My mother-in-law and I had just entered a department store when I spied them: a sale table of the most ridiculous cowboy boots I had ever seen. They were mostly black along the leg with large yellow sections of inlaid leather scrollwork on all sides. The feet were bright red in a lizard relief from heel to pointy toe. They were what my own mother would have politely termed "unique."
"Who would wear such boots, and where?" I wondered. Perhaps some wild country western singer or a crazy cowgirl. Not a former banker like myself.
I called to my mother-in-law so she could see these boots and laugh with me. But when this little Latin lady saw the boots, she fell in love. Her eyes lit up; she smiled with glee and started nodding.
"Yes! Yes!" she urged, "They will look great on you!"
"Me?" I shook my head. "Be serious. Not me." "Only if I were traveling incognito and did not want to be recognized," I thought.
"Yes, you," she urged, and immediately began burrowing for my size. Coincidentally, I realized that the very boot in my hand, which I'd held up for ridicule, was just my size. But would it fit?
"Try them on," she insisted. "Try them now."
And so I did, and to my bewilderment, they fit! As I walked around the store in these silly boots, I realized that they were much more comfortable than the more expensive black boots I owned. And my current pair bit and crimped my feet.
My mother-in-law checked the price. "On sale, too! Oh, what a find." She clapped with joy. These boots passed her ultimate shopping test. "The three B's," she reminded me, "Bueno, bonito, barrato!" - "Good, pretty, and cheap!"
"They're not for me. Be serious." I shook my head. "I'm only playing. This trying on is just for fun."
Suddenly my mother-in-law's expression turned gravely serious with that motherly I-mean-business look. She grabbed my arm for emphasis.
"He will like them," she declared as she looked deep into my eyes.
"He, who?" I asked incredulously. "My husband?" Surely not my Brooks-Brothers-suited, corporate, and very particular husband. No.
"Yes," she insisted, the twinkle dancing in her eyes. "I know. I know." Apparently, this tiny Latin American retiree knew some secrets about keeping husbands happy. These are secrets they do not teach in business school and so were quite unknown to me. Usually, I purchase expensive, well-made shoes, in black or navy blue because they go with everything. My shoe purchases are understated, classic, practical. That's me. Left to my own, I would never think to buy these boots.
But then, I thought, "Why not make her happy?" The joy they bring to her alone is worth the price. And maybe, just maybe , she knows more about husbands than I do. Maybe my husband would like them, I conceded in humility.
She seemed so sure. But I was concerned that the people in my little town might point and laugh at me if I walked down the street. Then what would I do with the boots? I supposed that I could wear them when I travel to New York City, Greenwich Village specifically, or in our house. So in an uncharacteristic leap of shopping faith, and keeping the receipt, I bought these colorful boots, these butterflies for my feet.
Later that night I learned that we don't always know our spouses as well as we think, and I discovered that, to my utter disbelief, my husband did like the boots.
Today, it is six months after that shopping spree. It is also four days after my mother-in-law's memorial service. I confess that I was moping around the house this morning, missing her, when the suggestion came to search for a box of shoulder pads on my closet floor.
While I was on my hands and knees looking, I came upon these crazy boots. Immediately, I smiled broadly, the joy embodied in the boots rebuking any sense of grief. Then I quickly changed into an outfit of solid black and put them on.
Today, while other family members mourn my mother-in-law's passing, I wear these lively boots. With every step, I honor the greatness of this little woman's joy, the twinkle in her eye, and the ways she continually surprised and encouraged me as her love touched my life.