– By Samuel Moore-Sobel
“From Sears?” my father asks rather abruptly, a typical response whenever he hears the name of his favorite store. “You’ve got to go to Sears…you can get some good deals at Sears.”
I am in the middle of a conversation with my family, talking about my need for new shoes. My current pair are starting to show signs of wear, the right sole rapidly separating from the body of the shoe in a rather dramatic fashion. I try to avoid buying new shoes — well, new anything – for as long as I can, a lesson from my father imparted early in childhood. Yet even I can no longer ignore the growing need for something new.
“Are you going to show me the shoes?” my father continues. “Let me see the shoes – you know how I love shoes.”
There is nearly nothing my father loves more than buying shoes. Few things make him happier than speaking about the intricacies of shoes – the weight and length, the design and fitness, the style and durability. Somewhat of a shoe aficionado, he has a large collection in his closet, a habit my mother has tried to break over nearly 25 years of marriage. “He used to have 20 to 25 pairs of shoes,” she tells me, referring to their early years of marriage. Now it’s closer to five to 10.
The birth of his love of shoes is in his love for his grandfather, a long-time shoe salesman, who owned stores throughout Southern Virginia. Due to the nature of his profession, my great-grandfather ensured that my father’s closet was stocked with plenty of shoes during his childhood. Since my great-grandfather’s murder in 1980, Sears became dad’s preferred venue for the purchase of shoes.
Named after my father’s grandfather, I have always felt a special affinity for shoes. Shopping with my father for a new pair of sneakers became a special tradition. A positive experience that we could both do and share together.
Except he always insists on shopping at Sears.
An iconic American store, Sears was arguably the biggest retailer of the 20th century; however, Sears has quite simply seen better days. Its decline has been well documented in countless articles, including a recent one my father and I read in the The Washington Post. “I’m really going to miss that store,” my father said sadly after putting the paper back down on the table.
As a child, shopping at Sears often felt like a comedy of errors. After inspecting each shoe on display, my father routinely found empty shoe boxes or shoes not in the desired size. With no associate in sight, my father would make it his mission to find someone to assist him in his quest to find a pair.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, a pair would be found. Off to the register we would go, only to be delayed by the slow, 1980’s era cash registers. Dad would insist on paying with his Sears credit card, which would be repeatedly, mistakenly declined. After 30 minutes on the phone with the call center, somehow the confusion would get sorted.
A deal is struck. If we go to the Outlets instead of Sears, my father can tag along. We decide on Bass shoes since they are running a sale, hoping to find a pair of shoes that will fit. You can sense my father’s excitement as he walks in the door and glides over towards the shoe section. Touching each pair as he walks by, he finally settles on one near the middle. Except that they do not have a pair in my size.
“Do you have this in a different size, Miguel?”
My father makes a habit of calling people by their first name, no matter the manner in which he comes into contact with them. The delivery man, the shoe associate. Anyone wearing a name tag receives the same treatment.
This scene plays out over and over, my father asking Miguel to retrieve more boxes of shoes in the back. We try multiple sizes and lengths; yet, despite Miguel’s efforts, no fit can be found.
“I’m sorry Miguel,” my father says.
“It’s OK,” Miguel says as he sits down against the rack of shoes with an exhausted look on his face. Maybe we should have gone to Sears after all.
As we leave, my father recalls the days of old, shopping at his beloved Sears. “I miss those days actually,” he said as if coming to this realization for the first time. Sometimes my father talks like this, uttering deeply nostalgic words tinged with a hint of regret.
A father and son relationship is always fraught with peril. My father is a deeply complicated man, far more complicated than he appears to the outside world. Like most relationships, we missed each other along the way at times, occasionally resembling two ships passing in the night. Reaching adulthood has changed my perspective, however, shining a clear light on the reality surrounding decisions dad made during my childhood. Suffice it so say, the world no longer seems as simple as it once did.
“When your children grow up, things change…treasure the moments, they pass quickly,” he says, before going mute. Reflecting upon his words for a few moments, I wondered if his longing to return to Sears was borne out of a desire to reconnect with my childhood. Was Sears a vehicle to go back in time, to experience the moments he now so clearly missed?
“Next time, we can go to Sears,” I tell him with all the conviction I can muster. If the iconic store fails to close its doors in the meantime, that is.
Samuel Moore-Sobel needs a new pair of shoes. To read his most recent blog post, visit www.holdingontohopetoday.com