What A Woman’s Shoes Say About Her

high heels


cork heeled sandal

flats shoes


Several weeks ago, I drove from Colorado to Kansas to be with my mother while she was treated for pneumonia.   Mom remained in her apartment taking antibiotics, receiving nebulizer breathing treatments, and being cared for round the clock.   I was the non-essential personnel, the daughter who brought in favorite foods, encouraged her to drink more fluids, and read aloud all her favorite children’s poems and prayers at night before she went to sleep.

Staying busy is not the same thing as accomplishing important goals, but thanks to a local Kiwanis “shoes for everyone” program, I spent one day doing both.   Armed with lots of coffee to drink, damp and dry cloths to clean shoes that had sat unworn for years, and boxes and bags to fill, I tackled the main closet that had held my parents’ clothing and shoes since they moved into assisted living.

At the end of the day I had collected, cleaned and bagged sixteen pairs of dress shoes, summer sandals, pumps and flats that Mom would never wear again.  Each pair brought back memories of her active, busy, productive days before dementia claimed her life.

Imelda Marcos once haughtily proclaimed, “I did not have three thousand pairs of shoes. I had one thousand sixty.”  To which I would proudly now reply, “Well, my mother had a pair of dress shoes that would amaze even you, Imelda.”

In the back corner of Mom’s closet, behind a purse and under a pair of slippers, was a pair of brown leather, sling-back dress heels.  I didn’t remember her ever wearing these shoes, and when I studied them I realized something else, too.   They both were for the left foot!  The expression “two left feet” certainly never applied to my mother.

The writer in me said there had to be a great story in this somewhere, and I laughed at the possibilities: mystery? romance? suspense?

The daughter in me felt sad because the woman who was once an intelligent, happy, helpful, fun-loving woman, would have said, “Let’s figure this out together,” and we would have had a great time coming up with a story.   Now, because of dementia, she didn’t even know exactly who or where she was; shoes, clothing and jewelry no longer meant anything.

I took the two left shoes with me back to the hotel that night.   No great story ideas replaced the sad feelings, and the next morning I threw them away. Driving back to Mom’s apartment, I got a coffee for me and a warm Danish for her, hoping a little morning sweetness might make her smile. I   knew she would be resting in her recliner, wearing warm casual clothes, fluffy socks…and slippers instead of shoes.                                                                                            duck galosshes

bare feet



Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, importance of doing good things, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, special quotations, writing, writing exercises

51 responses to “What A Woman’s Shoes Say About Her

  1. juliabarrett

    Oooooh, so bittersweet. I can’t imagine the strength it took to give away those shoes, Marylin. I’d have a tough time. But I smiled as I read this– in one of my stories a minor character wears two left shoes. In In the Flesh, the main character, a doctor, treats a woman wearing two left shoes. Bunions.

    • Bunions. Oh, Julia, this is not one of the many possibilities I considered! 😉 Thank you for the laugh.
      A little at a time, I’ve been giving away and cleaning out both of my parents things: when I moved them into the assisted living; when I cleaned out the house where they’d lived for more than fifty years; after my dad died; and now, slowly, bit by bit, as I clear out things my mother never use again. No matter how much experience I have with this process, it doesn’t get any easier.

  2. Oh, how bittersweet, I remember cleaning out my mom’s closet . You are a good daugher and even with her dementia your mother can feel the love you give her. Hugs and have a great weekend.

    • Gerlinde, I think this is something daughters everywhere have in common: cleaning out our mother’s things. It’s a rite of passage for many of us, unfortunately. Not easy, but an affirmation and memories of our lives. Hugs to you, too, dear Gerlinde.

