My Mother’s Shoes
Her footfall was distinctive on the hallway in our building as she made her way to our apartment: One, two, three, scrape; one, two, three, scrape, and then the key in the door. On her feet were step-in shoes with 3-inch heels…what used to be called pumps.
She wore those shoes to work each day with the straight skirt and sweater set which were fashionable in the years I was growing up. I always associated those shoes with elegance and professionalism.
My mother had an illustrious career, starting as an elementary teacher in New York City and quickly moving up to guidance counselor, vice principal, and finally Director of Guidance for Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens. When she left the public sector, she arranged seminars for NYU’s Continuing Education program, and did that until she was well into her 80’s. All the while she went off each day in her stylish shoes: a tall and statuesque presence with a keen mind and a precise tongue. As she got older, her hair turned a lustrous white, and her skin became lined, but she still projected a chic presence as she walked down Lexington Avenue.
But she couldn’t defy time. One day I looked down, and on her feet were “old lady shoes” …. wide, flat, and rubber soled, purposed not for elegance but for support and comfort. With agonizing clarity, I could see her future unfolding. Her gait started to become unsteady, and a cane appeared in her hand. She could still walk to the bus, but gradually she forgot where to get off, and so she started to stay home. We moved her to assisted living, and then to memory care when she no longer understood her surroundings or could name her children. She died at age 96, just 5 years ago.
I can picture her in all phases of her life, but my favorite image continues to be the proud woman in her stylish high heels, towering above the world.
Skipping with My Dad
I was 12 years old with a beginning interest in boys. When I came home from school during that year, my mother would ask me about my day. I’d tell her about interactions with friends and my burgeoning “love interests”, but it seemed like she couldn’t remember the various characters’ names and couldn’t follow my stories.
When my father came home from work, he and my mother would have a cocktail and then we’d have dinner. After dinner, my father would ask me if I wanted to go for a walk.
Dad was President of Florida State University, so we lived in the President’s House, a mansion on sixteen acres of land. The University had recently built a walking lane in front of our house, naming it “Margaret’s Lane” after my mother.
So, dad and I would go outside to the lane and walk in the usually balmy weather. We would hold hands, and I would tell him all about my boy interests and my girlfriend issues. He seemed to always remember everyone and everything I told him. I loved the smell of cigarette smoke on the hairs of his hands. And sometimes we’d skip and sing as we came down Margaret’s Lane.
In April of that year, my father flew to Chicago to give a speech. The morning of April 20th, I saw my mother answer the phone. Upon putting the phone down, she said to me, “Dad has had a heart attack.” I assumed she meant her father, but she didn’t; she meant my father. Mother sent my brother Chuck and me to school, and she went to get on a plane that would take her first to Atlanta and then on to Chicago.
At about 11 a.m. someone came to get me at school and take me home. There were a couple of women in the foyer when I got home, but I didn’t ask them what was happening. Soon my brother Chuck got home; he immediately asked, and we were told that our father had already died and that our mother was on her way home from Atlanta.
Soon, mother was home, and the whole preparation for a funeral and a life without my father began.
I believe that those walks, talks, and skips with my father were great gifts to me in the last year of his lifetime and the beginnings of mine.
We Want to ShareYour Memories!
Back when you were young–well, younger–you did and experienced things that didn’t seem all that unusual at the time. But, somehow, without your intending it, they stuck with you–became part of you–and played a significant role in shaping who you became. Who you are today.
We probably don’t tell you this often enough, but we kind of like who you are now, and it would be interesting to learn more about that event or experience in your past that helped create the you that we know. Maybe it turned you completely around. Maybe it just nudged you gently into a slightly different path. But when you look back now with that wonderful 20/20 hindsight, you recognize it and appreciate it.
And, once you’ve recognized it and acknowledged it, please share it. Sharing significant experiences–recent or not–is what OLLI Connects wants to be about. If you’d like, you can sample some of stories we’ve shared in the past here. To share yours–recent or ancient, catastrophic or gentle–send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks. — Editors
Joan Weaving embarked on a successful business career as the first woman Product Manager for Nabisco, Inc., and a Corporate Vice President for Equitable, before starting her own consulting company in 1988, specializing in leadership development and executive coaching for major corporations. Joan has been an active OLLI participant and has played a key role in the conceptualization and execution of the annual Board of Advisor’s retreat. Joan leads our Exploring Leadership Opportunities class in the fall term.
Anne Strozier, Ph.D., MSW, is an Emeritus Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of South Florida. She served as a full-time faculty member for 22 years, retiring in May 2014. She served as MSW Chair for many years, also as Associate Director and Interim Director. While at USF Anne created the Florida Kinship Center to provide resources, research, and government liaison for grandparents and other relatives responsible for raising children. Anne is an active fundraiser for local and international charities as well.
13 Replies to “Following in Their Footsteps”
Thank you both for sharing your stories. It was so heartfelt and made me want to talk to my siblings about my parents. I am the second youngest of 6.
Anne: How lucky you were to have that relationship with your father, and what lovely memories you have. I’m so sorry that he died so young.
As someone interested in Science, I recall FSU was successful in recruiting Paul Dirac – British Nobel Laureate later in his career – and still honors him with the Dirac lectures
Joan and Anne, it was a pleasure to read your stories this morning. For everything there is a season . . . whether for a stylish mother still able to wear high heels in her 80s walking down Lexington Avenue in New York City, or the President of USF skipping with his young daughter on Margaret’s Lane named after his wife. . . a time for every matter under heaven. These are priceless memories for you to share with us who are all experiencing the fullness of time.
Lovely pieces, ladies. How sad but also delightful and touching.
Thank you both for sharing these beautiful memories.
Joan — I love your story about your elegant and very competent mother. I think you are “your mother’s daughter.” She would be very proud of you.
Thank you Anne. That’s very kind of you
Both stories are well-written and left me peaceful. Thank you!
Two wonderful stories. Thank you Joan and Anne for sharing them!
Thank you both for sharing. I very much enjoyed your two intimate family stories. Dementia is such a sad experience for a family. Anne, I wondered how your mother coped with your Father’s death at such a young age.
Thanks for asking, Marylou. She was only 48, so she went to work and continued to raise me and my brothers. She mourned for 9 years but finally remarried at age 57 to a wonderful man. He died after about 23 years but she continued to live a full and productive life until age 97!
What wonderful, poignant memories you both have. Our parents inform our lives in so many ways….you’re sharing stories helped me to remember other stories of my parents that I had somehow forgotten. Thank you for bring them back to me.