Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fancy footwork.


If you are a female reading this blog, it is highly likely that the very sight of this word has struck a chord in your heart, and a thrill has erupted in your brain and run down your spine.

If you are my mother reading this, the immediate reaction is a certainty.

It is therefore considered to be somewhat unusual that the mention of fine footwear does not elicit a similar response from Yours Truly.  Heck, if the majority of females in the world display a specific addictive/hoarding behaviour, one would think it would almost certainly be genetic.

Well, I guess I was standing behind the door when God was passing out this one.

I'm actually quite grateful, in a way...  While I can't deny that I occasionally covet my mother's vast shoe collection (and curse the fact that her dainty feet are about two-and-a-half sizes smaller than my Hobbit-like appendages...  dammit), without a doubt, I have saved myself a heck of a lot of money.

(Which I spend on yarn.  But, that is another issue altogether.)

Summertime is one of my favourite times of year.  One of the main reasons why I love the warm weather so much is that I can dispense of shoes and socks entirely, and run barefoot through my house and garden.  Yes, the habit occasionally makes the floors messy, in spite of all the prickly sisal mats I have placed in front of the doors...  And yes, my feet require soaking, scrubbing and a good deal of moisturizing at the end of every day.

But to me, nothing beats the feel of bare-foot-freedom, and grass-between-the-toes.

Traction, baby...
When I was a stay-at-home mum, the only pre-requisite I had for footwear was TRACTION.  The shoes I wore had to stand up to chasing after kids, and enable me to CATCH the little boogers before they flew in front of a moving vehicle, out a window, or into the deep end of a swimming pool.  Indoors, I discovered the joy of hot-pink crocs.  Outdoors, I had sturdy leather slip-ons with seriously treaded rubber soles.

By order of the Doc..
I discovered the hard way that nothing dictates what you put on your feet more than sustaining an injury.  Years ago, a week before I was supposed to depart on a business trip to San Francisco, I slipped on some of baby food that my daughter had splattered on the floor during her lunch.  I torpedoed across the kitchen floor, slammed into the front of the stove, and broke two toes on my left foot.  Six hours later, the ER physician prescribed hefty painkillers and an enormous pair of Doc Martens.  Needless to say, they made a unique impression.  I may have been in a semi-drugged haze most of the time, but I made it through all four days, standing up.

Three years ago, less than ten days before Christmas, in an absolute frenzy to start my shopping, I slipped on the black ice on my driveway and dislocated my right elbow.  The pain of the injury was exquisite, but the agony of knowing that the ridiculous boots I was wearing were in part to blame for the accident was almost as unbearable.  My parents immediately swooped in to my rescue, and as soon as I could get up and around, mum magnanimously offered to purchase me The Ultimate Winter Boots.  She was prepared to spare no expense-- and so she bundled me up and took me on one of her famously generous shopping expeditions.
Helen of Tundra

I alarmed her more than slightly when I asked that she steer the car in the direction of the Stratford Co-op.  I had my eye on something SERIOUS-- the stuff The Professionals wear to deal with Old Man Winter.  By God, I was determined that Nature was never going to mess with ME again...  My mother patiently steered me towards a slightly more "lady-like" store, and we eventually compromised on an enormous pair of Sorels that have become so trusted and beloved, I refer to them by name.

Beloved Birkies
School-teaching also takes a toll on the tootsies, especially if you are (literally) dancing around the younger grades.  During my first year of teaching, in an effort to look as competent as possible to parents and administrators, I adopted a professional "uniform", which included (horror of horrors) a pair of high-heeled shoes, fitted with what I was assured were properly-fitting orthotic supports.   By the time June rolled around, I hurt so badly that I spent the summer months in Birkenstocks, in a desperate attempt to re-adjust the pronation of my feet.

Thankfully, I have come to the conclusion that I am too old for all this nonsense anymore.  It just doesn't matter a damn what my feet LOOK LIKE, so long as they FEEL GOOD.  Now, I'm not saying that I wear trainers with business suits, as did the yuppies of yore...  but when I need new shoes, my criteria pretty much run along the lines of a neutral colour, and a style that doesn't make me shriek when I stand up in them.  I now have about four pairs that I feel relatively good about:  one for running, two for work, and my beloved Birkenstock clogs.

