Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My Shoes and Me

I seem to have misplaced a month. OK, not really misplaced - I watched it fly by, but I haven't posted here. I haven't written off-line either, stories or poetry. I haven't read any books either (well, I did read one-and-a-half pages the day before yesterday, but I'm going to have to re-read that part when I I next pick up the book.

What have I been up to? Well first there was some heavy-level neatening up of the house in preparation for Passover and guests. Then there was menu-planning and cooking for the same. Then as soon as that was over I (finally!) started and quickly finished our tax returns. And overlapping that my wife's niece and her mother came for a quick visit. That was followed by laundry so that my wife could head off to a conference.

I finally realized that I'd feel better if I just dove in an started writing again. So I looked up a bunch of old, old prompts and picked one from the first year of Sunday Scribblings. The prompt, "my shoes" launched this piece. Sorry it's a bit long - but then so are my feet!

When you are very small you don't know what shoes are. The adults around you may ooh-and-aah about how cute they are, but then they are likely doing the same thing over your fingers and ears. Probably the same reason that baby vegetables are popular – the whole tiny and sweet thing.

Then shoes become a struggle. You want them on when your mother wants them off, and vice versa. And for those of us who grew up before Velcro, the laces wouldn't stay tucked into those little "don't bother me" plastic, "childproof," barrels. Or the buckles on the straps were just too small to manage.

Around the time I started kindergarten I tried to learn to tie my own shoes. I wanted to very much to tie the laces, but I just couldn't get it right. We even got oddly-shaped cutouts in school, that laced up and we could practice on. (OK, I think they were supposed to look like a shoe, but the point of view was not what I saw when I looked down at my feet – it was like a snail's eye view of someone else's feet. But I digress…)

Fortunately my older brother came to my rescue. He says now that teaching me to tie my laces was self-defense; that he was tired of doing it. Whatever the reason, his lessons stuck and I moved into a phase of being at peace with my shoes.

I don't remember much about my shoes before I was nine years old. I am sure there were dressy shoes to wear when I needed something to go with a fancy, lacy dress. I'm sure there were sandals for the summer, and boots for the winter. Mostly I remember Keds. I always had white ones – or at least I did for about a day after they came out of the box. They then moved toward gray at a rapid pace that could only be slowed down by occasional trips through the washer and dryer.

Then my feet started growing. No one in my family had tiny feet (at least not after infancy). But I remember outgrowing a pair of dressy sandals I had worn only once or twice. They were simple and not too little-girly so my mom gave them to someone who could use them – my best friend's mother! I couldn't get my brain wrapped around the fact that my feet were bigger than a grown-up's.

Until that time most of my shoes came from the shoe store downtown. There was only one shoe store that was on the "bank corner" (across from the First National Bank and catty-cornered from the Farmer's and Merchant's Bank). The man who owned the store happened to be our next-door-neighbor and his son was a year younger than I was. For a small town, there was a pretty good selection and he was happy to order anything for us to try on. Trips to buy new shoes took longer and often involved that option to order something to try on when it came in a few days later. Mom grumbled about all the multivitamins she had given us when we were little. She also threatened to make us wear the shoeboxes since they were bigger, though we knew she was just teasing.

I was eleven years old when I entered sixth grade. That fall I was tickled to have a new pair of leather penny-loafers. They were pretty simple shoes, but I loved them, especially after Daddy showed me how to put a real penny into the vamp on each one. I was greatly saddened to find I had outgrown them just a month later.

The good news was that by the end of that school year it seemed my shoe size had finally stopped changing. The bad news was that I wore a US size 10, narrow.

Finding shoes in that size was hard enough. It was tougher still finding ones that didn't accentuate the length of my foot or that didn't look like it belonged on someone two or three times my age. Lace-ups were a better bet since they helped keep the shoes on my narrow foot. Straps across my foot seemed to help the illusion that I didn't have canoes on the end of my feet.

And by the time I was in high school I had entered that love/hate phase that I swing through even now. I coveted leather Frye boots like I saw in the magazines, but there was no way to fit my long foot down the shaft of a boot that didn't zip up. I needed tall black boots to wear with my flag-waving outfit for marching band. Getting those boots involved a trip to St. Louis and a huge department store.

I could no longer borrow shoes from my mom. Even the strappy black sandals that seemed a little big on her. I learned to set my expectations low when we went shoe-shopping. I went for whatever fit and had good support. And it helped if it didn't look like it belonged on a drag queen (no offense, ladies). I get away with sneakers at work a lot of the time, and I always have two or three pair of black shoes to wear with my long black choir skirt.

As an adult, I found that trips to try on shoes at warehouse-style stores needed to be a solo expedition for me. While friends could try things on in each aisle, I had to wander a lot further to see out the few pairs that were (supposedly) in my size.

It was with great delight that I discovered a shoe store for hard-to-fit sizes. It is not so easy to get to (you have to know where you are going or you'll never find it). But the man who runs it is patient and knowledgeable. He will order anything for you and sends out e-mail with a picture of each new style that comes in. My (now) size-11 average width-with-a-narrow-heel feet don't phase him and I can try on box after box of shoes in MY SIZE.

The only problem I now have is learning to balance the "it fits!" feeling in the store with a clear-eyed evaluation of how comfortable it will really be later. Does it have enough support? And occasionally I have purchased a pair of shoes that is so truly comfortable that I don't realize until a couple of weeks later how unattractive they are.

So I still hate that it takes a special trip to find shoes for me. I don't like that I have to try shoes on to know if they are really going to fit or not. But I do love the pair of grey suede flats I have (though I can't wear then for too long – not enough support). And I like the red sneakers I have nearly worn out – they are so cheerful! And I love the brown microfiber pumps I got for our wedding that I now wear with some dressier slacks at work. And I love it when I'm not the one with the hardest-to-fit-feet in the shoe store.

1 comment:

Janet said...

I'm glad you're back...that was some story!