Tuesday, September 23, 2014
The Ugly Shoe Diaries
I’ve always been told that you can’t miss what you never knew existed but I don’t necessarily think that is true. If I had lived in the days before air conditioning I feel pretty sure that I would have longed for someone to invent some system for, I don’t know… cooling my home? And I would have been vocal in that longing. Case in point, my sister and I invented bottled water in 1975 on a trip to my grandparent’s farm. We discussed a length our desire for “water in a Coke bottle” on that trip because as delicious as it is, sometimes Mr. Pibb does not quench a 4 year-old’s thirst quite the way water can.
And I was thinking about this as I remembered shopping for school shoes back in the day when we had school shoes and church shoes and that was it. That day was in 1981 when I was about to begin sixth grade at Will Rogers Elementary School in Burns Flat, Oklahoma. And all the Hee Haw fans said, “Salute!”
I had never been given much control over my wardrobe at that point and to be honest I had never given it much thought. Trying to be as much like my Dad as possible, I voluntarily wore vests, football jerseys and motorcycle t-shirts without much introspection. My mother usually directed my choices once I grew out of Garanimals and as she was one of the four most elegant women I’ve ever known, I trusted her implicitly. As an aside, the other three on that list were Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and my Aunt Charlotte Rushing. My mother was resplendent in her wool plaid skirts, high-necked blouses with ribbon ties and velvet blazers that were the height of fashion in those days. Over all those outfits she wore her suede coat with fox collar and I thought she was just about the grandest thing in the world. We had a little more money than was normal back then although I was only aware of this in retrospect.
As Burns Flat was a tiny town containing only a Tom’s Thriftway and a Dairy Queen, we had sojourned to Elk City, home of that’s year’s Miss America Susan Perkins, to buy our shoes with my brother, sister and neighbor Angie. Leather Nikes were “the thing” but something drew me to the golf section of the sporting goods store. Maybe I was blinded by the purple swan on the Gloria Vanderbilt jeans my sister wore. Or maybe she just shoved me in that direction. She wasn’t particularly nice during that time as she had been forced, as a punishment, to stop listening to her 45 of Blondie’s “The Tide is High” and since it was the only 45 she owned, she was UNHAPPY, folks.
I didn’t have a frame of reference for preppy or really anything other than country as the men in my family only wore boots. Work boots, cowboy boots, dress boots for church, hunting boots. The only other pair of shoes I owned was, in fact, a pair of boots. That was what we wore to church. I never questioned it; I just wore them. But I knew, somehow, that I wanted a dressier shoe. I didn’t know what or why but I had to have not a boot. After some serious questioning from my mother and a reminder that these would be the only pair of shoes I would have to wear to school, I ended up with a tan Saucony that I can only describe as a cross between a saddle oxford and a bowling shoe. I thought they were amazing. My shopping companions were not as taken with my fashion choices.
They looked like something you would wear to church if you lived in town and didn’t own overalls. Like something a lawyer would wear or an architect, as if I had a frame of reference for professional men’s footwear. The only professionals I had any contact with were teachers and preachers and even most of them wore those boot/shoe hybrids we called “preacher boots”. All the males in my family wore their dress boots to church. My Dad, on the rare occasion that he actually went to church, wore boots. It may have been to ground him should he be struck by lightning upon entering but these are thoughts I wisely kept to myself.
My Dad’s reaction of complete confusion, when he came home from work, was my first inkling that he and I were not cut from the same cloth; that cloth being a khaki Carhartt work shirt starched by my mother until it literally stood on its own in the corner. The extreme starch was to keep the fire from his welding rods from burning through as he worked building oil rigs on the barren wind-swept plains of the OK state.
And the shoes were just the beginning. That year for my birthday was the first time I asked for non-sports related clothing, specifically a striped velour sweater and brushed corduroy pants. I was a vision in fake velvet, do you hear me? Of course, this caused me to feel the need to double down on the Dad-pleasing to make sure he still liked me. I feigned amusement for my nickname, JD (for JD Hogg from the “Dukes of Hazzard”) and writing an essay about my hope of a career similar to my father’s when that was the last thing I wanted to do. After a very short lifetime spent on farms doing all manner of unenjoyable things I simply wanted a career indoors. I didn’t care what I had to do; I was doing it inside with the bought air, people. And I was determined it would be something that would be so amazing that no matter what they ever found out about me, it would be okay. If I were rich enough I could just buy everyone presents, because giving gifts is how you show affection. At least that’s what my Dad taught me, intentional or not. Since I had no money to buy presents, I had to gift him with what was available to me: acquiescence to whatever it was he wanted me to do. From playing football and voluntarily wearing turquoise belt buckles and bolo ties to pretending it didn’t bother me when he called me names or that I really was excited to receive a Bowie knife with an 8-inch blade and snakeskin handle for Christmas when I was in 5th grade.
I may have been without a frame of reference for preppy, but I was starting to realize what I didn’t want to be and that was him. Pretty heady stuff for an 11 year-old whose largest life lesson to that point was "how to fake like you like that knife you just got for Christmas". For an excellent use of said knife, I refer you to previous blog post dated November 26, 2012 "The Perks of Knowing a Good Ol' Boy". And that is all I'm saying for now.