Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Walking in another’s shoes…

Every spring my mother would take me shoe shopping. We would go to the girls shoe department of Foley’s, in Houston. Spring of 1959, there we were, waiting to have my growing feet measured for a new pair of white Sunday School shoes and a pair of tie-up Keds, usually red. These shoes were to carry me through of first grade and the summer. As we sat waiting to be helped, my eyes zeroed in on the most incredible pair of tennis shoes. They weren’t lace ups, but slip ons, much like today’s Vans.

I was relentless. I begged, whined, and clung to my mother until she agreed to buy me these shoes. My mother was frugal and sensible and these slip-on tennis shoes seemed impractical, but she finally relented and I had a brand new pair of baby blue slip-on tennis shoes. I was proud. I imagined my first grade teacher, Miss McCann, who I thought looked exactly like Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy, spotting my new shoes and telling me how wonderful they were. She would point out to the whole class how I had gotten the cutest tennis shoes ever. My fantasy grew.

Why I remember this so vividly, I cannot begin to explain, but there I was on the blacktop of River Oaks Baptist Day School, feeling pleased as punch about my new shoes. Suddenly Powie James strides up beside me and my new shoe world changed in the blink of an eye.

Powie was the George Clooney of first grade. I was as madly in love with him, as “in love” as first grader could be. This day, he strutted up with his entourage. Powie always had an entourage, as he was simply Powie. He stuck his shoe right up next to my brand new baby blue Van-like shoe, and that was the moment I wanted to melt right into the blacktop. Powie was sporting his brand new pair, yep, you got it, black just like my baby blues, all boy, Van-like tennis shoes. Oh no, please God no! He then proclaimed for all the blacktop to hear, “Janet’s wearing boy shoes! Janet’s wearing BOY shoes!” Oh, I was mortified. Before I could think, I raised my brand new right Van-like shoe and kicked him with all my might, right in his shin. I courageously stated my shoes were bought in the Girl’s Department. I didn’t have the Power of Powie, so my words fell flat and the chanting and laughing began.

Tears welling, I turned and stomped off, plopping down under a tree, where I sat on my feet, so hoping my shoes would magically disappear. I remember being taunted the rest of the day by the Power of Powie. It was tough being that first grader that day.

I went home, took off those shoes and stuffed them in the back of my closet. The following morning I appeared at breakfast in my old scuffed up saddle oxfords. I got into big trouble telling my mother I had lost my brand new shoes, but I was willing to take my mother’s wrath over first grade humiliation any day. I often wondered what it would be like to walk in the shoes of someone as powerful and influential as Powie James?

The year was 1966. Fashion was Villager, Bobbie Brooks and Pappagallo shoes. I went to an affluent junior high and high school in Houston and if you didn’t own Pappagallo shoes, well, unfortunately, you didn’t exist. It was an over the top caste system. As I stated earlier, my mother was frugal, as well as practical, these pricey, poorly made shoes were not in our repertoire. 

Finally, November, well into fall of 7th grade, and my twelfth birthday, my request… simply, a pair of Pappagallos.  That was it. That was all I wanted.

Walking into The Pappagallo Shoe Store on Kirby, I was in nirvana. Oh, the colors, the loafers, vs. the tassels, it was exhilarating. I remember my mother extrapolating, much too loudly, that these shoes were flimsy, poorly made and hardly worth $12. All that mattered was that I finally had my wonderful, coveted Pappagallos, and while I can’t remember, I’m sure they were some neutral color. Christmas came, my request was again, Papppagallos. By spring, I had three pairs of the desired shoes.  

I quickly learned several important things concerning these ridiculous flats. When it rained, which was weekly in Houston, the “Italian leather” shoes turned to cardboard. The rest of their lifespan consisted of using every toe muscle to keep them attached to one’s foot. It was more like wearing a close-toed flip-flop. The second thing I learned was that you could go to the dime store and buy shoe dye. For less than $1.00 you could dye your Pappagallo’s, producing a matching pair for every outfit. The only problem being, if you died them one too many times, they began to look like dog poo.

By 8th grade, I had become best friends with, well, let’s just call her “Ellen”. Ellen’s mom was younger and much cooler than mine. Ellen’s mom wore Pappagallos, and Ellen had every shade and style available. In the fall, Ellen would come to school in olive green Pappagallos, the next day she might wear navy blue with lime green tasseled Pappagallos. Oh, to be Ellen. Ellen’s closet shelves were phenomenal!  Lining each shelf were the coveted black and turquoise signature boxes. Ellen labeled each box, in her curly script, by the color and style of the flats. Hot Pink,” “Lemon Yellow with Orange Tassels.” “Easter Egg Blue.”  Oh, what must it have been like to have a mother that would buy you every single pair of those marvelous flats? What must it have been like to walk in Ellen’s shoes?

9th grade Birthday Party, Excuse the short skirt, but notice the lovely navy Pagallo shoe!

Every foot donned at Pappagallo shoe

I was quite a bit older when I heard my mother tell of her childhood years. Mother was a child of the depression. Her father, a poor East Texas farmer, died of tuberculosis after a lengthly illness. Their family was beyond poor, and I remember mother saying that at 13 years old, she had to borrow a pair of shoes to wear to her father’s funeral. That day, I began to have a clearer understanding of what my mother had tried to instill me during those years of silly arguments over shoes. Oh my, what must it have been like to walk in my mother’s borrowed shoes that day of her father’s funeral?  

My mother (bottom right), her sisters and cousins

In the recent past, I volunteered in a men’s clothing shelter. Homeless men, men who had just been released from prison, men down on their luck and needing a pair of shoes to apply for a job would come and request a pair of shoes. A group of us made a conscientious effort to provide new tennis shoes for these men. Nothing gave me more pleasure than to hand these humble men a pair of brand new shoes. The smiles, the gratitude, the humility that I experienced from being able to give shoes to someone who so needed them filled my heart with incredible joy. What must it be like to walk in the shoes of someone so in need?

Today, embarrassingly, I have a closet full of shoes, none expensive, but way too many. Shoes that are fun, stylish, fancy, fit for every outfit, every occasion.  What is it like to walk in my shoes? Well, sometimes, I have needed my hiking boots, and sometimes, my muck boots have been necessary, but all in all, my shoes are mine to fill. 

While each path has been different, some more rugged than others, and some glorious mountain-top experiences, my shoes, define an exquisite life. Harper Lee wrote in “To Kill a Mockingbird”… you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” 

May we all take the time to consider what it means to walk in another’s shoes, and be forever grateful for the shoes we are able to fill.

For what it’s worth,

Micah 6:8 “ He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”


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