The transition from summer to winter is one I dread and try to drag out as long as possible. The final stage involves footwear. Despite the fact my husband calls me Imelda, I don’t exactly have a shoe fetish. I adore sandals of all kinds, but full shoes tend to cause problems with my delicate feet, so I don’t own many pairs. I’m perfectly content to spend my days in my many and varied pairs of sandals, but somewhere around this time of year, it becomes too cold and damp and the shift has to be made. Away go the sandals and out come the boots. I like boots even though they represent winter and confess I have too many pairs. I rarely go anywhere apart from visiting family, supermarkets and shopping with friends, so there’s really no excuse for the amount of boots I own.
I guess it’s just a case of retail therapy, so despite the number of boots in my cupboard I still find myself purchasing new ones at the approach of every winter. Besides, fashions change. This year it’s the leggings and long sweater look, which screams for mid-calf and fancy ankle boots. I attempt trendiness despite my age and the thought that I may only be wearing these outfits to go shopping for more outfits… to go shopping in… ad infinitum, is one I prefer not to dwell on.
Last week I made the switch from sandals to boots. It’s always with regret and I guess the added feelings of years racing by amid summers turning too quickly into winters make it a more difficult task each year. But these days there’s an added sadness to the occasion and one that’s hard to put into words. I can only try.
As I put on my latest boots before visiting my son and his family, my thoughts turn to someone else. My spirits sink as I remember the last two winters since my son married. I know what will happen, but hope against hope it might not. We arrive at my son’s house, play and dance with the grandkids and no comment is made. Maybe this year, I’ll get away with it. We take the family out for a meal, and then say our goodbyes in the car park outside. At the last minute my daughter-in-law turns to me and voices the words that cut me to the quick.
‘I like your boots, Mom.’
I turn to her, utter my thanks and smile. She returns the smile, but I know how much she’s hurting and the injustice of it all makes me feel angry, guilty, helpless, humbled and desperately sad. I won’t say I totally worship my daughter-in-law or deny there are times I could cheerfully strangle her, but there isn’t a moment goes by I don’t wish I could take away the cruel, physical knocks life has thrown at this young woman.
Contracting polio and being left undiagnosed is only one of her problems. It has left her unable to put her small, twisted right foot to the ground and resulted in much muscle wastage to her leg. She cannot walk very far and has a clumsy gait which causes the uninformed to stare and no doubt surmise under their breath. It limits her choice of footwear immensely. It’s not so bad in summer; she can manage with wedged sandals and I always make the effort to wear the same when I’m around her. On the odd occasion I wear high heels I console her with the fact they are killers and easy to fall off after a few glasses of wine.
But with the boots it’s different. Whether they are flat, wedged or heeled, there is no way she will ever be able to wear them. Having to spend the winter months in sandals is inconvenient and impractical for her, particularly with our miserable weather, but not being able to join the fashion conscious youngsters or even not-so-young, is a nasty blow when you’re only twenty-three.
‘I wish I could wear boots. It makes me so sad,’ she continues.
I smile at her again. I tell her she’s young, pretty, has two beautiful children and hopefully a lot to look forward to in the future. Better that than to be an old fuddy-duddy, past her sell-by date who probably looks ridiculous in funky boots. But it’s at moments like this I’d willingly give her my legs, my ability to walk and all the damned sandals and boots into the bargain. After all, I’ve had most of my life and where do I go apart from visiting family or shopping that necessitates wearing kinky boots?
But I can’t. I guess all I can do is offer thanks for what I can do and prayers for those, like my daughter-in-law, who can’t. And if I’m not going anywhere exciting, I can still go out there, whatever the winter weather brings and simply walk.