LESLIE MCBRIDE WILE and SILVIA PIO
On the sixth day of October 1957 Agnese and Raimondo got married early in the morning and not at high mass as normally expected in Agnese’s village. Her parents had arranged a family lunch at an aunt’s house, bigger than the two-rooms-plus-haberdashery built by Agnese’s father. Agnese, being a non conformist, declined the invitation to her own wedding lunch and the couple set off for their three-day honeymoon.
The war was still echoing in the places and minds of the people, deeply shocked by Nazi occupation and Italian civil bloodshed. Both Agnese and Raimondo, then teenagers, had witnessed shootings and executions, and had endured shake-downs by the Fascists; their families had been plundered of everything by warring civil factions and by the Nazi Army (who, to tell the truth, took only food). Agnese’s mother had literally risked her life to help the Resistance.
On the other hand, by 1957 people started to feel more secure, new jobs were available and there was a little more money to spend on frivolous occasions such as weddings. Brides were abandoning the traditional black two-piece suit, good after the wedding for every important occasion (funerals, other people’s weddings), and bought fancy, light colored dresses. Agnese’s was lace, a pale shade of ivory, below the knees. She was a tailor but didn’t make it herself because it’s bad luck to sew your own wedding dress. Two of her cousins had stitched it. She had never had anything so beautiful. And beautiful were the shoes, that she had bought in Turin, the big city, where there were shops selling small sizes for her dainty feet.
Raimondo was a lorry driver and was given a car by his employer. The couple left after the wedding for Nice, where an aunt and uncle of Agnese’s had emigrated before the war. We don’t know much of the honeymoon, just that Agnese caught flu and spent her first two weeks as a newlywed in bed, with high fever.
Married life was not easy. Raimondo was away all week in the lorry; Agnese worked at home as a tailor. Two children were born, the second maybe too soon after the first.
But the 60s brought new opportunities. Raimondo started his own business and Agnese helped in the office. There were social occasions, and for one of them Agnese decided to alter her wedding dress, making it shorter and closer-fitting. She also thought of wearing the shoes but they, like all ceremonial shoes worthy of their name, were too new, the heels too high and the pointed toes too … pointy.
Year after year the shoes remained in a cloth sack in the wardrobe. They were relocated with the rest of the household during the many moves the family made in the first 20 years after the wedding. They took on age spots and a bit of mould.
6th October 2015, the time has come for Agnese, who has been widowed for exactly 12 years, to sell the flat bought 35 years before and move to a smaller, easier to manage place near her daughter, who lives in Mondovì. The same daughter has been packing, selling, giving and throwing away the accumulated goods of almost 60 years. She has sold a bed frame and a lamp to an American friend, who needs to furnish her house in Mondovì. The American friend and her American husband come to collect what they have bought. In a corner lay a pair of once ivory-white shoes, ready to go to the dump. The two women pick them up, sorry that they are too small to be tried on. The American husband says that they may appeal to their almost-9-year-old granddaughter Leah in the States. So the shoes go with the bed frame and lamp and are dispatched to Los Angeles. Before sending them, Grandpa touches them up with a bit of diluted bleach and they come sparkling white.
Agnese is Silvia Pio’s mother and Leah, who is now “in shoe-love”, is Leslie McBride Wile’s granddaughter. We two storytellers just had to tell this tale of a pair of white wedding shoes size 35, that meant so much to one woman and travelled across the ocean to bring joy to a child.