Category Archives: Memories

Ellie’s Shoes

Ellie's Shoe CollectionFor years I had known of my sister’s shoe collection. Strangely, I had never asked to see it. When she died the collection came to me; a nondescript brown box taped up and labeled “Ellie’s Shoe Collection.” Sure, I was curious, but I couldn’t open it;  couldn’t risk opening myself up to the barrage of emotions that would surely overtake me if I did. I put it up on a high shelf in the garage where it sat safely until I moved, seven years later. By this time I was helping Mom get settled into an assisted living facility nearby and was again unable, unwilling, or just too busy to open the ever-mysterious box of shoes. I had even considered taking it — unopened — over to the local Goodwill facility. Surely someone else would enjoy this box of shoes more than I would. Heck, I thought, I’m not even a shoe person. But I couldn’t do it and the box stayed under the stairs for another two years before I discovered it again. This time I opened it and began to unwrap a few of the bundles, curiosity getting the better of me. Cramped in a small space and pressed for time, I reconsidered and quickly wrapped up what I had started, sealed up the box and placed it on another high shelf in my garage.

_DSC8186Last weekend while reorganising (my husband is English; hence the fun spelling) a new round of chaos, I came across the box again.  Ten years, I thought, I’ve had Ellie’s shoe collection for ten years. It’s time to see what’s inside. I cleared a space and began. The ceramic baby booties were the first to appear; the ones I had seen before. Then came a pair of shoes that shocked me: vintage black heels with white polka dots and flowers, possibly Japanese. My first thought, oddly enough, was that my friend, Deborah Batterman, author of Shoes Hair Nails, should be standing next to me. She loves shoes. She would love this unveiling of them, I told myself. I continued unwrapping, mesmerized by an eclectic display of delicates that seemed in direct opposition to my sister’s personality: envision a beautiful yet rugged, athletic, sensible-shoe-wearing lesbian. Heels? Seriously El? I laughed…the pile of wrapping growing as large as the unexpected joy I was feeling; my smile huge.

_DSC8191Boots came next — made of metal, glass and wood; large, small and tiny. These seemed more in keeping with sis – she would have connected boots to my brothers, father, and grandfather; all in the building industry, all wearers of boots. The moccasins fit as well – she loved them, and bought them for me too. She and I were practical when it came to our footwear. This I could get behind.

Ellie's Shoe Collection But each time I unwrapped another delicate pair of shoes; the kind Carrie Bradshaw would have coveted, my emotions swirled. Moved? By shoes? Ah, but these were my sister’s shoes; shoes she had collected over many years. Each time she purchased a miniature set of flowery heels or sexy lace-up boots had she wondered what it would have been like to wear a fancy dress and some pretty Manolo Blahniks?  Or did she imagine a lover, dressed to the nines to impress her?

Emmie and Ellie, my older twin sisters

Perhaps these shoes spoke of a time in the past, a time when she and her twin had been carefree, shirtless little girls running around, blonde curls bobbing beneath matching white cowboy hats; a time before she had had to struggle through an identity unaccepted by the world, especially the teaching world of which she was a part.  Did this box of shoes represent more than a haphazard collection of miniatures? Did it represent all the facets of womanhood, versus the exact spot on the sexual spectrum where she had unwittingly landed?

_DSC8210When Mom’s actual baby shoes appeared, bronzed to last-forever-perfection, I choked up. Even though I had seen these before, displayed in my childhood homes, I hadn’t been expecting them to show up in El’s collection. Had this pair of shoes been the catalyst for all the rest?


Once I had them all laid out I arranged them in sections: boots, asian shoes, baby shoes, high-heeled shoes, moccasins, clogs, ballet slippers, a single roller skate, and even a glass slipper. Who would have thought that a small box of replicas I had pointedly ignored and very nearly discarded could provide unexpected healing — the shoes a perfect vehicle for walking past the pain; a bit of panache and bling thrown in for good measure and much-needed humor. Brilliant, Ellie, just brilliant.

Shoe shopping anyone?

Signs of life: watering miracles


Somehow my birthday flowers don’t get watered, only “vased” — in the mad scramble to pull off the surprise party, adding water to the vase falls low on the priority list. Days later I discover them, their parched petals mottled into a spotty disarray not unlike a child crumpled on the floor at the end of an exhausted tantrum; a tangled mess that doesn’t look anything like its original form. Still, I can’t part with them so I hang these Helianthus annuus from the shelf that holds the wine; they’ll be happy here I think. Weeks later I discover them again, note their dried perfection and start thinking about all the strange and wonderful ‘signs of life’ that have been turning up where I have been expecting atrophy instead.


This orchid has been nearly dead more than once over the past eighteen months.  After my friend Sandra (my husband’s previous wife) passes away we eventually move this plant from it’s safety on their old kitchen ledge to the home we are merging together. En route it is dropped down a flight of stairs then pieced back together, barely. The second time, looking nearly dead already, it crashes to the floor of our garage before finally making it to the kitchen, where it sits safely for nearly a year. Miraculously, having at least been watered, it grows without us noticing and then blooms on Sandra’s birthday weekend. Now it’s having babies — note the “roots” in two places that will eventually be potted separately to form new orchid “mothers.”


