This week I am pushing my luck.
We finally took down our Christmas tree on Monday 17 January. Bearing in mind that it is considered bad luck if Christmas decorations of any kind are left up after twelfth night we are in luck deficit by five days.
Today, I am wearing old shoes that once belonged to someone else, my maternal grandmother. Old shoes play a big and often contradictory role in superstitions and folk stories. For example it is said variously that old shoes should be burned:
- for good luck or for bad luck (depending on which book on superstitions you read)
- to cure fits and fever caused by voodoo spells (Hyatt, Marry Middleton, Hoodoo – Conjuration – Witchcraft – Rootwork (1496))
- to banish toothache (if you breathe in the smoke from the shoe while it burns) or to cause a toothache (presumably depending whether or not you started out with a toothache)
- to drive away your enemies.
It is apparently a bad idea to borrow or acquire someone else’s shoes not least because if you accept a gift old old shoes you will walk in the former owner’s troubles. Not that I have much time for superstitions – I used to deliberately seek out black cats and walk under ladders to tempt fate – but I do get the heeby jeebies wearing second hand shoes. You may remember that Sarah Ferguson (Duchess of York) fell out with Diana, Princess of Wales over a veruca that Fergie apparently acquired after borrowing a pair of the Princess’ shoes. That story put me off the whole idea of vintage/second hand shoes irrevocably. I do, however, have one pair of second hand shoes that I treasure.
The summer that I turned 21 I spent living with my maternal grandmother Helen in her apartment at Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn, New York. I worked at various temporary jobs during my University holidays to make enough money to do the Great North American Road Trip. (In my case this turned into the Great American Greyhound Bus Trip involving several unpleasant stories about public toilets, drag queens and heroin addicts but that is another story). While I was staying with her she gave me this pair of shoes:
These are black suede slingback mules with a slightly rounded toe and a V-shaped vamp. The mules were made by an Italian company called Geppetto and I believe that my Grandmother bought them in the 1960s. She bought two pairs at the same time – a mushroom coloured pair which she loved and these which she did not. I don’t think that she ever actually wore them outside. The original box is long gone now sadly; it is a terrible tragedy when good shoe boxes go missing as I like to keep them all. I suspect that I left the box at her apartment at the end of that summer. Since my grandmother and I fell out quite spectacularly at the end of that summer, I cannot remember the details. Although we spoke on the phone after that, I never saw her face to face ever again.
The Australian climate has been cruel to the elastic at the back which is starting to disintegrate. Other than that they are still very pretty, have aged well and remind me of my elegant, chainsmoking, comfort eating, grande dame grandmother in a good way.
To this day, I hate to leave bad feeling in the air after a disagreement with anyone whether it is between a friend or a family member. One never knows if the cross words are going to be the last words that you ever exchange.