Easter meant new patent leather shoes. The choices were black or white–but white was mostly the option for the ritualized First Communion ceremony where six year olds dress like tiny brides. That left black, so though I was always excited when my mother piled us in the station wagon for a trip for new Easter shoes, pretty much the only choice to make was whether to pick plain ones or ones with a small grosgrain bow affixed to the top. One year, everything changed.
There on the plexiglass display shelves were an outrageous pair of fire engine RED patent leather shoes. My heart beat a little faster as I approached them. I knew they couldn’t be mine–scarlet shoes for Sunday church? But I could already feel the way my feet would float just above the ground and my legs would dance like Ginger Rogers in the old movies. I felt sassy and bold, as I touched a fingertip to the lustrous toes. I would stand out in a small town where standing out was not a virtue.
My mother then changed the way I thought about everything: “you can get the red ones if you’d like.” Oh oh oh. And I did. That Easter, kneeling at Mass at All Saints Church, the enormity of my new life hit me. Now that I had the red shoes, I wanted to live up to them.
The Wizard of Oz came out years before I was born, but I knew the power of the ruby slippers. With three clicks, you could get your heart’s desire. In the movie, Dorothy’s feet absolutely glowed with the power of pumps.
Years later, I had the chance to return the favor to my mother. She had been busy raising seven children. There were five of us but my mother always cared for foster children. Money was in short supply, as were luxuries. I was shopping for shoes with my mother when she was in her late sixties and she mentioned that she always wanted a pair of red shoes but never bought them because they were extravagant–not something you could wear every day. I looked at the woman who looked like me, but older, and remembered the gift she had given me. At mother’s day, I presented her with a pair of sling-backs in the sedate style she liked but red as heck. She wore those shoes that day and many days after.