The Star-Herald

The slippers – part 2

Editor’s note: This is a continuation of last week’s column.

Upon returning home, we sat in the dooryard for a few minutes, the three of us rewinding the events that had just taken place. What was in that box that was breakable? Certainly not my seasonal slippers.

We walked into the house, our heads down as I clutched the box to my side. We took off our coats and muddy boots and walked into the living room, where I took my seat in my red rocking chair.

I looked down at the floor, up at the ceiling, over at the windows and up toward the staircase — anywhere but into the eyes of my parents. My father sat forward with his elbows on his knees, looking directly at me and waiting for me to say something. My mother had gotten up by now and was fluttering about between the living room and the kitchen. She was humming an unrecognizable tune, her unique method of gathering up just the right words to say. 

Finally, my father cleared his throat and asked me why I had decided it would be perfectly fine to fling my Christmas present across the car in obvious anger. He asked me what my grandmother would think of my outburst. I was 7 or 8 at the time, and I did not have an answer. 

I realized years later part of my frustration likely reflected my concern over the enormous stress my parents dealt with day after day. Though they did not burden me with worry, I knew they struggled. My father was a manual laborer who worked long hours to provide for his wife and his daughter, with inadequate wages, nonexistent health insurance and the repercussions of a broken childhood. My mother, wise beyond her years, also dealt with family turmoil I knew nothing of until after her death. Despite their heartache and monumental stumbling blocks, here they sat on a dismal day with their obviously troubled and confused little girl, making her their constant priority, committed to creating a childhood for her filled with structure and an abundance of love. 

My mom sat down and reached for the box. She carefully removed the wrapping paper and reached in, slowly removing one of the tissue-wrapped slippers. Tenderly, she shook shards of clear, extremely thin glass away from each slipper, a look of puzzlement on her face. The slippers, light violet in color, were trimmed in silver thread and quite lovely. Tucked up in the toe of one slipper was the remains of a Christmas ornament, a tiny clear globe that contained a miniscule pair of pink ballet slippers, tied together with matching pink ribbon laces. Instinctively, I reached toward the box and my mother shook her head. 

“No, Belinda. I don’t want you to cut your fingers on this thin, sharp glass.” 

My parents slowly sifted through the box, saving both pairs of slippers and discarding the broken glass. I wore the bedroom slippers during that winter season and all the way into the next. Though I did not have cowgirl boots, my lavender slippers did nicely as I galloped up and down the dooryard with a bright red stick horse. And, they looked sensational with my imitation buckskin skirt and vest, complete with my tin sheriff badge. My mother placed the ballet slippers in my jewelry box, where they remained for many years until, sadly, they were lost or misplaced. They will forever be in my memory.

I learned two important lessons that day. First, things are not always as they appear to be, nor as we assume them to be. I was so sure I would find yet another pair of disappointing, flashy slippers there in that box. I did not expect that glorious hidden surprise. 

My mother used to say, “I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” Thus, my second lesson: gratefulness. 

This event took place many years ago. I often find myself slipping back into that disgruntled little girl in the backseat of that car, hurling her gift against the window, frustrated and disappointed. 

I am older now, and I know that the basic lessons in life remain the same. Let us be kind to each other every day; not only during this holiday season. 

Belinda Ouellette lives in Caribou with her Goldendoodle, Barney. You may email her at belindaouellette9@gmail.com.

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