It all began as a cool idea. Or at least, I thought so.
I’d save my two (and then, three) kids’ shoes as they outgrew them and hang them from the rafters of my garage. That way, when I was out there tinkering on the mower or messing with my fishing gear, I’d smile every now and then when I spotted Henry’s first pair of tiny work boots or the imitation Crocs Violet wore all through her second summer of life.
It worked, too. Using some rustic twine, I headed up into the rafters to dangle fireman boots next to flip-flops and Dora sneakers next to shiny church shoes. It was as if the memories came floating down from the sky.
Every time I hit the garage, I spotted this shoe or that one, and every single time I was transported back to a particular moment shared with my kids. Raking leaves. Running on the beach. Stepping in dog crap at the park. I loved it. It was my own version of Chuck Taylors slung over a telephone line. And it was, if I do say so myself, a damn good idea.
But nothing lasts forever, even when you’re trying your best to stretch it out. After a few years, divorce came along, and with it, change. New houses to live in. No more big garage. And I ended up with a few overflowing bags of yesterday’s kid shoes.
I’m looking at them right now. I’ve gotten them out so I can take a photo for this article and even now, even right this second as I stare at my “collection,” I’m dumbfounded on two entirely different levels.
On one hand, I feel a little foolish. I mean, who does that, right? Who saves old shoes for sentimental purposes? Is that normal? And if it’s not normal, then what is it? Am I desperately clinging to some angle of the past that’s better left behind me? Or am I simply trying to remember before I forget?
There’s no question that merely seeing these shoes in front of my face is evocative. As I sit here, glaring at the brown zip-up Beatle boots I bought Henry at a resale shop three years ago, I can honesty say that I wouldn’t recall them if I hadn’t just dumped them out of the bag I’ve been hoarding for the last couple years. They’re splattered with red paint from the time he showed back up at home after helping his Uncle Dave paint a bench one summer.
Simply seeing them now takes me back to that. I remember how proud my son was that he’d been doing “big guy’s work” with his uncle, how he beamed when I stared at his freshly painted boots, and how I hugged him and told him they looked awesome.
I don’t think I would have recalled that beautiful moment if I hadn’t come across these boots right now. I really don’t. The past is stingy. Time is a thief. We forget way more than we deserve to remember.
Throwing away these shoes would seem like the normal thing to do for most folks, huh? But maybe it’s okay to keep them, too. At least for a while. Because to me, throwing them away seems, I dunno; it feels wrong, like I’m straight-up throwing away memories.
Look, I know most people will scowl at the notion and say, “This guy’s nuts.” But looking at my kitchen table covered in Violet and Henry and Charlie’s old shoes this morning, I’m not so sure I care what anyone else might think.
The shoes are too worn out for any other kid to enjoy, and trashing them will mean they’re gone forever.
But stashing them in dark cabinets, breaking them out once or twice a year, usually when I’ve completely forgotten I have them while looking to stash something else … I’m okay with that. I like running across them. I like running into our shared past when I least expect it.
Plus, you know, I might have a bigger garage someday. Or a man cave, who knows.
Maybe I’m destined to be an old man someday; a grandpa, hopefully, with a Sistine Chapel of a ceiling with every pair of kicks my kids ever drug through the mud hanging above me like the clouds of heaven.
Is that so wrong?
I don’t know. But I still have these shoes all these years later, so maybe we’ll find out.