I’m not “Laboring” on Labor Day!

This holiday weekend I’ve been working on my syllabus for my writing class that will begin on Sept. 10. One of the early assignments is to write a paragraph about a time when their parents made them wear an article of clothing that embarrassed them. I’m sure most of us have had that experience so an instant of inspiration hit me and I remembered a time in my own childhood when such a thing happened to me. As long as today is Labor Day — I’m not working hard on my blog today. Instead, I’m sharing my embarrassing experience with all of you.  Have a nice holiday!

Can’t Fashion and Footwear Be Friends?

       When I was in first grade, my parents were told by my pediatrician that I had flat feet. At the time I had no idea what that meant, but I have recently researched the problem to learn it is a condition in which the foot does not have a normal arch when standing. The bottom line is: Most flat feet DO NOT cause pain or other problems, so I never understood the big deal.

My concerned parents wanted a perfect child, so they took the doctor’s word as gospel, and before I knew it, we were at the shoe store to buy a a pair of “corrective” shoes.

In my town,  Stilb’s Shoe Store was the place we needed to go to buy the shoes. A man with thick glasses and a bad suit greeted my mother and she told him why we were there. He invited us to sit, pulled over a short stool that had a kind of ramp and then he measured my right foot. I walked with my mother and the man over to a display of children’s shoes and the man explained I had two choices – big, clunky, brown “Buster Browns,” or Stride Rite Saddle Shoes. I wanted to protest but my mother had “that look” that told me not to say I word. I pointed to the lesser of two evils and opted for the saddle shoes.

When the man put the shoes on my feet, I couldn’t bend my foot. I picked up one foot after another like a monster in a cheesy movie. My mother scolded me for acting like a clown, and I cried, “But, Mom, I can’t bend my foot!” She and the man answered, “You just have to break them in and then you’ll walk fine.” I thought, “Yeah, right. Fine. I’ll only be the laughing stock of the first grade.

I was right, too. When I walked into Room One the first day of school, every other girl said, “Nice shoes.” I was doomed. They knew I had no style. I was labeled a geek before my time. Wearing those white shoes with black sides and thick soles made me feel like a field horse in a stable of stallions that wore dainty Mary Janes or patent leather flats.

At recess all the girls jumped rope. They leaped like graceful ballerinas, but I landed with thuds as the soles as thick as truck tires hit the pavement. I was humiliated. I needed a strategy to get rid of these shoes!

I decided to play Rock‘em, Sock’em Red Rover Come Over and Dodge Ball with the boys to wear out the clunky shoes. I thought if I brought home a battle scarred pair of saddle shoes, maybe my mother would be ashamed of how they looked, and I might stand a chance of getting prettier footwear.

I held my breath when I handed my mother the scuffed and dirty white toed shoes only to get a scolding. “Why can’t you act like a girl, Barbara Jean?” (Whenever I heard my mother used my middle name and first name together, I usually set my self up for a spanking.) Mother grabbed the shoes away saying something about me not appreciating anything. Inside I thought, “Oh, good. It worked! I’ll get some new shoes very soon.”

Did my plan work? Well, not exactly. A few hours later after my mother smeared some white Griffin Shoe Polish over the toes and buffed them with a white rag, she gave them back to me with a smile. “There you go, dear, good as new!”  I carried the regenerated saddle shoes to my bedroom, threw them in the closet,  and plopped onto my bed. I day dreamed of the days when my feet would have arches, and I could run in a pair of PF fliers like the rest of the kids on my block.

As I thought more about my shoe dilemma, it seemed my only recourse was to grow bigger feet. So, as soon as my toes touched the tip of the inside of my shoes, I faked a limp so my mother could see my deep suffering. “Mom, my toes are squished!” I’d complain. “Isn’t that more important any old flat feet? I need new shoes!”  A few days later, we piled in the Buick and headed for the shoe store to buy a new pair of shoes for my ever expanding feet. All the way into town, I dreamed of the red Mary Janes I saw in the Sears catalog, and this time I would skip happily out of the store.

My mother sat me down in a chair to be sized up by the shoe man. After he knew my new size, I waited in anticipation as he searched the mysterious back room for just the right pair. When he returned, my eyes grew big as he opened the shoe box and there they were! My new shoes!

The salesman peeled back the tissue paper, and I couldn’t believe it!  Oh, no! Another pair of saddle shoes! But this time, they were brown and white instead of black and white. There must be a mistake! These shoes weren’t for me! Where was my Mary Janes?  He laced up the new Stride Rites, and I walked out of Stilb’s Shoe Store not being able to bend my feet again.

It was at that very moment I surmised I would probably have to be as old as my mother before I had any say so in what footwear would don my feet. Until then, I was doomed to wear clunky, ugly shoes that made me walk funny.

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