|One of four pair of Ruby Slippers worn by Judy Garland
in the Wizard of Oz.
When I was teenager, a cousin in Buffalo discovered a woman in Memphis owned a pair of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz. When he and his family visited at Easter, a phone call was made to the owner, Roberta Bauman, to see if we could look at the shoes. She’d won them in a contest in 1970.
When we arrived at her house, she opened the door and asked us to wait a moment. She turned to her coat closet and pulled a shoe box off the top shelf. I hadn’t been too excited to see the shoes and didn’t know what to expect, but the moment she opened the box is one I’ll never forget.
It was a sunny day outside, and each shoe has 2,300 red sequins sewn on. When she opened the box, the 4,600 sequins lit up in the sun like thousands of small stars. In comparison to Bauman’s drab neighborhood, her old wood-frame house and the stench of cats coming through her front door, the contrast was startling.
My cousins Carl and Kylie are fraternal twins, but both wanted to try on the shoes. The shoes were a size 6B, and I could just fit my feet in. Kylie was also able to slip her feet in, but Carl’s big feet were too big. When it was my turn, I clicked my heels and said, There’s no place like home.
|L. Frank Baum’s book The Wonderful
Wizard of Oz was published
in 1900 and was followed
by 15 novel sequels.
Recently Kylie visited me in Colorado. We hadn’t seen each other in 20 years. She and her brother were adopted by my aunt and uncle the year I was born. They are a year younger than I am, but we were all born in June. When she was here, I told her something about the adoption my mother told me.
My aunt loved babies, and when my mother had a little girl, my aunt also wanted a little girl. She and my uncle didn’t want a boy because they already had two teenage sons. My mother said to my aunt, “You can’t do that to those two kids. You can’t separate them. If you take one, you have to take the other.” So, they did.
The twins’ biological parents are artists, and Kylie and Carl are also artists. Kylie makes jewelry, and Carl is the finest drawer I’ve ever known. He would sit for hours when we were kids drawing faces. By the time he was in college, he could draw a face so realistically it looked like a photograph. My uncle, however, was a high school football coach and didn’t understand his adopted son. After Carl graduated from art school, he went through a series of failed relationships and later became a crack addict.
|The Cowardly Lion, Tin Man, Toto, Dorothy and Scarecrow|
But Oz never did give nothing to the Tin man
that he didn’t, didn’t already have
I’ve always believed people can do or be whatever they want in life. I’m not sure why I believe this. I don’t believe my parents told me that. They had a more practical approach to life, but I know my brother said that often when we were kids.
In my English comp class recently, a student wrote an essay comparing Dorothy of Oz with Alice in Wonderland. She said, “In both the Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland, the main characters wake up and find they’ve been living a dream. Dorothy and Alice have outstanding imaginations and an overwhelming sense of creativity and use their dreams to escape their lives when obstacles come their way.”
When I think of Judy Garland, two things come to mind, the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow and her later addiction to drugs and alcohol. As a young performer, she was given amphetamines to keep her moving on stage during the day and barbiturates to help her sleep at night. The regular dose led to her addiction.
Her erratic life is much like my cousin Carl’s. The last time we spoke, he could no longer remember these stories from our childhood. When I asked if he still drew, he said he couldn’t focus on it long enough anymore. On Kylie’s visit she said about her brother, “Every time I talk to him he says, ‘I’ve been clean for over a month,’ but he says that every month of the year.”
It’s odd to say, but I’ve often wondered if wearing the Ruby Slippers had some effect on our lives. Judy Garland is one of the only people I know born the same day of the year I was. I remember reading once that people born on June 10 are never at ease with who they are. They have big goals and dreams but don’t feel they have what it takes to bring them about.
Dorothy is given the shoes to help her find her way home. I’ve heard it said, To handle carefully what we hold in our hands is to come to terms with ourselves. It is to accept ourselves. All four of us — all Geminis, all born under the sign of the twins — have tried to use our creativity to come to terms with our lives. Maybe those magic shoes helped us feel more beautiful for a moment, and perhaps feeling that, if only briefly, is the only way any of us ever find our way home.