I just bought a pair of shoes in a color that reminds me of rocks in a mountain stream. The manufacturer calls it “pewter,” but I think it looks more gold. It shimmers and takes on the hue of whatever I wear. As I tried them on in the store, I loved them immediately. They are excellent shoes, made even more so because they are dead ringers for my favorite pair from more than 50 years ago.
I was in the eighth grade when my mom worked as a sales clerk at Sweetbriar’s dress shop in Pueblo, Colorado. It was a pretty fancy place for Pueblo in the early 1960s, with central air and a sunken dressing room area surrounded by mirrors. One Christmas, Mom brought me home a special outfit from the store. The dress had a velvet top and a full brown chiffon bottom with taffeta underneath. With it came the dark gold shoes, with black lace anklets.
Now, very few little girls had dark gold shoes and black lace anklets, I have to tell you. That was one classy fashion statement.
I was a tall, skinny kid without a lot of grace. (After dance class once, one of the nuns asked me how I could be so graceful on the dance floor and so clumsy everywhere else. Yes, she did.) But in the outfit Mom brought home, I was Grace Kelly.
I wore in on Christmas, feeling like my own sort of ornament, and I did not want to ever take it off, because I knew I had nowhere else special enough to wear it.
So it hung in the closet for a few months and then I could stand it no more. I decided I should wear it to school on one of the days we got to wear something other than our navy blue serge uniforms. Mom said it might be a little too fancy, but I insisted and she ultimately gave in. Drama was involved.
That’s how, one warm March day, I trotted down Spruce Street in velvet, chiffon, taffeta, gold shoes, and black lace anklets, headed to a normal day of eighth grade. I was a sight, I just knew it. OK, I am now sure of it.
I was by far the fanciest little girl at St. Francis Xavier School that day. Maybe that year. I did not know what “overdressed” meant and certainly would not have thought that I was capable of it. I just thought I was pretty doggone special.
The nuns kindly commented on my pretty dress and reminded me that I should be a little careful on the playground. (Was I trying to play baseball? Perhaps. I honestly don’t remember, but I would not put that past me.) The other kids just sort of shrugged it off, as far as I know. I don’t remember anybody teasing me for wearing dance recital duds on a plain old Friday.
Were we kinder back then, or was I just oblivious? I am pretty sure the second is true, and I hope the first is as well. Maybe, though, they just saw how happy I was and left me alone.
And now, as I look at my new shoes, I miss my mom, like I have missed her since she died 20 years ago. She was a great mom. Like all of us, though, she often focused on what she didn’t do, what she wished she could have given me. She wanted to splurge on these kinds of gifts all the time and was sad that her extravagance was so unusual. We didn’t have much money, so this dress and shoes were an unexpected treat for me. But that is why they are such an important memory.
And when I remember my Christmas outfit, I don’t wish I’d had more like it. Instead, I treasure that one warm memory and, as I do, I think of the love that came with those clothes. I know Mom sacrificed something else, no doubt for herself, to buy it for me. Her main focus at that moment of time was making me happy.
That was my mom. Loving, generous, and dear, but worried that she was just not doing enough.
If I could talk to her, I would tell her that love was always more than enough. And always will be.
That she’ll be with me whenever I wear my new shoes.
And when I don’t.
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