Penny Sprackman receives the special shoes on her 60th birthday, in 2006. (photos from Shirley Barnett)
Some things just happen and, before long, they become a tradition. In 1987, Harvey Shafron, while working at Freedman Shoes on South Granville, came across a rather clunky pair of women’s shoes on a top shelf and gave them to his sister, Rhoda (Shafron) Brickell.
Brickell, in turn, presented them to her friend Lola Pawer for her 50th birthday. Since then, the shoes have been passed from friend to friend among a group of Vancouver Jewish women on birthdays that end in a zero or five.
“It just happened,” said Shirley Barnett, a two-time recipient – on her 60th and 70th birthdays. “It became kind of fun to say, ‘Oh my God, it’s the shoes again.’”
The pair is not casually delivered; the recipient is formally presented the shoes at a celebration, usually at a restaurant, in front of the assembled pals.
“I really believe, as they were passed around, that it’s a story about friendship,” Barnett said. “When you reach a special age of some sort, everybody seems to say girlfriends are really important. It doesn’t matter if you’re divorced or widowed or you’re still married. At a certain age – and that could be 60, 70, 80 or 90 – a light seems to go on in women’s heads that says girlfriends are important. They are the ones you call in the middle of the night – maybe not, maybe you call your kids, I don’t know – but there seems to be an unwritten code that the older you get, you just need a few good girlfriends.”
The size 8C shoes have fit every recipient, Barnett said. A ceremonial walkabout by the birthday celebrant is a part of the ritual.
Leslie Diamond and Pawer have received the shoes five times. Sylvia Cristall and Darlene Spevakow have received them four times. Karla Marks is a three-time recipient and Carole Chark and Penny Sprackman have gotten them twice. Others who have been honoured with the pair are Maja Mindell, Shelley Lederman, Anita Silber, Sandy Magid, Esther Glotman and Cynthia Levy.
At the start, the names of the recipients were written on the soles of the shoes but, as Dorothy Parker said, time wounds all heels, and the inscriptions have become mostly illegible.
What has remained indelible are some of the remarks made by recipients over the years. Barnett, who is sort of the informal archivist of the group, has collected words of wisdom shared over the years.
“It is the friends we meet along life’s way who make the trip more fun,” said one birthday celebrant.
“Friends make good things better and bad things not so bad,” said another.
“Being older sets you free,” reflected one. “You care less about what other people think, you no longer need to question yourself. You have earned the right to be wrong and not think about what could have been or what will be.”
On one birthday, a friend declared: “Remember, growing old is a privilege and old friendships are rare. So, when your ‘old’ friends reach for your hand, grab it.”
Another gem Barnett has collected: “The better the friend, the less cleaning you have to do before they come over!”