be a busy important man who had no time for snot nosed little girls too? I don’t know why but for some reason that memory stayed with me all my life. I was five years old.

    When we were dating, my husband owned a pair of black wing tip shoes. “Those are Grandpa Solly shoes.” I said. Zander knew how I felt about Grandpa Solly but I don’t think that is why he got rid of the shoes. He said they were too fancy and hurt his feet. They must have been hopelessly out of style too. I don’t know. All I know is when I see black wing tip shoes the first words in my mind are “Grandpa Solly shoes.”

    • Eugenia says

      Hi Ilana,
      Wonderful story. Your grandfather for sure sure was an interesting character. I feel your apprehension. You didn’t give enough details, which I long to know — what was it that he did to make people scared of him. Not prying, just see such a good novel here…
      Wishing you the best. Your writing is, in fact, very insightful.
      Hope you never stop writing.
      Warm wishes,

      • Ilana says

        Eugenia- Thank you for your encouraging comments. I didn’t include the details because at the time that the events happened I was unaware of them. I wanted to convey to my reader the muddled, confused, sense of dread that the little girl was feeling. I am intrigued by your comment about a novel. It would be a nice fantasy but in this blog “all names are changed to protect the guilty.” I appreciate your confidence in me, though. I am working on a novel and you have encouraged me to believe it will one day be published. Thank you! I always look forward to your posts and comments on mine.

    • Debbie says

      Hi Ilana! I am later posting than usual and enjoying all of the varied stories about the shoes. I can understand what Eugenia said about her curiosity for more details – I admit to the same. Then I read your post about the intention to convey the experience from the child’s point of view. Very interesting. And also too cool to hear you are working on a novel. Good for you. Sounds like this has been a tough week for you. As you have reminded me in the past, it will pass – you, me and the ceiling fan are all still here. Glad you posted this week. I always enjoy your writing and your unique perspective!

      • Ilana says

        Debbie- I feel like you just gave me a hug. I think I’m going to go look at the ceiling fan now. Yes, I’m having a bit of a rough time. Thank you for saying you are glad I didn’t hide away and protect you all from it. I hope that one day you will pull “Issa Ann’ Me; An Unauthorized Self-Portrait” off the shelf of a library or bookstore and learn my true name. I’ve been counting you as a friend for several weeks now. Thank you, really. IM

  12. Eugenia says

    My fictional story.
    Hope you enjoy it.

    Heavy as a boulder and just as colorless, the phrase ’it hurts’ grated into inarticulate set of letters and faded away.

    Ben moaned.

    For a few moments ‘it hurts’, fuzzy and trembling, flashed in his mind again and disintegrated faster than he could grab on to it.

    Ben shook his head hoping it would help him clear his mind. He put his hand over his pants, and squeezed and rubbed the aching area. Then he looked around, forcing his eyes to focus.

    The street he was on, was empty and clean. Long row of light-colored mansions behind the thick well-tended gardens ended in or began with a park full with the grand sequoia trees. The rhythmical rustle of waves filled Ben’s ears. Steel-blue ocean gleamed between the buildings. It didn’t look like the familiar Tenderloin district. Ben shrugged, and decided to head toward the park where he could find a bench, hopefully the wooden one — it was too cold now to sleep on metal. He could stay there until… He never knew and didn’t care anymore what comes next. His life fell apart three years ago, when he began having those dizzy spells. Every time he woke up, lightheaded and sweaty, in the circle of scared kids, he felt embarrassed. Bouts of depression followed. Medication never seemed to help, and with time, he needed more and more of it. Within those three years, Ben lost his family, his home, and his job as a six-grade teacher in one of Sacramento’s public middle schools. And then, he got lost too.

    Nowadays, he was either groggy, before and after he took his pills, or in frantic search for the next batch.

    Pain grabbed at his crotch again. It pulsed, and seared and squeezed, making it hard to walk. Ben growled. A pink stain spread over the front of his pants. With shaking fingers, Ben unzipped his pants, took out his spongy penis, and peed on the lawn. The cold wind took the edge of his pain.

    “What?” a high shrieking voice, made him shudder.

    Ben tensed his shoulders, but didn’t stop.

    “I’ll call the police,” the woman screamed. She stood on the paved path, her youthful, perfectly made up face scrunched into a grimace, her nose-drills flaring. “We have never had homeless people in our area before,” she continued, and stepped toward Ben. The woman’s high heels with red soles immediately sank into the ground, but, with an effort fueled by anger, she took another step, and pushed Ben.

    Ben barely moved. He has lost most of his strength, but was still a big burly man. Besides, this slim woman wasn’t pushing very hard. She seemed afraid to really hurt him.

    With tightly squeezed fingers into the little fists, her knuckles white, her lips bitten, she hit him on his shoulder several times. She was so agitated that she miscalculated and stepped on his new shoe.

    Ben turned his eyes away. He didn’t move. The pinkish stream was weak, mostly dripping. If it stopped, it would take a lot of effort to restart again.

