Bronzed baby shoes

March 18, 2015
bronzed baby shoes

Inside the right shoe is a scrap of paper from 1951 that says Carol Ann in my mother’s hand.

Most babies in the 1950s and maybe longer wore these traditional little white lace-up baby shoes. I love them–they remind me of purity and innocence. They are so not-stylish that they remind me of the time when children were concerned not with fashion or celebrity but with the things of childhood.

I wore those now bronzed baby shoes in the photograph. I may have even taken my first step in them, I don’t know. My mother had the shoes bronzed, which was the fashion back in the day, and they became bookends. I’m not sure moms do this anymore–do they bronze children’s mini-Louboutins? Maybe not.  It just wouldn’t be the same, would it? There’s nothing that screams childhood LESS than the shoes today’s kids wear.

After my mother died and my father went into a home for the memory-impaired, we kids cleaned out their house to prepare it for sale. I took the bronze baby shoe bookends. If I hadn’t, they would have been discarded as just junk, when at one time they meant so much to my mother. And now, to me.

I love looking at them and imagining what my mother must have felt when my feet grew too large for baby shoes and she sent the pair out for bronzing.  I was her first child. But I was important for another reason: my birth may well have marked the end of her disillusionment as a bride.  That’s because she left my father when I was not yet two months old.

There is, of course, a back story. Dad’s mother was a cold fish, it seems, and there wasn’t a whole lot of affection to go around. Some of my uncles became demonstrative as adults, but my father and his sister did not. They were more reserved. He did love kids, but his kids? They were a responsibility. He had to raise them right.  He had to be stern. Strict.  Just like his father was with him. And once we could speak, he had a harder time with them.  Never with his patients, of course.

When I was born, my father was flush with his degree in pediatrics and his new practice. He thought Dr. Spock was a communist. Well, not really, but close: Dad believed that sparing the rod spoiled the child. Of course, discipline when he was growing up involved a literal rod. And there’s a story there. One that maybe I don’t want to tell because it’s too painful.

Dad had his opinions.

One of them was that he believed babies who cried should not be picked up. That they would self-soothe and that letting them cry until they stopped on their own was far better than spoiling them by picking them up. Spoiling was a terrible sin.

My mother could not agree. After all, she was a brand-new mom. She wanted to pick me up and cuddle me and soothe me.  Apparently, this was when my mother packed up me and her things and left my father. Which took guts in the summer of 1951. Think about it. Italian-Catholic wife, first-generation American, married not even three years. Left.

I’m told she was gone about six weeks, to her parents’ home, of course. Which she’d worked hard to buy for them. Although she just had a high school degree: couldn’t afford college.   In the end, I understand that my father apologized, so Mom returned. I was way too young to remember it and the details are lost to history. Or to the tact of well-meaning relatives who don’t want to shed any negative light on the dead.

Mom had two more children, but I’m not certain she ever trusted my father again.  She was always on guard. Always self-protective.

Later, there would be many times she disagreed with him. About corporal punishment, for one. But she never left again. She made her peace with his imperfections, no matter the cost.

We three children sometimes bore that cost.  We still bear it in some ways.

I like these bookends because the shoes remind me that I was once a small girl of parents who loved me.  They did their best.  Many parents today would shudder if they knew exactly what that entailed, and it’s hard to even write about it.

“You have to be careful you don’t come off whiny,” my writing coach reminds me, when I write about my family.

If I were the whining sort, there would be plenty to whine about.

I’m working on something now that needs to hit a middle ground.  Right and wrong may not be how an evolved consciousness sees things, but a writer can’t always see her life as just “the way it was.”  The best writing connects emotionally and that requires some sort of judgment.

I’ve started that essay  more times than my coach has seen it.

I guess you could say that I’m a work in progress and so is my essay about some of my family.

Yes. A work in progress.

Besides my coach, there’s a writer in my family I’ve talked to about this piece. The only other person I’ve discussed it with.  I’m so grateful to have this sounding board in my writing life, someone who is familiar with the family situation and my need to write it. Someone I can be honest with. Who gets some of it, at least.

So really, in the end, I got lucky with family.  Not in the way I wanted or even in the way others are lucky.

But in my way, our way, I got lucky.

Every day I look at those bookends. Some days, I work on the essay. Other days I just look at the bronzed baby shoes.

That piece may see the light of day, yet.

You never know.

 

31 comments on “Bronzed baby shoes
  1. Robin (Masshole Mommy) says:

    They may not be stylish today, but then again, 50 years from now people are probably going to laugh at what we find stylish today 🙂

  2. chrissie says:

    Wow I have never seen baby shoes bronzed before I was a 50’s baby but as the last of 7 I guess my mama had other things on her mind. What a fabulous keepsake, and good luck with your essay.

  3. Jhoveleen says:

    This is my first time to see such bronzed baby shoes. Those are gorgeous. Children these days are already in with fashion, how I wish that it is like the old times, focusing on the childhood moments instead of fancy fashion.

  4. Karen says:

    I know exactly what you mean, Carol. Balancing the “they tried their best” with the “but they really hurt their kids”–it’s hard to avoid sounding whiny sometimes. And I also know what you mean about realizing that once upon a time, you had parents who thought you were the world. That is both comforting and painful.

