by Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
I was a little girl I loved new shoes. We got new shoes at various
times of the year, when necessary – galoshes, flip-flops, the obligatory
summer Keds – but, none of these shoes carried the same emotional
weight as new school shoes and new Easter shoes. And of the two, school
shoes were the more important. Easter shoes could be nothing but frivolous
and beautiful. You were not defined by your Easter shoes the way you
were by your school shoes. School shoes, in my opinion, said more
about you than the width of your bell bottoms, the number of rainbow
and daisy and peace sign patches on your jean jacket, how many puka
shell chokers you had, said more about you than practically anything,
than the sum total of all the other things.
Sixth grade was a formative year for me. I began to notice what other
people were wearing, what slang they were using, what radio station
they listened to (X-Rock 80, Juarez, Mexico), what was cool and what
was not. Prior to sixth grade I was just as likely to show up for
school in last Spring’s white patent leather, a pair of high-water
purple Levi’s I got hand-me-down from my extremely cool second cousin
(who was a teenager!!!) and a pancho sent by a friend of the family
from Peru, as anything else. Didn’t care as long as all the requisite
parts of my body were covered by something. Evidently, nobody else
cared either, because I don’t remember any unhappy playground episodes
– except for one time when we were playing Chase and I caught this
one guy (Steven Benevides) by the back of his shirt (don’t know what
I was going to do with him after I caught him, because it was Chase
not Catch). He kept going but his shirt didn’t. I had to sit down
the whole rest of the recess. I was unhappy about the injustice of
this and muttered the "d" word under my breath almost loud enough
for Mr. Marvin Henry, scourge of Carl Conlee Elementary School, to
hear me. But not quite. I might have been wearing scuffed up Wellington’s
with last year’s Easter dress, but I wasn’t a complete idiot.
Sixth grade was the year of the tan and blue saddle oxfords with the
big chunky dark pink sole and heel. These shoes were the height of
fashion at Carl Conlee that year and everybody wore them. When I say
"everybody" I mean specifically: Lynn Winters, Jennifer Faust, Theresa
Tellez, and those girls. You had a different group of them at your
school, but you know who I mean. The only problem was that these shoes
were poorly and cheaply made out of some kind of mystery vinyl type
material which, by it’s smell, was made up in part of fish byproducts.
I was allowed to have them – thank goodness, or who knows what might
have happened – but after that first day I was forbidden to take them
off in the house. Not just at my house by my parents, but at anybody’s
house by everybody’s parents. Which just goes to shoe – I mean show
– that "all that glitters is not gold."
The point is, they were important to me, and even though my mother
didn’t want to buy them because they were not leather and didn’t have
any arch and my father thought they were ugly, and (as many, many
families in southwestern New Mexico that year came to know) they were
absolutely foul smelling from the get-go, despite all this, I was
allowed to have them. Putting me on an even footing with all the other
girls. Including Lynn Winters.
There have been several other times in my life when I felt beautiful.
Senior prom. My wedding day. Wedding days, I guess. But no other article
of clothing in my life has had quite the importance to me that those
very ugly, very wonderful, very fragrant, magically powerful saddle
oxfords had. Which is why if Tootie wants to dress exclusively from
thrift shops, Sarah wants to wear a sports bra with everything, and
David thinks getting dressed up is wearing the Chucks with fewer holes
than the other pair, it is pretty much okay with me. Because I remember
just how it felt to have the most beautiful shoes in the whole world.
I never fuss, because I remember how it was. And I can put the shoe
on the other foot.
You had to see that coming!