At age almost 75, I get many compliments on how I look and on my outfits, which always makes me chuckle to myself. I remember the little Kansas farm girl, who truly lived out in the boonies on a rocky Flint Hills dirt road; a little girl who, when she entered school – in first grade at age 5 – had a wardrobe of one pair of shoes, 3 dresses (either made by my mother or hand-me-downs from more well-to-do cousins), and a corresponding number of stockings and panties! In the winter, the stockings were long brown cotton ones that were pinned to my panties to hold them up and keep my legs warm – well, warmer! I also had some lightweight coat or jacket for winter, and one of my father’s bandanas served as my head covering! I also remember having a pair of red rubber boots I could pull over my shoes for an appalling weather day.
I was born during the Second World War. Times were hard then for everyone, so it did not seem strange to me that summers were spent barefoot, and we got only one pair of shoes each year – usually bought when school began. It was always challenging to find shoes that fit me as I had inherited wide width feet from my mother, and she taught me that fit was important. I also gained a sense that style was important too, even though I knew real friends did not care that much about one’s outward appearance. As I got older, I would find ways to "improvise" outfits that at least enabled me to imagine that how I looked was "acceptable," if not fashionable.
I did not much like the high-top, lace-up brown leather shoes I was still wearing when I started school, and my memory has blocked out the specifics of the types of all-purpose shoes I wore during my eight years of grade school. However, an emphasis was on comfort, and care was taken that they always are big enough to allow for room to grow. It was not until we had moved to the “Big City” and I entered high school that I began to care about how I looked really. I had, however, become somewhat self-conscious over what I considered to be my big feet, and developed a dislike for shoes that were “clunky” looking.
One year, when it was time to buy our annual pair of shoes, I insisted on a pair of white ballerina flat shoes. Yes, I wore them through the winter, sometimes-wearing bobby sox (which, with ballerina flats or saddle oxfords - which I hated - were the other current style!) with my flats for my approximate six-block walk/run to school, and then stashed in my locker during school!
I learned the hard way that I could NOT settle for medium width shoes. I also learned that it pays to wear Band-Aids on the backs of one’s ankles when “breaking in” new shoes. The price for insisting on wearing shoes that were too tight around my toes was the development of a permanent callus on my left little toe. Of course, as an adult I indulged in high heels for fancy occasions – yes, and even wore those ridiculous pointy toed shoes or whatever else was in style and available in my size! However, as a schoolteacher, I learned the importance of wearing shoes that were comfortable for work. I never lost my penchant for going barefoot as much as possible though!
It has taken me a lifetime – and several changes in circumstances and thinking – but I now wear comfortable shoes, exclusively! Even my dress shoes are low heeled – usually a T-strap or Mary Jane style. I am grateful that today I can find shoes that are appropriate for my outfits and occasions, and at the same time are comfortable. It is definitely worth the time and patience it takes to find footwear that is my style – fits well – and, is affordable.
Written by Jean Anderson
Edited by the Team at Happy Feet.