Book Review, essays, Memoir

Review: When the Shoe Fits by Mary T. Wagner

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Essays of Love, Life and Second Chances

By Mary T. Wagner

Mary Wagner’s book, When the Shoe fits, isn’t the type of book I normally read. Her subjects, on the surface, are ones that appeal to a mostly feminine audience (in which I don’t fit):

“Belgian chocolates. High heels. Coastal Georgia. Guys in uniform. The movie ‘Gladiator.’ Tropical drinks with little paper umbrellas.”

During the first two essays, I doubted that I would make it far; I’m not interested in much of the above, including “Gladiator.” (I’m not as impressed with Russell Crow as my wife and Ms. Wagner are, either.) But soon the tone changed, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that the themes running through the essays are deeper than shoes and chocolate.

Wagner writes nostalgically about the years when her children were home, when they were her world, and she was their Easter bunny, tooth fairy, and Santa Claus. She writes of strong friendships, and friends who have passed on. And she writes lovingly of her own parents. My favorite essays are those about her father in his last years:

“But every night, as I have since this crisis began, I tuck my father into bed with the words ‘Guten nacht, mein Papa.’ Then I kiss him on the cheek and tell him ‘alles klar.’ Roughly translated, it means ‘everything’s fine.’ He smiles and closes his eyes and I turn out the lights. Alles Klar. At least for this night.”

Many of the essays reinforce the same idea: every day is a gift. Remember what’s important. Don’t take the people in your life, or even those who just cross your path, for granted. We learn these things as we get older, and inevitably we wish we’d learned them sooner.

Another common thread is that of Ms. Wagner’s quest for self-reliance. She buys a chain saw, cuts up trees, and builds her own fires. She learns to use drills, sanders, and chop saws. She goes to law school at forty years old and becomes a successful lawyer. And she learns to trust her own inner voice.

Wagner also writes about nature and animals—mountains, coast lines, pelicans, gardens, and horses. Having had horses of my own in the past and, like Wagner, loving the Will James book Smokey the Cow Horse, I appreciated her essays about the horses she had and loved for years, and the blizzardy day she had to have one put down:

“We trudged through the glittering snow to the appointed place, and I cried some more as I held her halter fast, and stroked her face while the vet busied himself with his needle for the final task. Then the moment came, and she dropped like a stone into a soft, perfect blanket of untouched foot deep powder. She never took another breath. She was a trooper. And she was beautiful.”

Wagner says, “The price of admission to my own mind cost less than a Godiva chocolate bar.” Through this book, she gives readers access to a mind filled with hard-earned and practical wisdom, and one that can find beauty in the simple, the routine, and the heartbreaking events in life.

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