I must have been in the third grade the time that mother and I went to town on a Saturday afternoon with the intention of buying a new pair of shoes for me. They would be worn only to school and church because I seldom wore shoes around the house. I had one pair at a time and they must be built to stand up under games of scrub ball and kick-the-can; games we played on the graveled school yard. Shoes cost one dollar at the store on Main Street and even sometimes a whole two dollars for something really dressy. So “shoe money” wasn’t to be thrown around aimlessly but spent wisely with much thought and measurement of feet thrown in. In those days if you wore a hole in your shoe sole, you could have a seat in one of the wooden chairs arranged along the wall in Dave’s Shoe Shop while Dave nailed a new half-sole on your shoes. That way “shoe money” could reach even further.
Mama put on her brown hat with the turned up brim and her coat with the fake fur collar and Daddy polished my old brown oxfords for the trip to town because we might see somebody we knew and we wanted to look “nice”.
Daddy stopped the car in front of Perkins-Timberlake Department store and Mama and I went in while he joined some friends seated on the wooden bench out front. We knew that he would have all the latest news to repeat to us on the way home. Mama and I walked inside and sat down in one of the wire and wooden chairs with the little seat for the salesman in front. Immediately a young man in a starched white shirt and plaid vest came forward holding a metal device meant for measuring feet, in his left hand. He took my foot in his hands, moved several pieces on the scale and then announced that due to the recent Christmas holiday and all, they were very low on children’s shoes and were absolutely out of anything in my size.
“We should be getting in a truck load of shoes after the first of the year,” he said with a pleasant smile.
My mother sighed and so did I because there was just one other chance to find shoes for me in Chillicothe and that was down the street. Mama thanked the young man for his time and away we went to Jones Bros. Mercantile on the corner across from the picture show. I walked along with a heavy heart. I was afraid I might have to go home without getting anything so the very second that the man in the dry goods store held out the brown suede shoes with the wedge heels, I fell in love.
Those beautiful, dressy shoes were almost my size too and I jumped up and down while I begged to try them on. I knew they would fit just fine. I would make them fit. I had never had really dressy shoes before and I wanted these wonderful shoes more than anything. I could just see myself next Monday when I was forced, sort of, to show off my classy shoes. Nobody in my room had shoes with wedge heels and in suede…! I knew that I would just be the envy of every girl in third grade and maybe fourth grade too. As much as I wanted those shoes, I thought I’d have a serious problem convincing my mother that they fit properly and that they would be really great school shoes.
The first part was easy. I just put all my weight on one foot and got really excited about the good fit and told my mother that my toes had room to grow. The salesman helped me out by telling my mother that girls my age just grew overnight and he was sure I would grow into those shoes before the week was out.
Mother studied the shoes and my feet and then to my surprise she got out her black money purse and without comment gave the clerk two one-dollar bills. He wrapped my old shoes in brown paper, (I insisted on wearing the new ones) and gave my mother two cents in change.
As we walked down the street, I was certain that everybody in town was admiring my beautiful brown suede shoes with the wedge heels. The fact that they slipped up and down on my heel with every step hardly bothered me at all. By the time we had visited several other stores, a sharp pain began in my right heel but I ignored it the best I could and never let Mama see the discomfort in my face. We walked and walked up and down sidewalks. It seemed like Mama had a lot of shopping to do that day and soon there was an identical pain on my left heel. Finally I made it to a bench in front of the barbershop and pulled off my shoes without untying the laces.
“I think I’ll carry my new shoes,” I told my mother. “I don’t want to wear them out on this hard sidewalk.”
Soon after that Daddy picked us up at the Drugstore and we went home. At the house I ran around barefoot and didn’t find it necessary to put shoes on again until the next morning when we got ready for church.
“Aren’t you going to wear your new shoes?” Mama asked when she saw me polishing my old oxfords.
“No, I think I’ll just save them for school,” I told her.
On Monday morning there was no longer any escape for me. I laced the new shoes as tight as I could and set off to catch the bus. My best friend told me how pretty the new shoes were and so did the teacher but their words didn’t make the pain in my heels go away.
As much as I loved a game of scrub, I sat on the fence that day and watched the other kids chasing the ball and running around the bases rather than play in those shoes, which I had by now, grown to despise. By the time I got home in the afternoon, I was in such pain that I was forced to walk like a cripple. I stumbled into the house but nobody seemed to notice and I kicked off the hated shoes and threw them far under the bed. Then I went out to play in my bare feet. When Mother called me in for tea cakes she’d just taken from the oven and a glass of milk, she started to tell me about President Coolidge whose son died of blood poisoning from a blister on his heel. I found this information absolutely electrifying and tears of self-pity poured down my face.
Mama dried my eyes for me and said, “Well, you just wear your old shoes another day or two until your new oxfords in the right size get here from Sears. Maybe you’ll grow into the wedge heels in time but remember the lesson of trying to make something fit which doesn’t or serve a purpose for which it wasn’t intended. We don’t have any money to throw away and when we spend our money, let’s try to spend it wisely.”
I was in the fourth grade before my feet grew into the shoes with wedge heels and I had to wear them even though they weren’t in style anymore. Besides I was really sick of them by that time. My mother never wasted anything and she wasn’t about to let me throw away a pair of perfectly good shoes for which she had paid one dollar and ninety-eight cents.