I remember it as if it were yesterday, my first pair of new shoes in about 20 years. I was 40, and finally had enough money to take a drive to Boston Store where I found the most perfect, comfortable leather shoes with two buckles on them. I inhaled the earthy aroma, took them to the clerk, and paid cash for them. Such a treat it was, because for once, I traveled alone, no strollers, diaper bags, bags of Cheerios or bottles-just me and an entire shopping mall!
My heart raced and an enormous feeling of pride enveloped my senses as the clerk placed the prized shoes in a box securing it closed with white twine. She handed it to me to carry while I finished browsing that Sunday afternoon.
Since I gave birth to my eldest in 1984, my purchases were relegated to Stride Rite shoes for each of my five children, diapers, clothing, perscriptions and accessories to ensure that each looked like all the rest of the rest of the children belonging to middle class families that I knew. Even monetary gifts I received for birthdays, holidays or mother’s day were all used to provide for my children–but I didn’t mind, those precious children were my life.
However, we were far from middle class–finances were very tight, and money was scarce. The children had a multitude of health issues requiring hospitalizations and expensive prescription medications. To ensure they were dressed well, had enough food, participated in sports, dance and music, I took in ironing, mending and taught piano lessons. In the wee hours, I staved off sleep to sew clothing for them–always matching outfits for the holidays. Garage sales were a weekly family activity that served to round out their wardrobes and supply of toys.
Later, homeschooling helped to preserve precious resources as area Catholic Schools were too expensive–but the experience brought us closer together as a family.
Despite my efforts, there was little to go around, especially for me, and I remember wearing the same pair of tennis shoes for at least five years–that sole pair of shoes served as dual duty at church, running after toddlers, grocery shopping and other activities. I remember my mom being a bit embarrassed when I was going to wear those same worn shoes to my brother’s wedding–so she loaned me a pair of hers. While the gesture was nice, it posed a certain problem, she wore a 9 and I wore a 6–after seeing me wobble around in those, she was gracious to find a pair of inexpensive white dress shoes, that I wore for years until they fell apart.
Now that most of the children are grown, I look back on my efforts with a sense of pride for helping them get a good start regardless of our financial situation. I have been blessed to enjoy many more pairs of shoes since that year I turned 40–but none has given me the same satisfaction.