Thursday, July 24, 2014


My 98 year old mother, Cooie, has feet that were always big but are now bigger.  She used to wear women’s size 11 shoes, but since she broke both her legs, her feet are longer and, more importantly, deeper and wider. She might fit into women’s size 12 extra spacious, if such a size even existed. Resorting to catalogs, I have ordered about ten different pairs of large size shoes for her, but alas, sent them all back, checking off “Too small” on the return label.  Cinderella in reverse.

I’ve ordered stretchable fabric shoes, elastic topped shoes, Ked’s sneakers, bedroom slippers, and both women and men’s edema slippers. The men’s edema slippers could actually be made to cover her feet, but they were incredibly shapeless, made out of a stiff black foam. After I got them on her feet, we both stared in silence at the large black blobs at the end of her legs, and then quietly agreed to send them back.

Her dementia means that her perceptions are not limited by reality. As Cooie peruses the clothes catalogs that appear in her mail every week, her eyes are drawn to smart pumps for women, those types with narrow heels, pointed toes and pert little bows, the type of shoe that she hasn’t been able to wear for about 20 years, if ever. She’s always been a clunky shoes gal. In her senior years, my mother’s shoe fashion has run along the vein of pastel colored Keds, one of each color she could find.

Our friend Jerri made Cooie two pairs of shoes, a lovely and generous effort.  Jerri and I had realized that shoes for my mother didn’t need to have any support or protective sole, since my mother’s feet are permanently retired from their transportation role.  After carefully measuring Cooie's feet in every direction (and the right foot is bigger than the left) Jerri chose brown suede fabric and constructed a pair of Mary Janes with a Velcro closure for the strap. She even stitched an ornamental flower on each strap. Sounded like a great idea to me. 

When Jerri handed my mother the bag that contained the first homemade shoe attempt, my mother looked in the bag, closed it immediately, looked at us both with excitement on her face, and spelled out loud “S-H-O-E-S”.  Her excitement faded once we tried them on since they didn’t look like real shoes. I have to admit, they were ill fitting and floppy looking.

Our compromise is socks. Last summer, a very kind friend visiting from Georgia measured my mother’s feet and knit her a custom sock out of variegated brown, black and beige wool.  LouEllen only got the right one done before she left, but Lynne took up the challenge and in a few days, knit her the matching left sock.  Those seemed to satisfy my mother, who wore them for about a week.  Shortly after that, they disappeared from her room at the long term care facility, a not uncommon but unexplained institutional phenomenon, kind of like UFOs. 

These days, Cooie sports Dr. Scholl’s non-binding men’s beige socks.  I buy them at Fred Meyer’s. Because she cannot bear weight on her legs, and spends her day in a wheelchair and her nights in bed, I am satisfied with this solution.  She isn’t. She is on a persistent quest for shoes. She wants to wear shoes, and she thinks the reason she doesn’t have any is that I haven’t gotten around to buying them for her. She’s very diplomatic about it.

At dinner the other day, she confided in me. "I would like some shoes." She continued, "There's a store. I...think it's on... Jefferson." She paused again. "It has a sign on it that says 'Women's Shoes.'" She is referring to the shoe store in Fairhaven (12th Street Shoes) which she spots from the window of the specialized transport bus she rides to church.  12th Street Shoes has expensive, attractive shoes in fashionable sizes, none of which would be appropriate or the correct size for my mother’s feet, but no words can shake her optimism about that shoe store.

"I know," I said.  "I've been in that store."

She brightens.  "You have?"

"Yes, but they don't have any shoes in your size."


"Your size is unusual," I say choosing not to repeat my usual response, which is to remind her that her feet are swollen.

"I know." She pauses. "I'm embarrassed when I have a good apron..." She was searching for words.

"You mean a skirt?" I suggest.

"Yes, when I have a good apron on."

"I know you are." I pause.  "Do you remember the shoes I just sent back?"

"I know that some people despise you if you have an apron," she says.

"Do you have any?" I ask, referring to aprons, allowing the conversation to wander.

"I'm not sure that they are here.  They might be in my stuff at my mother's house," she says, referring to her mother that died in the 1970's.

The conversation ends for this moment, but she still, on a regular basis, suggests that we stop by that shoe store. From her perspective, it’s just a matter of getting her to the shoe store and easy as that, she'll have shoes. She forgets all the shoes that we have tried on, and she forgets all my explanations.

When I spoke to her on the phone the other morning, I asked her how she was doing. She said she was looking at a magazine and she told me that it had a lot of shoes.  Later, when I showed up in person, she pointed out the many pages of spring shoes in the Blair clothes catalog.  I played along with her, discussing the merits of different shoes, checking her favorites in pencil, and conveniently taking the catalog with me when I left, promising to order her some shoes. Luckily, because of her dementia, she will forget not only my promise but our entire conversation in a few hours. 

Hope springs eternal.  I ordered some size 12WWW from another clothes catalog, but once again, I paid the shipping costs to return them.  I try my best to manage my mother's care, but this closet of her world of needs--shoes--stands empty.

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