I was therefore caught rather off-guard when my parents gave me a wonderful birthday gift several weeks ago.  They purchased us all tickets to the Opening Night of the Elora Festival, which is one of the most prestigious musical events in Canada.  The night was to be extra-special for all of us, and my father in particular:   Mendelssohn's Elijah was to be sung by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, where my father had proudly attended and graduated from years ago.  As soon as the tickets were purchased, he began rummaging around in his closet for appropriate attire, and emerged with a striped college tie, in distinctively dashing shades of blue.

I began to fret.  What on earth was I going to wear on this auspicious occasion?  The Opening at Elora was certainly a major event...  but it presented a rather fascinating dichotomy.  For, the concerts are held at several different venues in one of the most beautiful little towns in Rural Ontario.  The main venue is actually a converted barn.
The beautiful Gambrel Barn

What the hell does one wear to please oneself AND one's parents, when one is attending a concert by a world-renowned choir in a BARN, on one of the hottest and most humid nights on record? (Needless to say, no air conditioning.  The cows never requested it.)

Well, luckily, I had a dress.  It was a comfortable cotton jersey in a lovely shade of purple-- one of those awesome things that you can just throw on, and because it's cleverly styled, it sort of floats away from your "problem areas" and makes you look respectable.


Now, what the heck to put on my FEET?  Flip-flops were out.  So were the Birks, which were immediately vetoed by my teenage daughter.

So.  I reached waaaay back into the depths of my closet, and pulled out a pair of shoes that hadn't seen the light of day for many, many moons.  A pair of trotters that had been purchased for ten dollars at Winner's for a laugh one day, because I couldn't believe they fit, or the fact that I could actually walk in them.  They were velvet, sported three-inch heels and little bows...  and darned if they weren't the exact shade of purple as the dress.

Thankfully, my mother drove us to Elora and back, saving me from having to drive barefoot (there was no WAY I was going to try it in those spikes).  By the time we got there, my feet were hurting already.  Damn that Kate Middleton, I thought, SHE makes it look so EASY...  How the heck does she prance around all the time with a smile on her face?  Granted, her shoes cost more than ten bucks, but even SO...  How dare she make the rest of us feel like we can do it, too?!

We emerged from the car, and I tottered precariously across the parking lot and the gravel road in front of the barn, cursing inwardly with every mincing step.  How could I have been such an idiot?

And then, it started to happen.

"Nice SHOES," commented the woman who took my ticket at the gate.  I giggled feebly, and hobbled forward.  Every couple of steps, a stranger, all of them female, and all of them older than me, made a pleasant remark about my choice of footwear. 

Now, I should explain that this isn't the sort of thing that happens to me very often.  Yes, people comment occasionally, since I usually dress more formally than most other teachers, and certainly, when I've lost my mind and cut all my hair off without warning, as I did one day last spring...  But compliments from people I've never met-- heck, compliments on my appearance from people who are not my PARENTS, who HAVE to say nice things about me, for crying out loud-- are not what I have become accustomed to.  In fact, of late, I have been really wrestling hard to boost up my confidence and self-image.  ("Don't stop working to improve yourself!!" say all the self-help books...)

Yes, my feet hurt like the dickens, but that night, I walked a little taller, and a little more proudly. 

The music was absolutely divine, and sung only as a Cambridge Choir could perform it.  As the sun set through the open barn door and the music raised the roof and spun towards the heavens, tiny insects swirled and glittered like flying jewels in front of the stage lights.  It was pure magic.

My dad loosened his tie, sighing happily as we drifted towards the car when the show was over.

 "How are The Shoes?" he asked me, as he peered UP at me, for a change.

"The Shoes are pretty good," I replied.

I felt younger and lighter than I had in years, in spite of the pinched toes and cramps in my arches.

Yes, sometimes attempting to recapture one's youth is a pain...  but sometimes, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

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