    The woman stumbled, looked down, and sobbed as if surprised by something. For a few moments, she stood before Ben in an unattractive pose — her slim legs in those fashionable shoes covered with grass and mud, wide apart, toes in, heels out. Then the woman slid down to the ground, holding on to Ben’s arm, as if her legs couldn’t hold her any longer, and cried.

    Ben was finally done. He zipped his pants, and intended to leave. Ben carefully pulled his arm, as she was still gripping onto it, but she wouldn’t let go.

    Ben sat next to her, closed his eyes, and waited. Cold moist wind tousled his tangled gray hair and his beard.

    The woman cried with abandon. It couldn’t have been angry tears, and they weren’t directed to Ben. He understood that. The woman’s eyes, dark and pretty, looked down at his feet. With one hand still holding on to Ben’s sleeve, she reached out the other and cleaned his shoe from grass, mud and droplets of piss.

    ’My dad’s,’ she said, clear tears streaming down her flushed cheeks.

    Ben looked at his feet too. He flexed his toes inside them. The shoes were barely worn, brown, solid and comfortable. The shoes he had before them were sandals. In them, his feet froze and the sharp pebbles stuck between his toes. Ben didn’t want to give these shoes back. He made an effort to get up and leave.

    ’I know you didn’t steal them,’ the woman said. She didn’t hold his sleeve anymore.

    Ben sat back down. One couldn’t really call it stealing. When the people at his shelter asked everyone to form a line, he just walked to the table, and took them. That line was long and the air inside was stuffy and hot. Ben knew he would’ve never gotten them otherwise — he needed frequent bathroom breaks, and no one would keep his place in line. Nobody seemed to notice.

    ’I took all his clothes to the shelter…’ the woman continued, inhaling quickly like a child. She didn’t look to him as threatening and as young anymore. Black mascara smeared around her eyes, emphasizing her wrinkles. Her eyes looked warmly at him, and her mouth had a faint smile. ’You know, he was never affectionate. He just patted my back softly, when he was especially happy with me.” The woman put her hand on Ben’s back. “Like that.”

    It felt good. He relaxed and nodded, trying to remember something. The thought came clear — he had a daughter too. There was an image in his mind of a round freckled face and yellow hair. His daughter looked frightened. Why? But the pain came back with a vengeance, and the memory faded. He had to touch his groin again.

    Thankfully, the woman got up, and with the words, ’wait here’ ran into the house.

    Ben moaned and rubbed his crotch. But when the woman came back out, he jerked his hand and stopped. It took a lot of his remaining strength not to be disrespectful.

    The woman changed from her high heels into slippers, and looked even tinier. She carried a duffel bag, the one with a wide comfortable shoulder strap, a big sandwich she made with a half of a baguette cut lengthwise, few bottles of water, and a fluffy blanket. Under her arm she held a soft gray cashmere coat.

    Ben grabbed the remaining pills from his pocket, and swallowed them. Then he took the duffel bag, neatly packed all the things she gave him inside it, and walked toward the park.

    ’Come back if you need anything,’ called the woman. Her voice was gentle and sad.

    The pain began to subside. The pills didn’t help with his spells, but they soothed his aching groin.

    ’I miss him,’ he heard her say.

    • Ilana says

      Eugenia- Wow. You meet some very difficult topics head on. It was evocative and powerful. I also appreciated how your piece flowed. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Debbie says

      Hooray – another wonderful story! I really enjoyed it. In a such a short period of time I feel like I come to know your character. I choked up when I read the last line. Because of this post, I have been thinking this week of how much I miss my own father. Thank you for sharing your writing with this blog!

  13. Debbie says

    What I remember are the sneakers he wore almost every day for the last decade of his life. Too big to be called tennis shoes but long before the birth of specialty athletic shoes; cross trainers, running, walking, basketball. I am sure that earlier in his life my father wore the traditional leather, lace up shoes expected for professional men of his generation.

    Those shoes, though, were long gone before I was old enough to notice. Packed away, or given away, along with the suits, briefcase and other trappings of a successful engineer. The first heart attack came at aged 42, followed by 3 more and two mild strokes over the next eight years. Finally, recognizing his mortality he conceded to full disability and retired.

    By the time I was entering my teen years, Dad wore a new uniform; jeans, colored t-shirt covered by a flannel shirt, and sneakers. In addition to accept his aging body, he also had to admit that years of hard drinking had hastened its demise. The first years were difficult for us all. I am only now beginning to understand the emotions that must have been at war within him.

    He was younger than I am now when he formally retired from the work which he had done all of his life, the profession that had supported his family. At an age just five years from my next birthday, he was dead. When I think of this, it brings the current issues of my life into sharp focus.

    Throughout my life I have periodically engaged in the conceptual debate; would you want to know when you will die? My answer has shifted through the years, filtered by the age and events of my life.

    As a teenager, I longed to know the date, time and method. To have reassurance that the agony would end seemed a form of relief. Moving into adulthood, I believe in my own youthful invincibility and immortality. Middle age was a distant concept not a part of my reality.

