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I knew that to have said "No, thank you" might be interpreted as rude. And so, meeting my future mother-in-law's outstretched hands, I graciously accepted the curious pair of slippers.
After a time I would come to see that, for a perpetual wanderer with itchy feet who had stumbled into a deeply rooted family, there could be no more symbolic exchange or rite of passage. Not even rings and vows would rival it.
My journey to becoming a woman of the slipper had officially begun.
These were not the glamorous, adventurous, fairy-tale slippers of old, made of glass or studded with rubies. They were faithful, dependable, warming-under-the-rad farmhouse slippers made of hearty, scratchy wool.
I was tall, slim and young then (I am still tall). In those days, I placed fashion above form and function, and carried the bunions and credit-card balances to prove it. To say the slippers clashed with the outfit I was wearing would be an understatement.
With bold black-and-orange stripes (some crafty Halloween project?), each slipper was cheerfully embellished with a pom-pom the size of a golf ball. Under the watchful eye of my hostess, I had to unzip a pair of stiletto-heeled snakeskin boots before the momentous footwear exchange could take place.
My bright, shining boyfriend of only a few weeks had been a change-of-life baby.
That much I'd known about him when I boarded the train for Kingston. But standing on the threshold of his boyhood home, carefully navigating this first encounter with his grandmother-mother, I could see that the slippers were but one of many cultural shock waves I would need to absorb.
Once appropriately shod for shuffling about indoors, I was finally able to answer my future father-in-law's exuberant call to "Come in! Come in!"
My feet looked like giant sundae boats filled with tiger ice cream as I walked the floral-papered hallway, the pom-poms bouncing with every step and tickling the tops of my toes.
Emerging into the wood-panelled family room, I spied my beloved building a fire, looking like an industrious boy scout with too many merit badges to mention. A snugger, warmer room had never been, but he, too, was wearing slippers.
During the year or two that followed, before Mark and I eventually married, the tiger slippers would greet me, whether I wanted to wear them or not, every time we visited Kingston.
They lived in the front-hall closet in a plastic potato bin with numerous other pairs routinely offered to visitors.
On the rare occasion that I forgot (or failed to comply with) the slipper bylaw, my mother-in-law would exclaim with great consternation: "Oh, you poor dear, your feet must be frozen!" And she'd quickly bring them to me.
Before I became a Hauser I was not accustomed to my feet, or any other part of my body, getting so much attention. In my family, aside from my mother making sure we had reliable boots and shoes, our feet were our own concern. There was an assumption, right or wrong, that if our feet were cold we would put on a pair of socks. My parents were sock people.
In the beginning, this Hauser family fixation with ritualized comfort was charmingly idiosyncratic. (I soon found out that slippers were just one of many preoccupations – aprons and overhead lighting figured prominently as well.) But once Mark and I had exchanged "I dos" and begun the painful process of learning how to live together as married people, the dance of a thousand slippers took on a whole new dimension.
Whether you are born into a family, or hook up with their wagon train along the way, a certain amount of adjustment is to be expected. The marrying-in can be particularly tough when wedded bliss gives way to tension as unshared histories are woven together – the "my family" versus "your family" cultural showdown that makes gin and tonic such an indispensable beverage.
It was at the height of this tug-of-war that I entered a dark, somewhat depressive state known only as "the Great Slipper Rebellion."
I began to see the slippers as yokes of oppression with which my mother-in-law was (unknowingly) trying to suffocate me.
Even if my feet were frozen to the bone, I would stubbornly refuse to cover them. Sitting in the family room listening to Rex Murphy, sipping sherry on a Sunday afternoon, I might have secretly longed to warm my frigid feet, but I refused to give in. Harriett would spy one of my naked feet and exclaim: "Oh, you poor dear, your feet must be frozen!"
"They're fine, Mom," I would say. "My feet are just fine."
Now, more than 10 years after my baptism-by-slipper, I am literally panic-stricken if I cannot find my own woolly indoor shoes first thing in the morning.
If my son has waylaid them during some game in which they have stood in for transport trucks or aircraft carriers, you will find me wandering around my house, turning over every couch cushion, upending dining-room chairs, calling out to anyone who will listen: "Have you seen my slippers? Can someone please help me find my slippers?"
Michelle Hauser lives in Napanee, Ont.