My New Saddle Shoes
Imelda Marcos I am not. I cannot even imagine a closet with three thousand pairs of shoes. I am my father’s daughter. I buy shoes to last. Today I was lacing up my trusty Sorels, boots I purchased in 1983 in a sporting goods store in Missoula , boots made for slogging through heavy winter snows, when the memory of my old saddle shoes flashed through my mind.
I was in the fifth grade when, for the first time, I began to notice what my classmates were wearing—saddle shoes. Saddle shoes defined style. Saddle shoes were white with a perky black “saddle” over the instep. One after another, my girlfriends got them. I felt as if I were the only girl in school who did not own the coveted black and white saddle shoes.
My father purchased shoes according to the season. Each spring he bought me a new pair of black patent leather Mary Janes, Easter church shoes. I remember one year I got a white pair, but they didn’t make my heart sing like those wonderful black Mary Janes. Then in the last week of August, before school resumed, he bought my school shoes, brown, utilitarian brogans. Tough shoes. Shoes made to last. Spring or fall, Dad bought my shoes a full size too large. I was a growing girl. I would “grow into” them. And grow I did. Half the year my feet slopped about in my shoes; the other six months they pinched my toes. Year after year.
The fall of sixth grade, I screwed up my courage and told my Dad that I wanted saddle shoes, please. When he came home from school shopping, he set the packages on the table. I ripped opened the shoe box. Here were my new saddle shoes. Tears stung my eyes. They were wrong, all wrong. I tried to pretend I was excited. My Dad had wanted to please me. But they were brown and white. Brown? The brown saddle might have been neon, it flashed so insistently in my eyes. I tried them on. They looked monstrous.
My girlfriends’ shoes hugged their feet like gloves, slim and graceful. With those shoes one would dance through life. Their shoes were made of pliable, glove-soft leather elegantly stitched onto the coral rubber sole. A vertical strip of black defined the heel. My shoes rattled on my feet like Clementine’s “herring boxes without topses”. My shoes were carved out of cowhide one quarter inch thick, stitched to a slab of black Goodyear tire. My shoes were made to clump down the lane to herd the milk cows to the barn. Where did Dad find these clunky copies of my coveted shoes? Were they cheaper? They might even have been costlier; obviously they were meant to last. They were the usual size too big. And this was the year I quit growing.
Every night I cleaned and polished my two-toned shoes, carefully keeping within the lines, like coloring a page in a child’s book. When the polish dried I buffed them to a shine. Although I hated them, I took care of them. When they became scuffed or dirty, I imagined I could hear them scream at me, “Ugly, ugly, ugly.” At school, I pulled my feet far beneath my desk, trying to hide what could not be disguised. I deliberately shuffled my feet through the gravel trying to rub holes through the bottoms. I prayed the stitching would unravel. I tried to wear through the toes but my toes came nowhere near reaching the tips of my shoes. It was a year of humiliation.
Summertime finally arrived and with it the hope for new shoes for the next school year. I began hinting that I would like to accompany my father when it came time for school shopping. I wanted to pick out my own shoes, shoes that finally would fit my feet.
“Why, look here,” my father said. “There is room in the toes of these shoes for another year. You have taken such good care of them. I am proud of you.” He took my horrid saddle shoes to the shop in town and had them re-soled.
I wore those shoes to school for three years and never did grow into them. When I got to high school, I switched to tennis shoes for every day wear. I buried those hideous brown and white saddle shoes, still “perfectly good”, in the back of the closet in the attic. Had I not, I’ve no doubt that I would still be wearing them.
HDN: Looking out my back door
March 3, 2011