My mother’s shoes

By Jae-Ha Kim
May 11, 2013

Every year, I ask my mother what she’d like for her birthday, Mother’s Day and Christmas… And every year, she says the same thing she has told me since I was a child: “I don’t need anything. You don’t have to get me anything.”

And every year, I go to the Coach store and buy her a scarf, or a handbag, or a wallet, or a hat, or a pair of shoes — things she likes, but would never buy for herself. She tells me often that the only nice clothes she owns are the ones I bought for her. This isn’t entirely true. My siblings have given her some lovely things or gifted her with money to buy whatever she wants. But it is true that the two of us have gone shopping together the most.

The other day, my mother came over to attend my son’s graduation from preschool. We had a few hours to kill before the ceremony, so we went to the Coach store at the local mall. Before we even got there, she was fussing, and saying she didn’t need anything. I mentioned that it might be nice for her to have a brimmed hat to wear in the summer to shade her eyes.

“A hat?” she said, warming up to the idea, before hastily adding, “That’s OK, I don’t need it.”

But she walked in with me and took a look around. They had no hats in this store, but a saleswoman offered to order one online for us if we’d like. Before I could answer, we saw a pair of simple, flat black shoes on display, and I could tell that my mother liked them. So, she let me convince her to try them on, just for fun.

Even though she has other pairs of Coach shoes I have given her in the past, she was wearing a pair of inexpensive shoes that had seen better days. I asked her why she wasn’t wearing the nicer shoes, and she said she liked to save those for special occasions.

When we were new immigrants to the U.S., we lived in Milwaukee. While my dad moved to Chicago to get settled with a new job and find an apartment for us, my mom took care of everything else. She enrolled us in a school further away from the one in our neighborhood, because she learned that the school had a teacher who taught students who couldn’t speak English.

It was wintertime, and I remember that I was happily marching along beside my mother to kindergarten. I was wearing my new faux fur-lined winter boots. My mother had paid $5 for them. That sounds like nothing now, but back in the 1960’s, five bucks went a long way. My mother wore the only nice shoes she had brought over from Korea — a pair of low heeled pumps. As you can imagine, they were incredibly slippery on the icy sidewalk.

My mom fell down. I remember she wasn’t angry. She didn’t swear like I would’ve, and she didn’t vent her frustration at me. Instead, she laughed.

When I was older, she told me why she laughed.

“You were so little, and you somehow felt responsible since I was walking you to school,” she said. “You wanted to make sure I wasn’t mad and said, ‘Isn’t it fun taking me back and forth to school?’ It was cute, so I laughed.”

My mother was very beautiful as a young woman. She and my father looked like movie stars and dressed the part when they were in Korea. In the U.S., they dressed more for function and saved all their money for a house in the suburbs and our education.

I lost my love for shopping quite a few years ago. What used to be fun is now a chore. I don’t enjoy going to stores and trying on clothes and shoes. Instead, I’d rather order a few things from the Gap. While it is true that I still like fine handbags, I don’t care about designer shoes — not for myself, anyhow. But for my mother, I want her to be able to enjoy a few of the luxuries that she never allowed herself to have when she was younger.

Happy Mother’s Day, 어머니. I hope you like your new shoes. Your Coach sun hat has been ordered and will arrive today.

My mother's shoes by Jae-Ha Kim

© 2013 JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved

Comments (15)

  1. mykoreanadopteestory says:

    Im very sorry the first place you went in America was Wisconsin ; ) kidding..but that’s interesting to learn about you. I grew up about 3 hours east of milwaukee!

  2. I love your blog Jae. I had immigrant parents, too.

  3. Pat Carey says:

    This is just lovely, thank you for sharing.

  4. Sue says:

  5. Ricky Choi says:

  6. Anita says:

  7. SandhuBhamra says:

  8. What a lovely read. Your mother is a strong person. I can relate in a way since I am a first gen Canadian immigrant. Thanks for sharing

  9. Love hearing about your life Jae!

  10. Betsy Cannon DuCanto says:

    Oh, how I love this story!

  11. Kim Hanson says:

    Happy Mother’s Day!

  12. Maxine Drees says:

    Nice story, you are blessed with an extraordinary mom.

  13. Jennifer Vollweider Ravenscroft says:

    Thank you for sharing this touching story!

  14. Kathy Hewett Tsudama says:

    Beautiful. Inside and out.

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