Gold Shoes from the Unwelcome Past
The gold shoes my Chinese grandmother gave me were the ones she wore to her wedding. They were small. Only about as long as the base of my palm to the first knuckle of my middle finger. They were made of silk and were embroidered with green lotus blossoms and other designs.
I took them home with me, back to San Francisco, because I didn't know how to tell her that I didn't really want them. I was ashamed to tell her that I didn't want this reminder of what she and my mother before her had had to go through. I was an American, after all. Fresh starts and new lives were my culture, now. Deep secrets rooted in tradition had no place in my life, and the gold shoes ended up sitting in a small display box that had once held my son's first little pair of shoes.
By the time my husband, my son, and I moved to Seattle, I'd forgotten all about the gold shoes. The movers were told to throw everything into boxes, and that we would sort everything out when we got there. I was busy with my fellowship and didn't have time to decide which memories I should keep and which I should discard, so I held onto them all out of a paralyzing fear I’d throw away something I treasured.
And then, while unpacking the umteenth box of the day at 9:47 at night, I ran into the gold shoes. I held the box in my hands, and before I could make sense of my emotions, I found myself weeping uncontrollably.
I told myself it was just a combination of the wine, the move, and my son's temperamental nature. He was very much like my grandmother -- fiery, loving, and hating all with equal intensity, his heart equal parts light and dark. It had been a rough day. He had screamed at me—and I'd screamed back. And now the sight of the tiny gold shoes reminded me of every difficult moment I'd had today.
I boxed the shoes up again and decided I’d sell them as soon as possible.
The next day I took the shoes to an auction house. "Sell them," I said. "Get whatever you can for them. Donate the money to Doctors Without Borders." They said they would.
Days passed, and soon my husband joined us in our new home. He had been stuck in Boston, closing a major business deal.
Seattle was damp, but my husband was handy with sealant and paint, and our house was dry, our hearts warm.
Not long after, I received a letter from the auction house advising me that the gold shoes had been sold. The $450 they had brought in was given to Doctors Without Borders as requested. I tossed the letter in the trash before my husband could see it. I didn't want him to know what I'd done. I wasn't ashamed, but he was a man who could trace his lineage back 700 years. It wasn't something I felt he would understand.
And then, three weeks later at our anniversary dinner, he said, smiling, "I have a surprise for you."
When I saw the size and shape of the box in his hands, I began to feel queasy.
My instinct wasn't wrong. Upon opening the box, there were the gold shoes nestled on a bit of tissue paper, having been lovingly restored. As I sat silently staring at the shoes wondering if they were the same pair or not, my husband said, "I saw these and I thought it might be nice to have a reminder of your heritage – they look so much like the shoes your mother and grandmother showed us a long time ago.
"Yes… they do. Thank you," I said, weakly. "They're… very nice."