  3. Marylin, such a sweet and a sad story at the same time. I wonder if the two left shoes were purchased like that or did your mom have two sets of the same pair because they were favourites? Your mom would be so proud of you caring for her the way you do. I liked the boots and the bare feet pics at the end. 😄

    • I was desperate for shoe pictures, Tracy, and the pictures at the top are just from ads. But the ones at the end are from my grandchildren–mom’s great-grandchildren–and there’s nothing sweeter than bare feet. 😉

  4. While your daughterly gifts of love may not be essential to maintainng life, don’t underestimate their value. You may never know just how much comfort and meaning they have given your Mom, but I am sure they make a significant difference to her wellbeing.

    Your gift of time and loving attention are also very important to your own wellbeing, now and in the future.

    Your sharing of these times with your Mom are also very meaningful to your many followers. You help to redefine hope.

    I pray your Mom makes a full recovery from the pneumonia.

    The seeds your Mom sewed as a parent have certainly blossomed in her daughter.

    • Thank you, Rod. Although Mom and I no longer have the sweet moments when she blinks and lights up and knows who I am, I do sense that she still knows I am someone who loves and cares about her. You’re right: these trips are very important to my own wellbeing. Your comment about helping redefine hope made me cry…in a good way. ❤

  5. After your comment on my blog, I was so looking forward to this. I’ll just say, you did not disappoint, Marylin. Funny you write about shoes…I feel as though slowly, I’m walking in yours. Hugs to you and your sweet mother. ❤

    • When I first saw those shoes, Jill, scratching my head was an understatement. 😉 Hugs right at you! ❤ As I said to Gerlinde, I think many daughters are doing this same thing.

  6. What a poignant post to read tonight as heavy but needed rains ends this day. Somehow your page brings back all the shoes of my life as shoes were important to me, to my mom. Now I no longer wear high heels and I think of comfort before looks! I am going to have to think about this tonight…I see 1945 shoes in broken down boxes in my mother’s closet where I drooled over them as a child…memories for both of us over shoes….mmmmmm.

    • We have the same experience, Claudia, going through our mother’s shoes many years ago. My mother had nice dress heels but never stiletto-type shoes, but as a girl I would try on her shoes and clomp around in them to practice walking in “lady shoes.”
      Last night as your rain ended, our snow finally ended, too. I loved the two days of wet, heavy snow and walking our pup Scout in dense fluffy snowflakes. Now things are green, and–fingers crossed–springtime might really be here! 😉

  7. Like Claudia too, I have had a shoe fetish, but at this stage, comfort comes before looks. My Mennonite mother’s shoes stash was spare, maybe 6-7 pairs, which hung on the back of her closet door in little green pockets. Your blog brought me back to a post I did a year ago picturing her shoes and other closet items. You read it then and commented on this post that seems to me now too intimate: https://plainandfancygirl.com/2015/07/22/remembrances-of-mother-a-year-later/ Toward the end, she often wore slippers.

    Doting daughter that you are, I would never classify you as “non-essential personnel” though I know what you mean here. This story is sad, very affecting, but you had to write it. You touched my heart-strings indeed.

    • Thank you, Marian. Our blog topics have often taken us along similar lines, and we have so much in common that it seems we grew up together instead of meeting through our blogs. I think your mother and mine, your Aunt Ruthie and my Aunt Louise, and a gathering of their friends from their churches and neighborhoods would have made a wonderful celebration party of exceptional women who have influenced us both. ❤

  8. What a wonderful thing for you to do. Cleaning out our moms´ closets can be painful. I did the same a few years ago. Mom only wears slippers now too. But we share the love of shoes. When I went back home last summer to take mom to the family reunion, I bought her a pair of comfortable shoes to wear (and a new outfit) She was delighted. Her face lit up as I put them on her feet. I trust your mom is feeling better now.
    I once bought a pair of fabulous red shoes in Spain only to get back to the hotel, 90 minutes away, and find they were both for the left foot!! Hubby kindly drove me back to the shop the next day to have the problem fixed. I tell the story every time I wear the shoes. Perhaps something similar happened to your mom.

