I’m trying to recall it all now - a conversation I overheard at a thrift sale for a Brooklyn synagogue. There seemed to be a touch of romance in the air, between a man and woman in their 60s. I was curious about them, because being 50 myself and considering myself unlucky in love my whole life, I still hoped to meet a nice man one day and have a relationship again. Was it even possible at an older age when so many men in their 50s wanted younger women? I’d been feeling lonely and isolated in my apartment and at my thankless job as a telemarketer, and maybe that’s why I became so interested in this older man and woman who appeared to be enjoying themselves at their booth.
This couple were seated, and before the man was a pair of well-worn back leather baby shoes. Before the woman was a plate of cookies.There was a banner on the wall saying “Thrift Sale for the Brooklyn Synagogue.” I’d been living on the Upper West Side and happened to find myself walking through Prospect Park that afternoon, but popped into the thrift sale to see if I could find any bargains. This couple interested me because of the random course of their conversation, and because I kept wondering if they’d ever hook up together.
Through listening to them, I found out the man’s name was Samuel and the woman’s was Lottie - which seemed like appropriately generation-based names for people that age.
Samuel picked up the pair of baby shoes and affectionately caressed them in his hands.
“Hmm..baby shoes,” said Samuel. “Like when I wore them in yesteryears… do you know, my grandfather in Amsterdam used to make them? Soft, almost like lambskin...polished black with shoe polish...but that was all before World War II.”
“World War II was a long time ago,” said Lottie. “And we’re in Brooklyn, not Amsterdam. And times have changed -- Jews have done lots in America besides making shoes.”
“Of course. Made billions of dollars, contributing to the economy…,” answered Samuel.
“Yes, like building the Williamsburg Bridge…”
“Well, Jews didn’t build it…,” said Samuel. “...but did you know that The New York Herald even called the Williamsburg Bridge the “Jews’Highway”?”
Lottie seemed to be thinking.
“Hmm… The Jews’ Highway. I’d like to have a “highway” for health care.”
“It’ll happen,” said Samuel.
Samuel put the pair of baby shoes down and, impulsively, I picked them up.
“Health care,” said Lottie. “Hmm...I worry about my heart and my bones.”
“I have arthritis myself.” Samuel rubbed his hands together as if they caused him pain.
“The government owes it to take good care of older people.” Lottie pushed a plate of cookies towards Samuel. “Here...have a Hamantaschen...a good Jewish cookie...shaped like a tri-cornered hat.”
Samuel took a cookie.
“Do you imagine we’ll make much at this thrift sale? Hardly anyone comes to these while Covid is happening. Everyone’s afraid…”
Suddenly I, still listening to their conversation, felt a little guilty for not purchasing anything from them yet. I fingered the pair of baby shoes I was holding, pretending to be interested in buying them.
“I’m not afraid,” said Lottie. “Listen. I went to the Empire State Building last month. And along the skyline I saw the World Trade Center.”
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” said Samuel. “But just ONE building, not TWO…”
“But it was breathtaking, the view…,” Lottie continued. “All those lights projecting from it into the sky.”
“Yes. You know, New York City was built partly by Jews...as well as Hollywood was,” said Samuel.
“Well, Hollywood! There’s a symbol for you. And Charlton Heston. Handsome. He was a gentile but
often played proud Jews. Hollywood made BEN-HUR -- what an exciting movie - with chariots and horses! Full of action --”
As I listened to Lottie I was trying to remember the movie BEN-HUR. I remembered something about a chariot race.
“Those Jewish producers knew how to make a film,” Samuel went on.
“Yes, the costumes, the sets, the drama. Have another cookie.” Lottie pushed the plate towards him.
Samuel bit into another cookie.
“I wonder about mental health. Your heart and bones matter, of course, but what about mental illness? Hitler committed suicide. Should’ve had mental health care. Might have saved the world from a whole war. My plan covers that.”
“Yes, mine too. Part B of Medicare. But obviously Hitler was cataclysmically disturbed.”
“Of course,” Samuel shrugged. “He killed himself with his female mistress at his side.”
“Yes, Eva Braun,” said Lottie. “Everyone knows that.”
I shuddered. I’m not Jewish but in my opinion the Holocaust was the single worst event ever to take place in human civilization.
“...You know, when I was a girl my parents had my baby shoes bronzed -- memorialized. I still keep them on the mantelpiece at home. My ex kept telling me to get rid of them.”
