There must have been a hundred in every shape and color; spiky-heeled dress pumps, glittery flats, and strappy sandals--all banished to the floor of Grandpa's closet as though the mere sight of them would be too much for his poor wife to bear. Due to vascular issues, my Gram had been forced to abandon her shoe fetish and don an orthopedic leg brace with its twin black shoes. The closet was a footwear graveyard that drew my sister and I like a magnet. We spent hours clumping and stumbling around in them, or sorting pairs by style and hue. Maybe that is where my love-hate relationship with shoes began?
Don't get me wrong--I am not one of Those Women (Shoe Tramps) who own a pair of shoes for every day of the month. On the contrary, I am much more of a Shoe Monogamist. I fall in love with one pair of shoes at a time and wear them until they fall apart. I can even tell you where the only shoe repair shop is in town because I have tried, on more than one occasion, to resurrect shoes that have lived past their prime.
In truth, my first choice would be to not wear shoes at all, and I have the callouses on my heels to prove it. I love the texture of grass and sand under my feet and, as a child, my feet were naked from spring thaw to first frost. I remember sprinting across the hot asphalt in July and picking my way over thistle covered fields in September. (Sliver removal consumed a lot of my spare time.) I once lost a toenail when I tripped (barefoot) over a tent stake in the dark and later made a trip to the doctor for a tetanus shot when I jumped (still barefoot) off the top of the picnic table driving a rusty nail into my big toe. But on those days I was forced to wear shoes, the most important factor was that they be comfortable. And I had some strong opinions about style.
As a preschooler, my favorite shoes were a pair of red Keds with a white rubber bumper on the toe. I cried when my mother threw them away because they were worn out. I also remember a pair of black cowboy boots that I wore (even though they pinched my toes) because, what could be cooler than cowboy boots. Seriously? Except maybe chaps and spurs and a pony...
The end of every summer we got new tennies for school. They felt strange on feet that had been unfettered for months. But I'd lace them up and do a test drive for my Gram.
"Hey, Gram, watch! See how fast I can run in these shoes? See how high I can jump?"
I loved even the smell of the new shoes and went to bed at night with them on my pillow, drifting off to sleep to the sweet aroma of new rubber soles.
I received my favorite footwear one year for Christmas in the form of a craft project (ages 8 & up.) It was a Make Your Own Moccasin Kit with pieces of pre-cut suede and leather cord. My dad ended up putting them together and I insisted on bringing them to school even though it was the dead of winter. Every morning, I'd leave my snow boots in the 4th grade cloakroom, slip on my moccasins, and slink around the school hallways like the Indian I always knew I was. One day, during reading group, we were clustered on the floor around the radiator when I felt something wet against me. The radiator had leaked hot water onto the wood floor and it had soaked onto my precious moccasin. It never looked the same after that--dark and smooth and worn. I was deeply grieved.
My most memorable footwear was probably the first pair of shoes I picked all by myself. Fall shoe shopping at our house was an event. We had to drive all the way to Alex or Fergus to the shoe store and it was a big deal. We'd slip off our old, too-small shoes, and the shoe guy would put our sweaty stockinged-feet against the cold metal of the foot measurer to see how much our feet had grown. Mine had always grown a lot. I was about to go into the seventh grade and, this summer, my feet had grown even more than usual, apparently. I was in a women's size 8. I looked and looked through the racks of [boring adult] shoes when suddenly I spied the most perfect pair ever! They were suede oxfords in a patchwork of vibrant colors--orange and purple and green. I tried them on and was instantly smitten. (Bear in mind this was the 70s.)
"Oh, please please pleeeeeease, can't I have these?! I love them so much!!"
My mom was skeptical. "They're the only ones you're going to get. You'll have to wear them all the time. What if you get tired of them?"
"Oh, I WON'T!!" I promised. "No one has shoes like this, I want them!!"
I was the happiest 12 year-old alive as I left the store in my patchwork shoes, my old ones in the new box tucked under my arm.
I didn't get much of a response about my new shoes at first. People politely smiled when I'd thrust my foot out for their admiration. But one night, on a rare treat of eating supper at the City Restaurant, my shoes got noticed:
We were sitting around the back table--my parents, my grandparents, my sisters and I--happily eating hamburgers and drinking orange pop. Liz Borg (a 4th grader who lived across the street from us) walked in with her mom and began chatting with the adults.
"How do you like my new shoes?" I asked Liz, proudly bringing forth my brightly clad appendage.
"Oh, gosh, they look like CLOWN shoes!" she gasped with round eyes. "They make your feet look HUGE!"
My face burned with humiliation. I swallowed my mouthful of hamburger, yanked my foot back under the table, and kept it there the rest of the meal. My feet felt enormous--as though they were swelling by the moment. I could almost see the garish glow of their suede uppers through the oak tabletop. As soon as we got home, I ran upstairs and pushed the offending shoes as far under the bed as I could reach. Then I pulled out the old pair from the new shoe box and wore them, even though they hurt my toes. I hadn't realized how shamefully big my feet were and I vowed never to draw attention to them again.
I have long since grown into those big feet and make no further apologies for them. My feet have served me well over the years and I regard them, callouses and all, with great fondness. Once again, summer is approaching and it will be time to shed my winter footwear and display my ample feet to the world. The thought of digging through summer boxes hunting for my worn out flip flops makes me very happy. Rest assured, if you ever have to walk a mile in my shoes, at least you'll be comfortable.