Wearing a pungent moth ball suit, a vintage wide tie, and sporting a narrow-brimmed plaid fedora, the gentleman leaned against the reception hall doorway. Worn, scuffed and old, his shoes clearly had been obtained from a specialty catalog for extra-small feet, crafted from dreadfully fake crocodile leather—the shoes, not the feet.
“I detest weddings,” he said. “I’m here at yours because you’ve married my nephew, although for the life of me I don’t know why you’d want to.” His face broke into a grin, revealing creases on his forehead and laugh lines at the corners of his bright eyes, endearing himself to me forever. Here stood a man who’d obviously had his share of worries over things he could not control, yet a delightful individual who knew well how to laugh and smile.
Thirteen years later, his wife died. As soon as I heard through the family grapevine how lonely and depressed he was, I thought of my mother. She was perfect for him. Both widowed and sixty-five, the same religion, each as stubborn as the other—Gretchen and Enos Kimball married on June 8, 1980.
After their honeymoon, I helped Mom place Enos’ clothes on hangers. I’d never seen so many dress suits in one place except at Sears and Roebuck’s. Mom wrinkled her nose, mumbled something about every man needing a good woman, wondered aloud if he’d ever had his suits cleaned, and she promptly confiscated a few items for a much-needed trip to the dry cleaners.
My eyebrows rose with delight as we opened a large cardboard box of capped toe burgundy oxfords, ebony wing-tips and chocolate loafers with tassels. He even owned one nice pair of sleek, black leather dress boots that zipped up just above the ankle. In a smaller box we found several pair of over-the-shoe rubbers and wooden shoe forms to keep his collection in perfect condition.
Mom sighed. “I suppose there’s nothing we can do about all of these shoes.” She placed each pair on a shoe rack and slid the smaller box onto the shelf at the top of the closet. “Mercy! Look at this atrocious pair,” she gasped.
They were the crocodiles! I grabbed them and held them to my heart as you would a treasured family heirloom. “He wore these to my wedding! That’s the first thing I noticed about him that day.” Mom snorted and said that on their wedding day if, after walking up the aisle, she’d seen them on his feet, she’d have turned and run away!
A couple of weeks after the bride and groom had settled into married life, the crocodiles found a home right beside Enos’ recliner, patiently waiting for him to go for the mail, bring in groceries or rev up the lawnmower. Obviously his favorite pair, and my dear mother never said a word about them.
They’d been married sixteen years when Mom’s chemotherapy treatments began. My husband and I lived next door, so twice each day for ten months I followed the narrow path between our houses with their meals. She’d lost her appetite, so Enos created ways to make sure she was nourished. She was his main concern, and her main concern was for Enos. How would he manage alone if she didn’t make it? I told her I’d take care of him.
I eased my car into their driveway and he slid into the passenger seat. After we’d selected her casket and the orange and pink tropical flower arrangements, Enos thanked me for playing Cupid. “Every day was a new adventure with your mother in my life,” he said. I told him I’d promised to look after him. He nodded his approval and relaxed just a little. For the next seven years, I walked over every evening with a well-balanced meal or he’d mosey across the yard to our house for dinner with us.
One late afternoon, I took a pot of chili over and sat across from him at the table to chat. He spoke in complete sentences, but they made no sense. I thought he’d had a stroke and I called an ambulance. Brain cancer—according to the doctor. Exactly one month later, I found myself selecting a suit and accessories for the funeral home. After eyeing the alligator shoes, the funeral director kindly told me they wouldn’t be necessary. Good, I thought. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to them anyway.
Standing next to his casket, I was amazed at how young he looked, not at all his eighty-nine years. Did anyone else suspect that his feet were adorned with only black dress socks but no shoes? I’d placed them on the floor of my closet, in plain view, so that I could visit them every day while selecting my own wardrobe, and each day thereafter I relished the memories of the unique and remarkable man I’d chosen as my step-father.
Today, I slip my bare feet into those unforgettable shoes as far as they will go, and I write this story. As my toes explore the hard, cool insides, for a brief moment I am Enos, a man who knows that shoes are merely an accessory. They only hold the feet; what matters is what holds our hearts.
Enos Kimball with his great-grandson, Jackson Coe