My mother loved shoes. I mean she loved shoes. If she had to choose between buying a new pair of shoes or buying dinner, well, she'd be hungry for only a little while - but that feeling would pass by the next day.
When the war ended in 1945 my father left Uzbekistan with two hundred thousand dollars sown into two of my mother's fur coats. The bills were larger in dimension than our present notes and made the coats weigh about 4 pounds heavier each.
In a previous post I mentioned we lived in Riverside, a posh area of New York City, when we came to America in 1949. So let me say here: my mother was a spender.
She bought expensive clothes and handbags of every possible shape and size. Her closet had so many handbags that she had to put the smaller ones into larger ones and those into larger ones still, like stacked matryoshka dolls. Whenever I needed money I merely had to rummage through one of her handbags to find a dozen or more pennies along with hundreds of shards of cigarette tobacco that littered the bottom of her purses. My mother enjoyed unfiltered smokes in those days like Chesterfields which, because they were loose on both ends, always dislodged some tobacco due to the swaying and jostling of her handbag. She never understood the purpose of pennies, indeed there was nothing of value to her that she could buy with them, so she merely jettisoned them into her purse with disdain refusing to weigh down her change-purse with their worthless bulk.
So I scrounged in her handbags for years always finding enough booty to buy a Donald Duck Comic, which I read mainly for stories about Scrooge McDuck, the richest duck in the world. I cannot describe to you my joy when they came out with a Scrooge McDuck Comic all of his own when I turned 7 (in 1952). Scrooge was the strongest influence upon my childhood even more than Superman. Although Superman was a superhero, Scrooge had many more exciting adventures traveling to exotic places in search of great treasures.
But, as usual, I digress. I wanted to talk about my mother's shoes. Even more in number than handbags, my mother had shoes of every design, color and material. Cloth, leather, suede, adorned with buttons, glittering with diamond buckles, coiled with nylon straps, covered with lace, dyed in shades of Autumn or bright pastels, her closet was an entrance into the Land of OZ.
Although not as much fun as exploring a handbag her shoes fascinated me by their construction and texture. In the early 1950s there were only a few genera of toys: spinning tops, marbles; model airplanes; lead soldiers, cowboys and Indians; microscopes and chemistry sets; alphabet blocks, color-by-numbers paint kits, and erector sets. So as any enterprising young lad would do, I incorporated my mother's shoes into my role-playing games. They served as castles and towers, forests and mountain keeps, pirate galleys and spaceships. There was no shortage of color or shape that could not fill the imagination. Indeed, it was more enjoyable to construct a world of fantasy from her shoes than use toys in their actual shape.
The photo you see above is my mother at age 29. Both my parents had a great sense of humor and it seems now in reflecting upon it that I spent my entire life with them laughing. My father was very wealthy in Poland, a dangerous thing to happen to any Jew in those days. Except for a pile of money brought into this country, my father lost everything else: almost every member of his family, his home, and every single possession from his life prior to 1939. I have no photos of my father or any other family member before that date. The only thing my father had from before that date was his excellent memory and the stories of life in Poland.
It always amazed me that despite his heavy personal losses my father was always ready with a joke or humorous story. I cannot recall a day passing in which I wouldn't see him laughing to himself. If I asked what was so funny he would tell me a joke. If I mentioned that he told me this joke before, he would retort, "I wasn't telling you the joke for your benefit, I was telling it for mine." Of course, this was said in Polish. It wasn't until years later that I realized that telling jokes is more fun than hearing them.
My mother loved shoes. Here is a photo of both of us in Germany in 1948, yeah, I'm the blond, curly-headed kid. Click on either photo to see a larger image. Notice her black suede shoes. I'm happy to say that despite my obsession with my mother's obsession with shoes, no lasting fetish over them has ever taken hold of me. But I did enjoy running the tips of my fingers over the black suede. If you flipped your hand over and ran your nails flatside over the smooth velvet of the leather it would give you goose bumps and a chill down your spine. I could almost tell how much my mother paid for her shoes by how silky or smooth they felt.
The years passed and I took to more mature playthings. By high school I stopped going into her closet for any reason. I went to Israel to study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I came back and started a series of business ventures that, after the passing of more years, ultimately led to my present telecommunications operation.
My mother lived about 3 blocks away from me and in 1999 quietly passed away at the age of 79. She was in excellent health except for two things: she had lung and throat cancer after smoking for 59 years. She was the life of every party always being the first to arrive and the last to leave. She drank, smoked, danced, sang and partied until the last few years of her life.
When I went through her belongings to pack everything away I noticed that she only had two pairs of shoes: a plain pair of loafers and a white pair of boat shoes. I looked in her closet and under her bed and could not find one decent, beautiful pair of shoes. I'm such an idiot of course, why would my mother want to keep high-heeled shoes at her age! She must have thrown them away over the years, not bothering to replace them with new ones. I wish she would have kept the suede pair with the diamond buckles and put it in a box for me with a note, "To remember me by."