    • Yours is a much better story, Darlene! Red shoes in Spain ~ wow! And your husband driving you all that way back to trade one of the extra left shoes for a right. Of course you tell this story every time you wear the shoes; it’s wonderful. And I love how you bought a new outfit and new shoes for your mother to wear to the family reunion. These are the moments that define us as daughters of loving mothers and make special memories. Thank you for sharing these stories with me. ❤

  9. This is such a bittersweet story–and I echo the other’s sentiments in saying that you’re a good daughter and that your mom no doubt feels your love, or at least appreciates what you do for her in the moment–in bringing a sweet roll, or reading a poem.

    The shoes makes me think about my younger daughter’s love of shoes–not expensive–but our shopping trips usually end up with a stop at Payless. My mom now wears only one or two pairs of comfortable shoes that are easy to put on. I wonder at the two left shoes. Perhaps you will come up with a story at some point.

    • Some of the details I’m reading in the comments, Merril, tell me the real stories of their lives are the best. Darlene’s especially–red shoes bought in Spain but getting home with two left shoes–is the best ever.
      My daughter, and now my granddaughter, too, find the best buys at Payless, too. And as fast as my grandchildren grow out of shoes and clothes, Molly likes to have fun shopping with them for great buys. There’s something about having just the right pair of shoes to bring on a smile of confidence. 🙂

  10. Marylin, I was in a Kiwanis club for ten years while working in Pittsburgh. How sweet that you took the time to sort and donate your mom’s precious shoes. I cannot imagine what it must be like to miss the person she was. Know that your devotion to her is something so special and an example to many of us.
    God bless! Joanne xo

    • Oh, thank you so much, Joanne. You’re so sweet with your comments. It is hard to miss who Mom was and not have her know me now, but what should be sad times–like clearing out clothing and shoes she’ll never wear again–also awakens memories, and that’s a gift.
      Molly had sent probably 20 pairs of good children’s shoes and boots with me when I left to drive to Ft. Scott. She had a friend in Kiwanis, which is a wonderful organization, and wanted to support the shoe drive. 🙂

  11. If I may, I’d like to add. Shoes. And I just thought of this upon reading your soulful account of soles once used. There seems to be a correlation to the number of one’s shoes which pile up in the back of closets to the number of one’s friends. It is so hard to cast aside the comfy ones. There not forgotten, it is just hard to walk away from them.

    Yes, like an old pair of hiking boots, am still knocking around and reading you.

    • Thank you, Calvin. Your comments always amaze and delight me, even when they make me sniffle back tears as this one did. A soulful account of soles once used. What a title that would have been. You have the heart of a poet and the practical life approach of old hiking boots, a wonderful combination.

  12. My mother loved shoes and she had a little rebel in her. While her oldest sister wore sensible shoes (those black ties with the clunky heel) my mother wore beautiful ones even for every day. During her last 6 months she had congestive heart failure and her feet swelled. She couldn’t wear anything but slippers. That was a big disappointment for her. All of her shoes had a story — some traveled, some worked in the garden, some went shopping and the special ones were for church, weddings and funerals. It was hard to give them away.

  13. Oh, Marylin, I agree with all the comments above. A heartfelt and bittersweet story. I thought about my mom as I read about yours.

    My mom had problems with her feet. She was flat footed and didn’t indulge in any fancy heels. I never saw her in a pair. I wish she was still around. Like this morning, when I looked at my vase of lilacs and saw how they are wilting. She would’ve known how to make them last longer.

    Enjoy the time you have left with your mom. I’m sure she finds great comfort in your visits.

    • Thank you, Diana. I was touched by your wilting lilacs in the vase and how you wished you could ask her how to make them last longer. I have those feelings when I can’t find a recipe and know how she used to just try a bit of this or that to make special meals. I think that as daughters we are part of a sisterhood that shares these wishes and memories. ❤

  14. Nancy Parker Brummett

    Marylin, one of my mom’s saddest days was when she gave away her heels. After that I sent her the small collectible ones for birthdays or Mother’s Days and she had quite a set when she died. Yes, they are now in my storage room.

