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Shoes past and present

July 26, 2011

Today a woman with wild tattoos up both legs was trying on sandals at the bargain shoe store. She was being very picky about the exact shade of brown she absolutely had to have. I suspect most people will be examining the flowers up one leg and the Polynesian scenery up the other leg and won’t notice her shoes at all. But, hey, shoes are an important part of our identity. And I identify with her pickiness. In fact, last year I sneaked into my sister’s closet and hung a sign that says: I can do anything with the right shoes.

I walk out of shoe stores muttering mantras like: “I am so thankful to have feet” so that I don’t grouse too much about having such hard-to-fit feet that I end up with ugly “practical” shoes when the rest of the female population seems to be wearing really fun, cute shoes these days. Repeat: I am thankful to have feet that walk. Even if they are shod in ugly shoes that sorta fit.

As children during the Great Depression, my parents wore ill-fitting shoes bought by their fathers, who sketched around all their children’s feet and bought shoes for everyone once a year in town. As a result, our parents made sure we three girls had proper fitting shoes for our narrow feet and fallen arches. This meant driving many miles to the Howard Curry Shoe Store in Lexington, Kentucky, which specialized in ugly narrow shoes.

We three girls paraded up the steps onto a little platform to view the tropical fish while the experts checked our fit, and when we left the store, the tree at the front of the store called us by name and bid us adieu. These distractions were supposed to help keep our minds off the ugly shoes. We always had black patent Sunday shoes with little straps to hold them on our skinny feet from Howard Curry, too. I realize now Sunday shoes must have been a financial hardship, and I realized even then they were a peace offering because other little girls wore pretty shoes to school. (This was before kids wore sneakers to school.)

My sisters could one-up me on my sad childhood shoe stories. Mary Ann had to wear white high top “BABY shoes” in FIRST GRADE for some problem. And Ginny Sue had high top brown shoes and leg braces as a preschooler. So I really can’t whine, even if the research now says all those expensive, ugly shoes didn’t really help our fallen arches.

Childhood shoes affect my shoe buying decisions today. I will not buy a pair of tie-up shoes except for hiking. I don’t care how “cute” they are. But I will never, never, ever, ever, I swear on three purses, buy a pair of suede shoes. When I was about nine, I bought a pair of suede shoes and the foam and cute little brush to clean them. The shoes seemed dirty by the time I got home and I wanted them to look nice for their premiere showing at school, so I squirted some foam and brushed it around… and the lovely suede turned into mottled brown flatness. If there is anything uglier than tie-up shoes, it is brown tie-ups that look like a cow chewed them up and spit them out. I suspect I should discuss these depressing shoes with a grief counselor.

One of my feet is a 6 ½ narrow with a bunion and the other is a 7 slim. Since I’ve never been able to find slip-on shoes to fit both feet, I especially like sling-backs or whatever you call the ones with the little adjustable strap in the back that sorta look like slip-ons. One time I lucked onto a Bruno Magli and Ferragamo sling-back sale, and it was the one time in my life when I sat surrounded by dozens of shoes and boxes, just like the women in the cartoons. The term “heavenly” comes to mind, but that seems blasphemous, so I won’t use it. “I just bought $600 worth of shoes,” I told my husband via phone. After he revived, I told him I’d spent $52 for three pairs of shoes WORTH $600. And I wore them for years and was almost glad when a kid rode over one pair with a bike after ten years (yes, while they were attached to my feet) so I could throw them away.

My husband thinks I have a lot of black shoes. He fails to see the difference between dress black shoes with higher heels and dress black shoes that I can walk in and flat casual black shoes and nice casual black shoes and so forth. Whenever he comments about all my shoes, I tell him about my friend Lynn, who was so embarrassed last time she moved about all her shoes that she started labeling the boxes things like “Edgar’s red shoes.” (Names have been changed.)

For years, I searched for Crocs type shoes that fit my skinny feet. Finally, after Crocs were out of style, I found a pair of blue Crocs knockoffs at a secondhand store for $3. Oh, joy. I thought I’d wear them for gardening, but frankly, they look great for most occasions.

My very favorite shoes of all times, though, were my Banks shoes, my wedding shoes. Elegant Italian-made shoes bought at the Banks discount store in Minneapolis (which, by the way, is where I became a bargainoholic… I’d never liked to shop before Banks). They were a lovely champagne pinkish color that I’ve never seen before or since. (You don’t suppose they were smoke damaged like some Banks stuff?) Many years and foot-widening experiences later, I was still moving these shoes from house to house and storing these shoes under the bed, although I looked like Cinderella’s stepsisters whenever I tried to stuff my feet into them. Finally this month I took a picture of them. Then I threw them in the kitchen trash can. Then I took them out of the trash can and set them on top of the can. Finally my husband, who still has his dress Birkenstocks from his sojourn in Europe in the 1980s, asked me gently if I’d like him to disappear them when I wasn’t looking. And I said yes. But I’ll never forget them. And maybe I’ll ask the lady with the tattooed legs if she’ll keep an eye out for some just like them as she searches for her just-right sandals.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jo Ann permalink
    July 27, 2011 12:01 pm

    Oh joy…I LOVED it! On so many levels! (although I have fat feet, not skinny!) Thanks for the smile tonight, I needed it! XO

  2. August 3, 2011 10:29 am

    This article really is begging to be published in a women’s magazine! Love it, love it!

    I do have to admit that my favorite footwear, however, is none. Barefoot, for me, is the ultimate in pleasure and comfort. I probably get that from my mother, who went without shoes every chance she got…and the season didn’t matter! There’s nothing so wonderful as coming home and kicking off the shoes…

  3. August 5, 2011 3:48 pm

    Joyce, I LOVE going barefoot, too. I have soooo many memories of flip flops and bare feet (and nails and tetanus shots) from childhood. For 2 years I had to wear shoes with a bit of a heel or my Achilles would act up. But yippee… since chasing Edmund a few weeks ago, my Achilles are better and I can go barefoot for a little while in the house. i keep trying to write brief blog posts, but long essays result. So… if you have any ideas which women’s magazines, let me know. LOL. I’ve sent a few essays off but mostly get rejection letters.

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