Shoe Life

I tried to hide my new shoes by curling my feet under my desk but I knew everyone in class was looking at them. Mrs. Knight called the roll. “Present,” I said. That’s what we were supposed to say. That was the orderly thing to say. We had to say “Present” even if Mrs. Knight was looking right at us. That’s how it was done.

My new school shoes were brown oxfords with brown shoelaces. They would be the shoes I’d wear every day to school. When I got home from school, I’d take off my school shoes and put on canvas sneakers to play outside. I understood all that, my mother’s plan for the year. I understood that the brown oxfords would last all year, they might, in fact, last forever. I remember thinking that through the fog of my mortification.

They looked like man shoes. I hated them. I hated how they looked, how they smelled, and how the brown polish my mother put on to protect the shoes from the weather had smudged my new white anklets. How could she have done this to me?

Later, standing up on the swing at recess, I looked again at my shoes. Pumping higher and higher, so high that my knees buckled at the top and I had to push my feet harder on the bench seat of the swing, I held on to the swing’s chains so hard, my palms smarted from the steel loops and watched the muscles in my legs flexing with every pump, my plaid pleated skirt flaring behind me like Superman’s cape. I pushed all my power into my brown shoes. They were powerful, like Army shoes or the shoes of a person who carried a pick axe and climbed mountains.

Over the next fifty years, I collected brown shoes, loafers, slides, boots, many boots, and I polished them with cordovan polish, sometimes plain brown, and buffed them to a shine. On Sunday nights, I’d line them up on newspaper and care for each beautiful shoe, one by one. I always loved best brown boots that could accommodate thick socks, and that became my signature look as I aged, boots that meant business, powerful boots that could withstand bumpy terrain and bad weather, that would let everyone know I could pump higher if I needed to.


“I like your boots. It’s a good look on you.”

The young woman in front of me in the cashier line at Walgreen’s cocked her head and inspected me up and down, assessing me like a foreign unexpected object found in her path. She seemed fascinated by me and by my boots.

“Thank you. They’re really comfortable. The boots. Really comfortable,” I smiled thinly and stepped back, always wary of random compliments, not that there were so many of them these days.

“Seriously, you really have a way with those boots. You can really pull it off. Not every, you know, older person can do that, look good in boots. It’s sort of something for a younger person, you know?”

The cashier was nearly done with her order. The green apple shampoo that was on sale was her last item. She rifled through her wallet for cash to pay. She stopped for a minute, looked up at me, and then wiped her nose with the edge of her t-shirt sleeve. Her hair, which badly needed washing, was pulled back in a messy ponytail with a Hello Kitty scrunchy. She probably has a little girl at home, I thought.

“If I actually had some cash, I’d buy some boots.” She pointed at her flip flops and smiled. “Then I could be like you.”

She paid with a ten-dollar bill and got several coins in change. Then she took the receipt and the small bag from the cashier and walked out the door. I saw her stop outside where a pan handler was sitting with his Mountain Dew and worn-out sign. She put the coins in his hand and he nodded thank you. I waited for her to turn, to see if I saw her give the man the change, but she just kept walking down the street in her flip flops, swinging the bag with her shampoo in time with her step.

2 Comments on “Shoe Life

  1. When I was in elementary school in the 1960s, the cool shoes to wear were loafers. Penny loafers to be exact, with a penny in that little slot. If you couldn’t wear loafers, saddle shoes were an acceptable substitute. My mother, however, thought loafers were bad for your feet and hated saddle shoes for some mysterious reason. So we had to wear oxfords, brown or blue or black. They were ugly, they were terribly un-cool, and they were mortifying. To this day, my sister (now age 70) will not wear tie-shoes, except for sneakers.

    Which is to say, I sympathize with your feelings about those brown shoes.
    (Clearly I’m way behind in reading your blog!)


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