  15. What a terrific idea, Nancy, giving your mother the small collectible shoes. Several years ago, I gave Mom one tiny pair (3/4″ long) red glitter shoes, Dorothy’s ruby shoes in Oz. She loved the sparkle, and she talked about the first time we watched THE WIZARD OF OZ movie on TV. One little pair of shoes brought back so many memories.

  16. A beautiful story. As we are sorting out my mother’s things, we too are coming across things and wish we knew the story attached to them.
    There are so many parts of her life that I did not know about.

    • It’s become a ritual for all of us, Elizabeth, the daughter who loved and appreciated our mothers, yet now as we have to sort through their things, we realize there are many things we never knew but would like to know about now, when it’s too tale because of death or memory loss, etc. But we do the best we can and treasure the memories we do have. ❤

  17. Jim

    Two left shoes! Now that’s a good one to ponder all right. If there were two lefts and one right, we could speculate the shoes were her favorite pair and the right one broke beyond repair, so she bought a new pair just like the old pair but kept the old left just in case the new left ever broke. Follow that? I’m not sure I did. 🙂 But that’s not the case. There are TWO lefts only!!! I wanna know why! If only Mary could tell us. I’m sure she would have a practical explanation, given Mary’s gift for frugality. We will never know. Something so simple as a non-PAIR of shoes makes us feel all over again our family’s heartache from dementia/Alzheimers. Love you.

    • I love you, too, sweetie. And I love that you offer a frugal option to this mystery, and also sympathize with the heartache of Mom’s dementia. Thanks again for all you do to help make it possible for me to spend time with my mom, and being so kind to her, too. ❤

  18. It isn’t easy to clear out our parents things – my loft is full of things from my mother’s house after she died because I wasn’t sure what I’d feel the need to have held on to down the line – the things are less important now – the stories are the most important thing and it’s sad when we’re not able to ask the questions any more.

    • Oh, Andrea, I filled our extra room with so many of my mother’s things until the stacks and boxes left only a path. And my mother is still alive; but the dementia has so limited what she needs, will use, will even recognize, that I was reluctant to clear out and donate any of it.
      And, like you, I feel the sadness that my mom can no longer answer any questions I have about anything. The stories we do know and remember are the most important things, which is why I began writing a blog, to have a record for my mother’s great-grandchildren. I only wish I knew more to share with them. ❤

  19. Karen Keim

    This entry overflows with meaning, Marylin. Thank you.

    • It does have many possible meanings, Karen. I wish Mom were alert and able to talk about the shoes, which would shed light on one of the meanings. Good to hear from you, cousin.

  20. Marylin, I read this yesterday and wanted to comment but could not think of the right words. I am still stumbling and still not finding them….This post evoked many feelings and a lot of empathy. I guess I feel a sense of sacredness and privateness in the post even though the topic is “just” shoes. I just want to let you know how much I liked it

    • Thank you so much, Jane. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Yesterday on my walk I found one single shoe in a gutter at the side of the park, and so many shoe details came flooding back. Most of the lessons actually had very little to do with shoes… 😉

  21. Ahh Marylin, this post is so touching in its poignancy. I would love to know the story behind the two left sandals, but your sadness pulls at my heartstrings. I hope your dear mom is recovered and that you are feeling less sad now. I send you lots of love and and a great big hug… ❤

  22. Molly

    I think the story possibilities of how grandma ended up with the mismatched shoes are endless. Personally, I figure it had something to do with buying them for a specific event, getting home and realizing they were mismatched, but never remembering to return them. However, there are a lot of ideas that would be s lot more FUN!

    • Hmm. Maybe. These shoes just don’t look like Grandma…ever, Molly. But it would make a good story to write about someone dumping off shoes in Grandma’s closet…or not. 😉
      Thanks, Mookie. Love you lots.

  23. Jane Sturgeon

    I love you Marylin and I hope your Mum has recovered now. I am wrapping you both in soft, loving hugs ❤ xXx

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