Not any shoes. Ruth’s shoes. She imagines everyone wants Ruth’s shoes. She thinks everybody just might be trying to wear them.
One night when I was getting her dressed for bed, the shoes became more than a simple issue. As I took her shoes off, Momma called the whole process to a halt. “Wait. Wait a minute. What do you think you are doing with my shoes?” We were just starting the last of our daily routines, and I was already frustrated. I was so sure this was going to escalate into another of our nightly episodes.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Momma,” I snapped. “I am taking off your shoes so you can get into bed. Give me the shoes.” Impatient, I stood there, waiting, demanding. It’s not easy to demand things of your own mother. It’s a role I’ve grown into uneasily.
Still, she hesitated, then lobbed some classic Ruth belligerence at me. “You don’t know what I know. Those are my shoes, and I don’t want you to wear them.” I exhaled deeply, in that way that’s supposed to calm me down. But I was only getting angrier. “Momma, I do not want your shoes, OK? It’s time to go to bed. So just give me the shoes.”
I saw it in her eyes. This was war. Momma refused to lose.
Holding the shoes close to her chest, she pulled the covers back. Then she tucked the shoes under the covers as if she were burying treasure meant never to be found. “I don’t want anyone to come in while I’m sleeping and take my shoes.”
“I hope you know, Cookie, (I call her Cookie out loud, sometimes like a mantra, just to remind myself how much I really do love her) those shoes are not staying there.” Only then did I realize that I could have kept this simple. On previous nights, I would have just waited until she had fallen asleep to play shoe thief. Rarely has she been any the wiser.
When we were little, Momma always loved shoes. Her closet still holds more than a dozen pairs of sling backs, pumps, and flats – a style for any occasion. She probably does not remember the torture we experienced as children when, in an effort to keep all of us in shoes, she would bring home whatever shoes she could grab on sale at the local discount store. Lots of pairs, all brand new.
I laugh when I recall my brothers and I going to the park sporting our purple, green, and red knock-off Converse sneakers.
Those shoes really deserved to be buried under the covers.