Four sisters and a brother, standing in front of my grandmother’s house in Van Nuys, California. Headed to church, no doubt, on a break from my father’s tent revivals.
See how I’m posing for the camera, as if I own the frame? It’s not like me to take the spotlight, and it wasn’t back then. But I was pulled from the shadows that morning by a pair of Mary Janes.
I was the middle child in a very large family. With scarcely enough money for the essentials, we were forced to rely on the kindnesses of strangers: love offerings, dropped into the collection plate, tuna casseroles and cast-offs. Shoes were expensive, so it was a relief when we could finally replaced our pinchy shoes with ones that fit. Hand-me-downs, most often, or dusty oxfords, pulled from a bargain bin. Sturdy lace-ups, so they’d last.
But those glossy buckle-ups…oh my! They were magic slippers.
I was just a child, so I didn’t realize then what I know now: They were also a wild extravagance, purchased with a widow’s pension. It was my Nana’s way of doing things, this gift. Subtle, but symbolic in the best possible ways. “Let your little light shine,” she’d always tell me. Shine like the sun’s reflection in those patent leather shoes.