My Father’s Shoes
Until recently, the last time I wore my father’s shoes was nearly forty years ago. I was a young boy and, dressing up as some variation on a full-grown man, I’d clomp around the house in his seemingly enormous shoes, with a hat falling down over my ears and a coat dragging on the floor.
After my father died this past summer I tried on a pair of his shoes and I was amazed to discover that they fit me better than my own. In fact, they fit so well that it seemed to me all of my shoes had been the wrong shoes for me until that very pair. I tried on another pair — the same perfect fit. And again and again until I had an assortment of five pair of shoes on the floor in front of me, so true a match to my feet that each felt as if I was wearing no shoes at all when I put them on.
At first their comfort confused me into thinking that for years I’d been buying the wrong-sized shoes. I also thought that the shoes were so comfortable because they were already broken in. Then I realized that my father simply purchased a finer grade of shoe. And as far as breaking the shoes in, my father did very little walking in his last years. Two of the pair were in fact never worn and still in their boxes with tissue paper around them.
My brother’s feet are a couple sizes smaller than my elevens, so I packed the five pair into an extra suitcase that had been up in the attic and my mother said she wouldn’t need. Among the various clothing and books of my father, which we went though in the week after his funeral, my mother seemed the most pleased with the beautiful utilitarian perfection of my feet being the same size as my father’s. We never knew we had the same sized feet. My mother said she wished she could have told my father that all of his shoes fit me better than my own. More than a keepsake in a drawer, these shoes give me confidence and ease, which match the other important lessons of life my father gave me throughout my life.
(aired on NPR’s All Things Considered, 20 October 1997)
Born in 1954 in Chicago, Illinois, David Greenberger was raised in Erie, Pennsylvania. In 1974 he moved to Boston to attend the Massachusetts College of Art. The Duplex Planet magazine, based on his conversations with nursing home residents, started as a periodical in 1979 and over the years evolved into a limitless forum unhindered by the constraints of media. Encompassing recordings, performance, visual art, and books, his work holds up a mirror to reveal that aging is not a broken version at the end of a life lived; it’s a continuum, a vital and up-to-date version of the self.