Patent leather shoes.
I received the my first pair at age four. I was to wear them at my uncle’s upcoming wedding.
It wasn’t until I was grown that I realized that the term meant “smooth shoes.”
My European-born Yiddish speaking parents, my sister and I lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, home to a dwindling Jewish community and a burgeoning Spanish one.
I resided in worlds characterized by my parents’ memories of their ancestral villages and the reality of the congested, fast-paced city life of hooded cars and blinking fields of electric lights in which we lived. Time moved forward in spurts. One day, I found myself speaking more English than Yiddish and soon realized that I had even begun to think in English.
I looked forward to my uncle’s wedding with great anticipation.
He was marrying an American, which added an element of exoticism.
My mother ordered a custom made pink organza gown with scarlet velvet appliqués. She purchased fingerless long-sleeved gloves made of the same fiery velvet. With her Gina Lollobrigida poodle cut, courtesy of Tony the Barber down the block, she resembled a fifties’ movie star.
She pinned my sister’s and my hair in big, fat curls. Luckily, Tony had lopped off the rolled topknot (“kokosh”) popular in pre-war Europe that my mother had insisted we wear. Nothing had marked us as foreign as much as that hair style. Now, after Tony cut my hair in a bob, it could fit under a cowgirl hat.
But it was the shoes that really defined us.
They were “echt” American.
Made of artificial leather or chemically treated leather, they were almost impossible to scuff. You never had to polish them. They gleamed.
If they had patent leather in Europe, I was unaware of it.
My glat shik said “Yankee” almost as much as my new aunt.
I stood tall in the wedding photograph, glat shik perfectly parallel and stared straight at the cameramen with a confident smile.