I come from two generations of eastern European matriarchs. I am the third in a line of drivingly independent women who dig their elbows into the post refugee camp production of building a life. It is survival of the fittest, with mitochondria level engagement.
And for this you need an intelligent selection of shoes. Sturdy shoes to hike up the stairs to the second of your three office cleaning assignments. Polished shoes to showcase your rising status out of the one room camp. Soft slipper shoes to rest your feet and protect the threadbare carpets.
“Carmen, Du brauchst gute Schuhe und Harre im Leben ” is a refrain I heard often from my German grandmother. Carmen you need to have good shoes and hair in life.
Hair was a second tier initiative but shoes-they were primary. My first pair of shoes were ebony leather half boots that cost half a weeks cleaning wages. The brand was Elefanten. A premiere upper tier brand of orthotic German shoes developed by a pediatrician and constructed using real Italian leather. Think Birkenstock meets Tony Burch. These were my shoes and I wore them to extinction.
My grandmothers shoes were more appropriately aligned to her rising (again) status in West Germany. As a refugee from communist East Germany she was starting anew. Her family in the East had been lively restauranteurs and socialites who lost everything during the war. I imagine her as a young girl dancing on dignified stiletto heals and circling the room sliding softly between outreached arms.
When she raised me she was stepping into the external world with sensible shoes of squat heels, neutral tones and medium quality. Money was scarce. Obligations flowing.
At home your feet must always we covered for fear of catching a cold. Bare feet were equivalent to an open air petri dish of germs and unallowable wherever she resided. There was a collection of bumpy soled pilled socks carefully folded, in all sizes, ready for distribution should you enter the room from outside. Her golden locks shook violently if you refused.
‘Nein, ziehe diese Socken an oder du ziehst dir was zu’ she would say. No, wear these sock or you will draw an illness to you. There was no refusing.
My shoe purchasing practice has, over the years, been heavily informed by my grandmother and her sensibilities. Sober, well reasoned purchases. Sturdy, evidence based brands for the children.
But my daughter, the fourth generation of matriarchs. She wears no shoes.