The Corner Shoe Store
There was a timelessness about the corner shoe store. You learned the cycle of the seasons by the styles displayed on the fake green grass of the display window. Pastel colors for spring, white and red sandals for summer, sturdy browns and blacks for school-and slick black-buckled "galoshes" for winter.
The shoe man had a thin pencil-line of mustache, and slicked down hair. He wore the best shoes, of course-black and white ones with pointy toes.
In the winter he would lounge in a customer chair, his feet on the little seat he used to try shoes on, waiting for the tinkle of the bell to announce customers. Spring and fall he leaned against the open door jamb, whistling out into the street.
In the summer he squee-geed the large window early in the morning, being careful not to splash water from the bucket on his razor-sharp creased pants. By noon the sun had risen high enough to begin to shine in the window, so out he came with a big metal crank, and inserting it in a socket above the store front, squeaked down the faded green and yellow awning.
You would come up the street with an ice cream cone dripping pink plops into the sidewalk, hop-hopping on the cement stinging your bare feet, and "aaaah" in the delicious shade beneath the store's awning.
But the shoe man came out and made you get away. He didn't want sticky fingers on his nice clean window, or noisy kids discouraging customers from coming in. Children weren't customers-Mothers were customers.
The New Shoes
But when you marched in with mother, you were welcomed as royalty. You were ushered to a chair, the decrepit shoes whisked away, while a measuring plate was cradled to your sweaty sock bottom.
"Mmmm, growing like a weed" was his opening line. "Give her something to grow into" was mother's rejoinder. The battle between mother and the shoe man had begun, the opening trumpet strains for the struggle between feet that grew faster than finances.
He tempted mother with pink sandals, delicate shells begging to be fastened around your ankles, but mother would have none of it. She pointed to the sturdy brown oxfords--with ties. He sighed the pink shells into their beautiful box and brought the oxfords. Even the box was ugly.
"A little large" he would venture, after lacing them pinchy-tight across your arches. You clumped around the worn carpet, demonstrating with what excruciating effort and pain you did so. "Too big" you whine. "You'll grown into them" mother always said. Then she delivered the clincher: "They're on sale" Mother would have made a great general.
The New Machine
Once the shoe salesman almost out-flanked mother. He had a secret weapon-a new-fangled machine. It stood like the conning tower of a submarine in the center of the store. You stepped on the high ledge and slid your shoed foot into the slot below. A flick of a switch, and the front half of your foot was x-rayed in a green light. Bending over, you peered into the little eyeslot at the top, and wriggling at you from the murky depths was your very own foot, skeletonized and luminescently eerie.
"See for yourself" the shoe man offered smugly. "You can see the shoe is much too large." Mother peered suspiciously down the eyepiece.
"Room to grow" she proclaimed, unconvinced. The imposing machine couldn't change her mind…she knew one didn't purchase shoes that fit, one purchased shoes that would eventually fit.
A Shoe Life
For a good week you tripped up every curb, stumbled over every crack in the sidewalk. "Gunboats" the kids jeered. You scuffed the shoes into a grudging acceptance by detouring through every puddle. Despite baptisms of rain and snow, the shoes were Sanforized against shrinkage. Wet and soggy, they merely curled up like Turkish slippers so your toes were permanently thrust skyward.
Finally, months later, you actually fit the shoes. That was the day the soles parted like the Red Sea…and a rainy day at that. Mother cut cardboard inserts to cover the holes, and for a while a Cheerios or Rice Krispies label was all that was between your sock and the cold ground.
The Shoe Repair
Now off to the shoe repair shop go you, mother, and the brown oxfords. On the tiny ledge in the window a lady's high button shoe resided, cracked and faded with age. A tiger cat lay curled in the sunlight beside the shoe, oblivious to the customers or the dust motes drifting in the warm light. There was a buzzing and whirring of wheels and belts, a hot smell of leather and rubber.
The balding man in the striped work apron emerged from the noisy rear. Mother pointed and gestured, he nodded and frowned. "Dolla' feefty, nessa week" he would say, and mother would smile and nod. They spoke a universal
When next week came, the search for your shoes in the pigeon-hole compartments began. The rows went up, up, threatening to topple an avalanche of pumps, brogans and sandals. Each twine-tied pair had a cardboard ticket awaiting an owner.
You always held a vague hope that the brown oxfords had been lost-who would steal them-and that mother would accept a replacement…perhaps the unclaimed black patent leather Mary Janes
in the bottom row.
But even lost tickets were superfluous; the shoe repair man knew, and clumped the brown oxfords down on the counter.
There was some compensation for their return, though. The shoes had been buffed to a rich patina, and the new heels were a smidge higher then the worn ones. Almost like high heels.
But best of all, the shoe repairman had tacked on little metal taps to the heels and toes. "For free, good wear" he hastened to add to mother, giving you a long wink. Perhaps he understood about brown oxfords.
They were now no longer horrid, hideous weights. They had been transformed into tickets to Broadway. Tappity-tap, clickety-click you danced away towards the silver stage.
The tiled first floor landing of the apartment house became an echo chamber for energetic free-style routines, culminating in the throwing open of the door of the first floor lady with "Enough, already!"
The outside cement was even better. A delicious scraping sound could be achieved with a set of metal taps, but the most spectacular displays were reserved for evening, when the drag-scrape of your heels produced blue flashes trailing behind you in the darkness. Little Twinkletoes.
The metal taps were quickly worn to razor-sharp thinness, and the tiny nails began to come out. First one side, so that for a while you had free-swinging scimitars front and back. If you threw your foot out just the right way, they would revolve forward. Kids cleared a wide path around you when you waited in line at school.
The End-And A New Beginning
Soon the nails all fell out and you were silent again. This coincided with the shoes becoming too small. But not worn out-oh no. You wore your oldest, thinnest socks for breathing space. Your little toe curled cringing against its neighbors, while the stout big toe bowed in supplication from the other side. You tied knots instead of bows, the tongue gagged, but still your corseted feet protested.
You gave up jumping rope, and a stubbed toe was good for an hour of agony. Finally, reduced to a cautious crouch, even mother admitted you had outgrown the brown oxfords.
You march from the shoe store once more and look back longingly at the fairy tale shoes still sitting in the store window.
You'll never get them. You shift the bulky box in your arms with a deep sigh. The shoes clunk as you walk away. Brown oxfords. With ties. Some things in life change-mothers, never.