The slippers had been bought in Japan by a travelling aunt who had been everywhere, it seemed, except for Jan’s living room. They met in a cafe nearby and the aunt handed Jan the slippers while she was halfway through a story about skiing in Yuzawa. Jan tried not to clutch the edges of the seat that she was sitting on. The skiing in Yuzawa had no apparent relation to the slippers and Jan never learned exactly where in her aunt’s Japanese travels the footwear had been acquired.
Nevertheless, Jan adored the slippers. They were very thin, made from a printed fabric with a layer of padding in the base. That was all. The white material had a print on it of cartoon animals, but not garish. A cute blue whale, a cute pink pig, a cute brown horse, like little logos of earth’s best and most abused creatures.
Jan wore the slippers every day and when the bottoms wore out (inexplicably the left several weeks before the right) she took them to a different aunt who sewed on neat new bases in a completely different but more robust fabric. Jan didn’t mind. The shape was the same, the pattern, the feel.
The first aunt, the travelling one, she died on a cruise ship off the northern coast of Panama. She was cremated there. The other aunt, the sewing one, she died in her home. Her few children, several nieces and nephews, many grandchildren, and only great-grandchild attended her funeral.
Jan, in time, also died. When her daughter came to clear out the house, she took those worn and threadbare slippers, those beloved and dirty slippers, and she washed them carefully. She gave the scrappy bits of fabric to her cousin to turn them into something else. This cousin was a daughter of the second aunt, and much more handy than she herself was.
The cousin returned the slippers as a new thing, unexpected. She had turned them into a pair of wristlets, held firmly in place with leather ties.
Jan’s daughter was delighted. She wore the slipper wristlets herself for many years and then gave them to her daughter.
“These are from your nanna,” she said, as she handed the objects solemnly to the child. “They gave her the strength to get out of bed each morning, even though most days she thought she couldn’t. Her aunty found them in a far away land and knew that they were magical. Now I give them to you.”
Little Jeanette pulled on the wristlets, looking at them with awe. As her mamma tied the leather ties, she felt the strength of her nanna and aunties flow through her.
She felt Japan and skiing and wild places. She felt warmth and sewing machines and old knowledge. She felt agoraphobia and anxiety and restless nights. She felt decades of thoughts and fears and strengths.
Yes, kindergarten was hard. But Jeanette had the past on her side.