When I was a little girl, I got my shoes at Baldy’s Shoe Store. Mom loaded us all up in the car, and we went into town — once in the Summer for Keds tennis shoes, or “sneakers” as Dad called them, and once in the Fall for school shoes: That’s all we needed, just two pairs.
When the door to the Shoe Store opened, a little bell rang and Baldy came out from the back room where he kept millions of shoes.
“There you are.” he said, just like he’d been watching for us in that back room. Mom lined us up in the Baldy’s leather chairs and he measured us all one-by-one, then brought the shoes out for us to try on. I loved the smell of leather and shoe polish; it was the smell of possibilities, something new happening, something good: just like the crocuses coming up in the Spring, then you knew Summer would come, or the leaves falling before Winter and Christmas.
Baldy said that me and my sisters had the narrowest feet he ever saw. He grabbed my big toe and gave it a little pull. “Eenie, meenie, minee, moe. Catch a kitten by the toe,” he said, then ran his thumb down the bottom of my foot sending a delicious chill all over me. “You grew a whole size since the last time I saw you.” I sat up a little taller and the leather chair squeeked beneath me.
Baldy always had a new joke for me, like “What’s black and white and red all over?” He was so smart and pretty darned funny, too; those two things hardly ever go together, if you ask me. Mom and Dad thought I was smart and funny, like the time I saw a Volkswagon beetle and I said, “Step on it Dad, it’s a bug.” Those two laughed ’till I thought they’d pee their pants. I wasn’t even trying to be funny.
After I had my new shoes on, Baldy said. “Let’s see you run now.” and I’d run the whole length of the store. “Never seen such fast shoes.” and he held his chin between his first finger and his thumb and shook his head, like he was considering all the kids he’d ever seen run in his shoes. After everyone had shoes, Mom took us to Ben Franklin’s for a piece of chocolate with peanuts in it. The lady in Ben Franklin’s had chocolates in a glass case, which she weighed up according to how much Mom said, no wrappers or labels. It was super-good chocolate, better than Snickers or Hershey’s.
I never had hand-me-down shoes, Mom said people must have their own shoes. Baldy measured my feet and brought out the shoes for me to try on, then Mom let me choose between two or three thick pairs, that were all about the same, maybe one cordovan, one black, and one brown. My friend Connie had saddle shoes, but I dragged my feet too much and scuffed around more than anyone Mom had ever seen before, so those were out of the question for me. Deanna had saddle shoes.
I had to stay with tie-shoes, ’cause my feet just flopped right out of loafers; Baldy said my feet were made for tie-shoes; he made it sound like I was lucky. I wished I could have penny loafers. Deanna’s friend Cletta’s big sister, who was in high school had penny loafers and she put dimes in the little slot where the penny’s supposed to go. I think she was showing off, letting everyone know she could just waste dimes like that. Dad gave me dimes for any “A” on my report card; I had a whole bunch saved up in a band-aid tin in my bedroom.
My Keds had two holes in each shoe before the end of summer, one by the pinky-toe and one by the big toe. It was no big deal, because everybody had holes in their Keds. Once I wore a hole in the bottom of my school shoes. Dad told me that happened to people all the time in the Depression, they had to put a piece of cardboard in there to protect their feet. Mom said we couldn’t afford to buy new shoes every day, so I cut out some cardboard, just like people did in the Olden Days, when Dad was young. I used the bottom of my Big Red Tablet, ’cause it was pretty easy to cut that in the shape of my shoe. I saw no difference at all until it rained, then my sock got wet and dirty, like I was walking in the mud with no shoe on at all. It was ’cause I went outside without my boots on, I should have remembered that. It must have been a hard life in the Olden Days.
When Mom saw that sock, all wet and dirty, I thought she was going to have a conniption fit like on the Honeymooners. But she didn’t. She just let out her breath slow and long, shook her head and let her shoulders drop about down to her knees. That could mean just about anything from “I can’t believe the things you think up,” to “you’re in trouble now.” but for sure it didn’t mean “good job.”
I got to see Baldy again for a new pair of shoes. Mom said I had to have real leather this time, even if it was more expensive. I never had another hole in the bottom of my shoe, ever again.
It’s funny how much we think we need, when two pair of shoes would do us just fine. Well, maybe one pair of black, one brown, one pair of cordovan, one for dress-up, one for everyday, one pair of boots, one pair of wedge sandals, flip-flops for the beach, flip-flops I can wear with a dress…. Yeh, I probably do have more than I really need. Still, Oh the possibilities!