Day 24, Items Purchased: 0, Temptation Radar:0
Two dozen steep wooden stairs, old and creaking, separated me from the remembrance of forced frugality at home and the hope of dreams realized. The apparition of extravagance parading itself in the form of white shoes on my classmates & friends, over the last several months echoed in my memory as I climbed each step. This day, I sensed would be different.
It was spring time 1989, and a vibrant, blonde sixth grader had experienced her first tangible brush with peer influence. It was the inaugural surge of envy, of admiration, and well, a bit of lust, to be honest.
Jennifer wore Keds.
White canvas, with stark white lace, detailed with the famous blue label adhered strongly to the heel. Jennifer’s Keds and bobbie socks made her jean skirt and hot pink t-shirt shine. Jennifer, however, was not the only one. Kelly and Angela had them too. It was a blue label 6-pack, that danced together gleefully, in our Social Studies class. They were a society…a glorious society of popularity, cuteness and confidence. I, too, wanted to dance. Smiling and staring often at this elementary sign of stature, I realized there was a problem. I was, unfortunately, heir to the Queen of Frugality….. Your heiness Tightwad. A strong distinction between needs and wants was always at the forefront of our family discussions. Without fail, when I would make a request or specification regarding wardrobe, my mother would inevitably offer a solution that consisted of 1 of 2 strategies: “I could make that! They only spent $1 on fabric and the other $20 you are paying for the name.” Or, if it was something she could not sew, she’d always note the same thing could be found a Walmart or some other discount establishment, minus the brand insignia. For the Keds, Payless Shoe Source was fully equipped to offer the exact same shoe without the blue label for $5! Oh, the Horror! For a 12 year old, who is soon to make her ascent into Junior High, it is critical that the rules of social status, as they relate to clothes trends, be explained in detail. I did my very best. After my most persuasive speech, my mother graduating from the school of hard knocks, did not find this argument convincing. She had a curious way of trumping my ideas & illustrations with her own stories of wardrobe woes and monumental victories over fashion envy. Most children have heard the famous story of their parents hiking 8 miles through the midwestern blizzard in the brutal month of January, just to get to school each day. Well, my experience consisted of hearing the recollection of my mother’s ONE bumblebee dress, of which her grandother removed the tag each evening, and carefully sewed it into mom’s collection of homemade frocks, that she may survive the social implications of wearing non-branded apparel. After all, they had no room in their lifestyle for excess. She’d continue, “Besides, girls can be cruel and if they are only nice to you because of what you wear, they are not really your friends.” With a sigh of frustration and guilt, i’d always surrender my selfish plea.
I wondered if my mom would ever understand that one pair of designer shoes would not change me. I could handle it. I would not boast. I just appreciated the little blue label. How bad could it be? I wondered if she even realized how much I liked pretty things, and that one indulgence would be momentous for me. Surely, she could splurge just this once on a shoe for $19.99. Over the next several weeks, I continued the requests, negotiating all of the chores I would do, how I’d make straight A’s, babysit my sister–anything for the shoes.
Finally, one Friday afternoon, mom took me to Rack Room. After a very long lecture about shoes don’t make a person & raising a spoiled child was far from her agenda, she agreed to by the Keds. It was surreal! I clutched the box the whole way home, as if I feared someone would take it away. I was amazed by the Keds, but even more awed that my mother actually bought them for me. I wonder sometimes if she truly knows today how significnant that was for me. Wanna know the truth? I believe her motivation to keep me from those shoes, was really to prevent me from having to walk in hers. We do anything to protect our kids sometimes, even disappoint them.
The following Monday, Mom dropped me off at school. We exchanged a smile and she winked. Carefully stepping over a puddle and walking slowly to the foyer of the building, I stopped at bottom of those stairs. I paused, staring at the top, but this time with excitement, realizing that I too, would dance today. With each step, i carefully looked back at my heel to inspect the tiny, rectangular, blue label. I had Keds. Real ones.