I’ve written about this African violet before. It’s my mother’s plant, one I hesitantly adopt in 2010 when she moves into a senior living facility.  It falls off the care radar and nearly perishes in 2013. In fact one day when Mom is on hospice care, taking the last of her 529,804,800 breaths, I am plucking the tired little clump that remains — have my fingers in its earth — when I see a bit of green. Shoving the sorry roots back into the dirt, I give it a quick water, relieved I won’t need to say goodbye to it as well, at least not just yet. You’d think that near misses would inspire me, yet all I can manage is keeping the pot filled with water (it’s the bottom-absorbing kind). Bloom food? Nope. Never. And then, a few months later, when I am forced to weed through the details of her estate, losing relationships with my brothers in the process, I see a purple flower, then another and another and another, until I realize the whole thing is covered in them; so many leaves filling the small pot that their corresponding flowers have to duke it out just to be seen. I stand in front of this striving thriving miracle, silent, reverent; tears form in the corners of my unbelieving eyes. Hi Mom, I say, grateful beyond words that she has orchestrated this brilliant mass of violet reassurance. It’s been blooming ever since, sans bloom food, and begins to bloom again today as I write this piece.


Late last March I am in the side yard, my gloves covered in the kind of muck that happens when I leave things out in the rain; things rodents love to hide under but eventually get cleaned up, when I see some green peeking out of an abandoned blue pot of what used to be the incredible lilies my mother was proud of. The last time they bloomed it was because they lived in my daughter’s yard and were cared for. When I eventually bring them home, I promptly forget about them —oh, for about two years, until this very moment when I cannot believe my eyes. Rain water is the only moisture this dirt has seen, and we’ve been having a drought for the past couple of years. I am incredulous and then urgent. It can’t stay in the midst of this dirty chaos. Getting closer, I am stunned to see about fifteen thriving leaves and three lilies nearly ready to open. The pot is heavy, so I drag it around to the front, and up two stairs to place it where it remains today. Chinese lilies, I find out, are typically given to young women on their wedding day or birthday. I am not young, but I find it meaningful that these have chosen to bloom just days away from my fiftieth birthday.

IMG_20140611_095523My son, now eleven, planted this plumeria when he was four; the take-home from a planting class at our local community center he took with his little sister. Neglected (by me) and nearly ready for the trash a few years ago, my older daughter rescues it; researching, in her typical fashion, the best way to care for these gems. It isn’t long before leaves began to sprout and she gives it back to me for continued care, which I don’t do. Nope. I neglect it, again. Though it doesn’t die, our relationship does and the poor plant is left on its own — again; a sad reminder of the state of things. The circumstances of the end of this relationship are nebulous still, at least to me, but I accept the fact that I haven’t always given my children what they’ve needed and that sometimes things fall apart; things that are my fault. Still, I place the poor plumeria on the front porch and try to remember to water it now and again. I remind myself that this poignant stalk of “holy fuck I miss her” is an organism whose cells are protected by a thick rigid wall, much like my feelings. One afternoon I discover buds. I add water and try not to hope, but a couple of weeks later I see leaves, leaves that don’t die but keep growing. They’re growing still.


I’ve successfully grown things before, but the past few years have been so busy with painful endings and intoxicating beginnings that to plant things requiring maintenance has been unthinkable. I’m ready now with a newfound confidence that surprises me; I’m not just waiting for miracles, I’m expecting them.







By storm

Twelve years ago today she had sat, half on, half off the settee while he spoke to her of love, heartache, and one great loss that had hidden details; nuances he had felt compelled to share with her.

Relishing his voice while simultaneously contemplating the sheer improbability that this handsome, forthright man was opening up to her for any reason other than the fact that he was lonely and perhaps starving for a conversation that did not involve condolences and pity, she had found herself faced with a dilemma: whether to answer his question with a trite and complacent “I’m fine, busy, but fine,” or to reward his openness with her own.

She had chosen the latter, immediately releasing a torrent of pent up emotions and angst over her mother, whose worsening dementia, sudden weight loss and growing despair had kept her teetering precariously on the edge just shy of insanity.

Instead of recoiling at her insensitive sharing; after all, his far more pressing needs should have kept her silent, he had listened intently, his eyes penetrating her soul, so that speaking anything other than truth had become impossible, and it was only then, when she had exhausted her thoughts, that he had offered her his unfettered, unfiltered opinion.

This, she realized while packing for their annual unofficial-anniversary sojourn, is when they had begun making memories together; their souls becoming inseparable after one conversation, after which nothing else had existed but the amazing love that would take them, unexpectedly, beautifully, by storm into the wildest and best ride of their lives.

Lillie McFerrin

This week’s word: memories


It’s 6 a.m., my teenager is up getting ready to head to work. Boss in town, lots of work to do, up early. “Mom, can you do my hair?” At that moment, you cannot believe how utterly wonderful these words sound. “He wants me to do his hair!” I shout to myself.

It’s just a bone (as in, “Somebody throw me a bone!”), and yet it’s everything. A teenager doesn’t openly say “I need you.” Truth be told, it’s quite the opposite…less is more (parent involvement that is) is their motto. Give me food and water, and shut the door on the way out…is more in line with what they are thinking (and then some). So, call me crazy but, “Mom, can you do my hair?” sounds a bit like the angels are singing in heaven…and they’re singing my song. It’s going to be hard to make myself wash the hair gel off of my fingers…