    BTW, I have my husband’s bronzed shoes; and his mother bronzed one of our son’s shoes 32 years ago. By the time our daughter was born, my mother-in-law couldn’t find anyone to do the bronzing, so she just kept one pink fuzzy slipper. It’s the thought that counts.

  5. I don’t know if we had bronzed shoes, don’t recall seeing them. There were mementos but frankly I’m not sure that my mother cherished us all that much. Life stories and the memories can be challenging–I don’t know that my writings on my childhood will ever see the light of day. Maybe after my mother dies, and maybe, for me, it’s enough to just capture them on paper for me.

  6. Beautiful memories Carol I had shoes like yours when I was little =)

  7. Risa says:

    I’ve got mine and my sister has hers, or possibly vice versa–who can tell?

  8. I really like the bronzed bookends. My mom has a shoe that was hers as a baby that looks just like those.

  9. Debbie D. says:

    Those baby shoes are a nice memento from a more innocent time. Your mother sure had guts to leave the way she did, given the times and the circumstances. I can totally relate to your pain of having a difficult childhood, Been there, myself and I wrote a short piece about it. While it was cathartic, I had to use third person narrative to do it and it still drained me. Whether you publish yours or not, writing about it must be somewhat therapeutic, yes?

  10. Diane says:

    There are times when I think all parents ever do is damage their children. Myself very much included. Then there are those bright vistas when you know you actually heped them grow and progress into adulthood. You said it perfectly: A work in progress. Us and them.

  11. I love your bronzed baby shoes. It’s a warm reminder of your childhood and your parents. None of them are perfect and some don’t even aspire to be. Our lives are all a work in progress, I think.

  12. Writing about painful memories is a very hard thing to do especially from our childhood. When our parens let us down it’s a hard thing to live with.

  13. Carol, I grew up with very stoic parents who were products of the civil rights era. I don’t remember much in the way of “touchy-feelies” when I was growing up, but I didn’t doubt for a second that they loved me. I think their parenting made me want to be a better parent, so for that, I’m grateful.

    • I regret I never had the opportunity to mother. While I think I would be as imperfect as any other, I also think I would do some things differently. Your daughter seems to be such an amazing young woman that you have to be a great mom!

  14. Your writing style is gripping… I wonder if writing your story will help others? Those boots are adorable, those thoughts and memories are the fabric of who we are. Good luck with getting it out in writing, even if it’s for your eyes only.

  15. WendysHat says:

    What a great story and I love seeing these. Bring back memories of my own. I love baby keepsakes and I’m sure your Mother is happy you saved them too.

  16. Alana says:

    What a story, what memories! I enjoyed this post, despite knowing some of these memories were painful ones for you to reveal. I am 62, and I well remember the bronzed baby shoes of the early 60’s. When my son (mid 20’s) outgrew his first shoes, I wanted to get them bronzed. It wasn’t easy to get information on a company that would do that but it was still possible – but circumstances intervened and I never got them bronzed. I had a little pang reading this about not having his shoes. I kept some of his baby clothes just to have a memory of how small he was – this young man who is now taller and heavier than I am.

  17. Amy says:

    What a poignant story, Carol. And that little slip of paper tucked into that bronzed shoe just brought a lump to my throat. Childhood goes too fast, doesn’t it? Babies need all the cuddling and love that we can give them, in those fleeting baby years.

  18. What a wonderful treasure. We all should have something special like this to remind us about our past.

  19. Liz Mays says:

    How dear that you have your mom’s handwritten note with those shoes. I can see that they really bring back a lot of memories for you, good and bad. I hope you’re able to write your story sometime and get that out the way you want.

  20. Oh Carol, hugs to you! I hope you can get that essay onto paper. I think many of us had father’s that thought the way yours did. My mother felt that way too. She was so cold. I never let my kids cry, ever. What a brave mother you had.
    I bronzed my kid’s first shoes and love my son’s with the hole in the toe from him dragging it in his walker. I have them on my desk. I love the memories. I had my oldest two grandchildren’s done but after that it was hard to find someone to do the bronzing.
    The little white shoes are still out there, I love them.

  21. I would love to be able to bronze baby shoes! I am sad my daughter’s got lost 🙁

  22. BellyBytes says:

    Both nature and nurture contribute to our development as adults and it is always hard to strike a balance between the rod and the cuddles. We’re always hard on our parents till we have children of our own and then realise how difficult the choices must have been for them too…. Young adults starting out life with few resources , no experience and the added responsibility of young children. Being a parent is hard.

  23. Lana says:

    I have a pair of baby shoes just like those (from 1968). My mother never got them bronzed but I still have them. This piece really resonated with me, Carol. I’m very new to writing and have a long way to go to find my voice. I have been hesitant to write anything about my father because there’s little good to say, and I don’t want to come off as complaining or ungrateful. I don’t think my father ever wanted children, and at the age of 71, it’s still apparent. I do think writing about him would be therapeutic, but I haven’t gotten there yet. Thanks for sharing this today – it really made me think.

  24. Sofia says:

    What’a great story. My baby first time like to one shoes. Thank You 🙂

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