© 2011 by Laurie Kay Olson
I am a sculptor by trade. Lydia Hensley, you may have heard of me, but I doubt it. Most of my work sells locally. This was not the vocation my parents wanted for me, but I get a great deal of satisfaction from this work. I employ a variety of mediums – stone, wood, and clay. I have done some lost-wax casting, but I don’t get the same inspiration from it as the others. My workshop is the renovated garage behind the house where I work in solitude with occasional interruptions from my cat.
I live in the house in which I grew up. My parents chose to leave it to me because of my “uncertain and unstable” life. I was, to their horror, single and in a profession with no medical or retirement benefits. In contrast to the perfection of my younger sister, Aurelia, who had married, had children, and worked part time as a dental hygienist. Even though Mom and Dad had left her their entire stock portfolio, she still resented my owning the house for reasons she would not disclose.
It was the age old sister story. Aurelia had always tried to catch up to me and resented that I was older. When times were good we were Lia and Dia, the dynamic duo of disaster. So much of the time, way too much of the time, she was jealous. I’m sure that I rubbed it in on occasion too. I won’t lay all the blame on her.
This really came to a head the Christmas I was 13 and Aurelia was 10. I received what I considered to be the best gift ever. It was a pair of ruby slippers in my size – a replica of the ones Judy Garland wore in the Wizard of Oz. I was in seventh heaven. They fit perfectly and had a low heel – my first pair of heels. I was so entranced with them I danced and twirled and admired my feet. It never occurred to me that Aurelia thought I was flaunting them at her. She wouldn’t even watch the Wizard of Oz because she was terrified of the flying monkeys. Also, she had received an amazing collection of little mice all dressed for different occasion from school to weddings.
She stole my slippers and hid them. No matter how I implored and Mom and Dad threatened, she would not say where they were. This was the time she had one up on me. I cried for weeks. Lia and Dia never existed again. Aurelia walked around with a distraught look, would cry when pressed, but would not confess.
Last spring a tremendous windstorm toppled the old oak tree in the back yard. Before the tree service arrived, I went outside to say my goodbyes. Aurelia and I had spent hours in that tree. It was our clubhouse, our hideout and the place we would go to think or talk.
As I approached the tree I took in every detail. It had grown so much over the years that it hardly seemed like the same tree it had been. I would have the men cut the tree into a nice collection of pieces to use in my work. Some of the larger branches as well. My eye caught a glimpse of something among the branches. Some of the bark had gotten scraped away in the fall. It was something red. I carefully climbed through the branches and scraped away more of the bark, and then a little more. It was red, and it had once been shiny. This was close to the main crotch of the tree.
The guys arrived to cut apart the tree a few minutes later and were more than willing to work with me to cut the tree into the pieces I required. When they got to the piece where I had found something I had them cut that into an extra large piece with some branches still attached. They moved it into my studio for me.
Once the pieces of wood were stored in my shed and the debris cleaned away I found myself face-to-face with the old crotch of the tree. I pulled out my wood tools and slowly began carving the bark and wood away little by little. There I found my long-lost slippers. They had been just plastic enough to have survived the past three decades and the tree had taken them in and grown around them. I sat and contemplated them for some time.
After Aurelia had taken my beloved shoes and been silent about their location I had turned my back on her. I had never climbed our tree again. She must have put them in the crotch of the tree where it had a little flat, recessed place where we sometimes put things. What’s more is that she must have expected me to find them there. Obviously she had not expected it to take so long.
Images played through my head and I began to carve more and more. The two main branches became two little girls with the shoes between them. Lesser branches were re-carved into the oak tree. I spent months carving, sanding, polishing and curing. Finally, I had a small tree with the shoes growing out of them, two little girls with familiar faces, and the other branches with knots and leaves that shaped into the faces of our parents and grandparents.
I had worked like a woman possessed and I had not noticed the arrival and passing of summer. Autumn had come. Aurelia’s birthday was just around the corner. We hadn’t spoken in years. Now was the time. She needed to know that I had finally found the shoes where she had left them for me.
The sculpture was packed up with the care I would have given if I were shipping it to the Louvre. It was a declaration of détente.
Three days later the phone rang. I answered to hear sobbing at the other end. “Aurelia?”
The sobbing continued. She was even hiccupping as she had when she was a little girl. “I’m so sorry!” she finally wailed.
“I am too,” I said, tears springing into my eyes.
We talked then, really talked, like we had when we were little girls. Secrets started spilling all over the place. After she had stolen the shoes, complete in their pasteboard box, she had buried them behind the garage. After a few days of my, she had begun to feel guilty and had dug them up again. She had scrawled “I’m sorry” on the lid and left it in the tree for me to find, but I had never gone back. Most shocking was she admitted that when I was passionate about anything she had feared that I wouldn’t love her as much. When I didn’t go back to the tree she was certain I had never loved her at all. How could a child who was so loved have so little self esteem? All of the old hurts followed. My resentment over constantly being compared to her “perfect” life slipped out. Her resentment because she had been compared unfavorably to not having the drive and initiative I possessed. Neither of us had known that our parents had been playing us off each other in an attempt to make us more well-rounded individuals.
Her despair over my receiving the house was because she had wanted it so that she could leave her husband came next. He had been cheating on her for years and she was too terrified to leave and not have a place to live with the kids. My eyes stung with tears again. So her life wasn’t perfect after all. In return, I told her of the loneliness of my life. Sure there were friends, but it wasn’t the same as family.
I think it was about three a.m. before we reluctantly hung up, too tired to talk any further. Many fences had been mended and many plans made. By Christmas we were a family again. Aurelia had left her husband and filed for divorce. She and her kids moved in with me. There is more than enough room. My cat hid under the bed for several days before she got used to the family. I couldn’t say I blame her. There were days when I would have liked to have hid under the bed, but I love the bunch of them.
Of course, Aurelia brought the shoes with her. I redesigned the sculpture slightly and added a glass table top. It stands in the foyer now.
My nephew, who is becoming a fine woodworker, made a sign for the front door: Lia and Dia’s Place Forever. We hung it in place with great ceremony and a pledge to keep it true – shoes or no shoes.