“Nice, though, to save something like that.”
“I’m glad you’re sentimental, like me. Samuel, I’ll tell you something...I had a lover once. After I was widowed. His name was Joshua...a real mensch. He bought me flowers, jewelry, food.”
“A lover? After your one and only marriage? So what happened?”
My interest in Lottie was piqued. What had her romantic life really been like?
“We broke up,” Lottie answered. “ -- he wanted to get hitched and I had no interest in a second marriage -- but I gave him my father’s old Fedora hat, to remember me by. Like those leather baby shoes this nice lady’s so carefully handling. I gave him the Fedora. Which my father always wore to the synagogue. And Joshua wore it, just like a detective from the 1940’s!! Like Humphrey Bogart… This man was wonderful -- should I have married this guy? Married a second time?”
“No reason to marry a second time if the first time was good enough. But you say he was Jewish? And a mensch?”
“You bet,” answered Lottie.
“A good man is hard to find.” Samuel smiled.
“...Well, what about you?” said Lottie impatiently. “You’ve never been married! Ever think about getting tied up with a nice Jewish lady like me? I’m having second thoughts about going around a second time. Life gets lonely all by yourself.”
Ah! So there did seem to be a little bit of a romantic prospect between this couple. I leaned forward, still caressing the pair of baby shoes as if I might buy them. I wanted to hear the rest of what this couple would say.
“But you already had your one grand love affair with your ex,” said Samuel.
“I guess so,” Lottie assented. “I loved my husband. And this mensch, Joshua, was nice but I wasn’t ready to do it again. Maybe I am now. But what about you? You never wanted to get married?”
Samuel smiled again.
“It never seemed like the right time. But it’s possible I will someday. Hey. What are you doing for Purim, Lottie?”
“Having you over for some good Jewish wine!”
“I’d like that. And I’ve seen your place -- nice decor, nice wallpaper, and a lovely menorah on the dining room table.”
Lottie suddenly sounded proud. Samuel was complimenting her.
“It’s a Brooklyn hideaway. Will you come over?”
“Will you serve smoked salmon hors d’oeuvres?” Samuel asked.
“Is that a requirement?”
“Maybe. I like my smoked salmon. With cream cheese on crackers.” Samuel rubbed his hands together again, as if he could hardly wait for a real treat.
“So you promise you’ll come over for Purim?”
Samuel suddenly looked at me -- I was still holding the baby shoes.
“Do you want those?” he asked me gently.
“I’m thinking about them,” I answered.
Samuel looked pleased.
“I have to say, I love those little baby shoes,” he said to Lottie, leaning over and kissing her face. “Soft like your cheek -- the softest skin. And you with talcum powder on your shoulders, making you smell fragrant as a field of daisies!”
Wow! So he was romancing Lottie! I was glad I’d stuck around to listen to the rest of their conversation.
“A field of daisies! What an old coot you are!” laughed Lottie. “But you’ll be over for Purim -- and we can go over our premiums for health care together. Mine went up this year, darn it. For all the “Parts” to my plan -- Part B, Part D!! It’s all so confusing… And I need help with that.”
“So it is. We’ll help each other with our health bills and whatever Medicare wants from us. And that’s a Brooklyn bargain.” Samuel took her hand and kissed it.
Making up my mind, I pulled out my wallet and handed Samuel a $10 bill for the baby shoes. I had no need for them, but overhearing Samuel and Lottie’s conversation had convinced me to finally make a purchase to increase their “take” for the day. I’d been touched by their camaraderie and obvious affection for each other.
“I do want these shoes,” I said.
“Thank you,” said Lottie, wrapping them in a piece of tissue paper. “Maybe you can put them on a mantelpiece.”
I took the shoes and wandered back onto the street. It was a sunny afternoon, cold but not windy. I was content. This elderly couple had given me new faith that I, at the age of 50, still might find true love. I felt happy and calm, as if the hands of angels had touched me. And I took the subway back home, pleased with my purchase of those dear little black leather baby shoes that a child in the distant past had so long ago worn.
Martha Patterson's 27-story collection "Small Acts of Magic" was published in 2021 by Finishing Line Press. Her other work has been published in more than 20 anthologies and journals, and her plays have been produced in 21 states and eight countries. She has two degrees in Theatre, from Mount Holyoke College and Emerson College, and lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She loves being surrounded by her books, radio, and laptop.