Twenty years ago, a man traced my bare foot on a yellow legal pad in the plaza at Lincoln Center in New York City. He took the tracing home to Spring Lake, Minnesota, and two months later I got my moccasins in the mail. Leather-soled moccasins made by Lyle and Elaine MacRostie, true ‘60s-style craftspeople who came each summer to the fair at Lincoln Center with their fantastic handcrafted footwear. Lyle, tall and thin with a long salt-and-pepper beard, wore a thrift shop fedora and smoked a curved pipe. Elaine, more plainspoken then anyone you’re likely to meet in or around Lake Wobegon, did all the talking. They claimed to have no phone, electricity, or running water. I didn’t doubt it—they had an aura of unpretentious self-sufficiency.
And those moccasins! They are the only articles of clothing or footwear I’ve ever known to feel like an actual extension of my body. Leather against skin, the perfect fit, my tendency to wear them all summer without socks, all contributed to the natrual effect. In the winter, I wore them every moment of my ambulatory life indoors…with woolen socks, or I’d catch cold. I made the mistake of treating the soft leather soles gingerly for maybe a year when I first got them. Then I took them right out on the nature trail.
I expected expert handmade leather moccasins to hold up, but these things were astonishing. They tended to heal like living animals. At any spot where I’d worn through a layer of leather on the bottom, a kind of callus would form. These patches became rock-hard on the outside, detracting not a bit from the buckskin foot massage on the inside. Not that they didn’t look a little roughed up. Some of the lacing sproinged on the tops and the right one favored an open-toe style. The bottoms dried out and calcified. There may even have been moss growing on the bark-like undersoles. Sometimes I wondered if I should really wear them in ShopRite.
I lost one of them at Keuka Lake last summer, and I thought it meant the end of the run. It went missing halfway through our week at the house, and serial search parties came back empty-handed. I sadly put the last duffle bag in the car on the last day, certain I’d never see that beloved hunk of leather again. Then, two months later, a box came in the mail. My moccasin was found behind the refrigerator (where I thought I’d looked!). The owner of the house sent it with a note saying that the Oswego Indians associated Keuka Lake, one of New York’s Finger Lakes, with good luck. Nothing remains lost there forever, he wrote.
About two months ago, both moccasins disappeared at home. They were under neither bed nor couch. I looked. They were under nothing. Only a mysterious digital trace remained: On my daughter’s camera, which she’d leant me, I noticed amid several photos of 14-year-old girls voguing, or whatever it is they do, a photo of my moccasins looking like exhibit A. The shoes that began as a simple line on yellow paper looked in the photo like they were about to have a chalk line drawn around them. Daughter pleaded dumb. I went into despair.
All through November and December, I wore cheesy Sears moccasins with phony wool linings. None of my many transgressions, sartorial or otherwise, ever felt so creepy and wrong. I began losing interest in the things I love.
Last week, when the post office left a note about a package waiting to be picked up at the depot, I assumed it was a present I’d ordered for a friend. Maureen picked it up while I was at work. She told me it wasn’t the package I thought it was, but that I’d like it even better. She and the girls giggled.
By now, dear reader, you may have guessed what was in the box. That’s because you’ve read this far and you probably looked at the photo up top. Please bear with my cluelessness on Christmas morning, however, as I am handed the box all wrapped up.
Yes, Maureen and the girls had hijacked my leather moccasins and returned them to the masters (who still have no phone, but do have a website) for new soles—and remedial stitching that amounts to something just short of a new-build. Lyle and Elaine dyed them dark brown to make new leather match old. In the box, on a yellow sheet of legal paper, was a note saying how glad they were to hear from Maureen, who used to work for the Lincoln Center craft fair organizers in the ’80s. “Those moccasins are 20 years old,” Elaine wrote. “Wow!” Via e-mail, Elaine told Maureen that my rough-worn babies set a MacRostie durability record (though they did have a tougher repair job once on a pair chewed to pieces by a dog). The note said that the original leather won’t last for ever, and that I might want to think about a new pair.
Maybe. But, I’m thinking we can probably just get new tops put on the old pair when I retire!
[I am tucking Lydia in on Christmas night.]
Me: And, Lyddie! Thank you so much for sending my moccasins to get fixed. [I pull off my left moccasin and dangle it from my finger over Lydia as she lays snuggled up in her blanket] These are very special to me, and now I can wear them for many more years!
Lydia:… Don’t put that on my bed.