Worn-out shoes

In the autumn of 1945, in the broken months after the end of the Second World War, Natalia Ginzburg was living in Rome in a pair of worn-out shoes. Her husband had been murdered, and their children were sheltering with her mother in the countryside. She walked in worn-out shoes because they were better than the pair she had owned during the war, and because if she had money, there were more important things to spend it on. She thought about her children and wondered whether they, grown up, would decide to give up what is pleasant but not necessary, or affirm instead the right to wear solid, sound shoes on their feet.

Soon I shall leave and return to my mother and children and be in a house where no one is allowed to have worn-out shoes. My mother will take me in hand; she will stop me using pins instead of buttons and writing till the small hours. And, in my turn, I shall take my children in hand and overcome the temptation to let my life go to pieces. I shall become serious and motherly, as always happens when I am with them, a different person from the one I am now – a person my friend does not know at all.

I shall watch the clock and keep track of time, I shall be cautious and wary about everything and I shall take care that my children’s feet are always warm and dry, as I know that they must be if it is at all possible – at least during infancy. And perhaps even for learning to walk in worn-out shoes, it is as well to have dry, warm feet when we are children.

Natalia Ginzburg, The Little Virtues, trans. Dick Davis, Daunt Books