    Moving through the decades at what now seems like the speed of light, death and I became more familiar acquaintances. The sudden death of a contemporary created the desire to know how long I really had to live. Give the project a deadline so that I might coordinate the remaining experiences into a cohesive and orderly tapestry.

    An elder experiencing the slow, protracted death of dementia changed my mind again. If I knew for sure that was my fate, how could I get up every morning? Wouldn’t that take all the joy out of my life? Wouldn’t I be consumed with fear?

    So I come back to my father’s shoes and some words of wisdom he shared with me in an earlier time, in months of recovery after his first hear attack. We were walking together in the woods as the trail begin a slow but steady incline. Struggling to keep up with his longer, stronger steps I fell behind. Looking up at the hill we had to climb, I felt discouraged. There was no way I could make it. Noticing I was lagging behind, Dad circled back to check on me.

    “I can’t do it” I stated, “It is too hard.”
    “Of course it is hard, sugar” he said, “That is what makes it worth doing.”
    Continuing my childish whine , I continued “But you are stronger and bigger than me. It’s easier for you.”
    “It used to easy for me – not anymore. I get short of breath and sometimes my chest starts to hurt. But I know if I quit, I will never get there. So I learned to stop looking at how far I have to climb and just start looking at my feet. All I have to do is decide to take one more step, and I know I can do that.”

    Even though I remember thinking that this was all just propaganda to get me to start walking again it still worked. I wanted to meet his expectations and I didn’t want to be a quitter. So off we went, staring at our feet until we made it to our destination. I didn’t want to admit it helped, childish pride.

    Years later I was training for a 10k road race. I would take off in the mornings, while my mother sat with my dying father, and run for my sanity and peace. In a preparatory 5k road race I carelessly rubbed blisters on the inside of my thighs creating burning pain with each step. As tears filled my eyes, I remembered how Dad had pressed on against much greater obstacles. I continued that race running to a rhythm of “Dad’s daughter is not a quitter”, looking at only my feet as they fell one after the other on the pavement until at last one of them landed on the finish line.

    In the years since his death, metaphorically and literally, I have found my way through times of challenge and adversity by remembering his long ago advice, making the decision that I can take one more step. When considering the months and years that might still lie ahead , I can get wrapped up in fears and “what ifs” feeling overwhelmed.

    I try to remember to close my eyes, and breathe. Under my breath I start to chant “Dad’s daughter is not a quitter”. In that quiet space, I can almost imagine Dad there with me, pacing himself, gently encouraging, walking along in his sneakers beside me; both of us looking at our feet.

    • says

      Debbie, I woke up this morning fretting about my mother and her future and whether or not I’m doing the right thing as her daughter. And I stumbled out and read your piece–and cried. There was so much poignant joy in it. So much truth. And a message I very much needed to hear. Thank you!

      • Debbie says

        Laura – as you struggle recent life changes with your mother, there are more of us than you know who find themselves in similar circumstances. We all questions our decisions, our “daughterhood” and find ourselves, many days, at the crossroads between the needs of our loved ones versus our own. What I have learned is that there is no “roadmap” for this journey, no one “right” way. We each find our way along using the touchstones of our lives, heart and spirit as guideposts.
        I found myself crying last night as I wrote this piece feeling, once again, the loss of my father who died over 25 years ago – and also at the remembrance of his teaching – so relevant to my own life today.
        I am pleased and honored that something I wrote touched you in this way. Thank you – for that return gift!

    • says

      Debbie, what a moving story about your dad’s shoes. That he helped you not to quit and that you are ‘dad’s daughter’ is wonderful to read. Thanks.

  14. Ana says

    I have been pondering this writing prompt since I first received it. “How can I write about shoes I never saw”, I thought. “Maybe I should first write about my father’s parent’s shoes, like where they came from and what a registry said they did for a living when they came to New York”…house wife and shoemaker. Ironic huh. The thing is I never met my grandparent, so I don’t have the slightest clue what their shoes looked like, smelled like, etc., thought emotional I can take some guesses as to who they might have been. But in the end I really don’t know. The same can be said for my father and my father’s shoes.

    There’s an emptiness there…and yet…I can tell you that whatever shoes he wore, they were worn by a drunk…they were worn by a sex addict…they were worn by feet swollen with selfishness…they were worn by feet who at the end of his 88th year of life had 14 bastard children seeking a father…they were worn by feet who took everything from life and gave nothing…they were worn.

    What’s the worst thing you can do when you’re trying to remember something: try. What’s the worst thing you can do when you’re trying to forget something: try. Remembering and forgetting have something in common…for me it can be the best and worst of everything.

    My mother’s shoes have their own painful story, but at least I can see those.

    I thought hard about this prompt and it took me to the worst of things but it also brought me back full circle to the best…to who I am as a person, as a woman, as a human being today. Despite the shoes I came from, I can be proud of the shoes I wear today…and I mean today, fore when I was younger…my shoes were worn too.

    • says

      Ana, I’m sure it was painful to write this piece, but I found it very moving. Even in the absence of knowing those shoes, you wrote a powerful piece about what they weren’t. And I love where you came to in the end.

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