“Come on, it’s time to shoe you kids.”
That would be the rallying cry from my father in the early 1970s before the four of us piled into the back seat of our Custom Ford 500, and headed downtown for summer sandals or school shoes or winter boots.
Growing up in London during that time provided a weekly adventure to the downtown. At Covent Garden Market, Dad would stop and speak with the German butcher, the Greek green grocer, taste the sharpest, smelliest cheese that Paul Smith’s cheese counter had to offer before he would shuffle us out the door and across the back street into Simpson’s where I can still hear the muted sounds of ladies in their shopping heels, tip-tapping over the well-worn linoleum.
Taking a quick tour of the hardware department or the latest hi-fi (no kiddies, not wifi) system on display, Dad would dream a little of the treasures he found there, running his work-worn hands along a sleek wooden cabinet with vinyl records stacked on the turn table, or a television entombed in an intricately carved wooden block. These excesses were all dreams, and he knew it. My mother, who in the style of the times stayed home and raised children, stood by each Friday while Dad counted out three crisp $20 bills that came from his pay packet, earned by leaving the house every morning at 5:30 am and arriving home to dinner on the table every night at 6. There were no extras for televisions and hi-fis. Not when there were four pairs of shoes to buy.
So on we moved, heading west down Dundas until we opened the glass door and heard the greeting bells tinkle at Louie’s Shoes.
Louie and Dad would greet each other enthusiastically the way men do, with Louie’s small hand dwarfed in my father’s large and leathered paws, discussing what was needed and for whom. Then Louie would bustle about, first plunking each child’s foot down into the metal bar before snugging the slide up to our toes to determine our changing shoe sizes. Then dad would kick back in the chrome chairs that were the fashion of the day and let Louie do his work. He knew I like North Stars -- kind of the Converse of its day – and he would lace them up adjust them on my foot, press the toe to make sure I had enough room to grow, but not so much room that I would trip. And the process would repeat over and over and over and over again until Dad was standing with Louie at the register calculating cost and promising to see him again.
I can remember minute details of those days. The sounds of shoe boxes shuffling against each other as they were drawn from the ceiling-high stacks around the shoe store. The creak of ancient floorboards moaning as Louie dashed from one section to the next. I remember Dad making every moment of these days an adventure, pointing out items of interest and pushing us onward to the next destination. I remember afterwards when we would walk to Kresge’s where Dad would order a dollar’s worth of candied peanuts and fifty cents worth of licorice all sorts. A treat for himself that he warned with a twinkle was not for us, even though he would pass the paper bags to us each in our turn for a bit of something special.
Decades later, every moment of those memories are something special to me.
But today Dad lives his days with Alzheimer’s, and in the strange twists and turns of this disease, he’s likely to remember long-gone Louie and the German butcher, while he remembers me sometimes as his daughter, and other times as “that lady”.
A few weeks ago, I went with Dad to pick up his new pair of shoes, special ordered with Velcro closures as he no longer remembers how to tie laces. I watched him walk through the store, first purposefully swinging his arms. But when he stumbled a little, his hands came together tentatively in front of him, like an unsure boy taking a few scary steps, not the bold man he once was, seeking a Saturday morning adventure.
The kind woman working with him reached down to press the toe, making sure there was enough room for comfort, but not so much room that he would trip.
Life, in its rich tapestry, had brought us full circle.
This year, on May 26, the IG Wealth Management Walk for Alzheimer’s Sarnia takes place at Centennial Park, raising money and awareness to help local Alzheimer’s patients and their families with programs and supports. I’ll be there, with a team of Huron Web (First Monday’s parent company) employees walking in support of the men and women and their families who put on their shoes each day to walk their path with the effects of this disease. Your decision to make a donation to a walker or online – or even better, to put together a team and join the Huron Web Walking Warriors makes a difference in the lives of these families.
Please, put on your shoes, press the toe to make sure you won’t trip, and join us.