Somethings, you just can’t get away from.
In the summer of 1974, my father’s sister, Yvonne, came to stay in NY with her baby brother and relatively still new wife who was expecting their second child. Yvonne was a statuesque vision: as tall as my dad (6’5″) blonde hair, skin fairer than mine and blue eyes. Very much the Hollywood starlet. A stark contrast to my father and his brother’s chocolate brown skin and extremely black features. But there was no question that was Ma-Ya’s daughter as she shared a number of those features. “Ma-Ya” was short for “Manman Victoria”- my paternal grandmother that I was named after.
She came to spend the typical 2 weeks that one did back then when visiting from the Caribbean. It didn’t make sense to spend less time, what with the scarcity of airlines traveling and open times for the airports back then. And of course being in NY, Tante Yvonne (as I would later come to call her) was eager to shop. And shopping was one of my mom’s specialties. She found herself to be quite the diva on a budget and knew Delancey like the back of her hand — for finely pre-made clothes AND for fabrics from which to sew your own. But shopping today was going to prove to be difficult.
My mom was 5’2″ and a size 5.5 shoe. She was tiny. And the world was tiny alongside her. She found all that she needed and shopping was a release… an escape. A haven. Something to take her away from the mundanity of her current life. But this excursion promised to be a challenge. This was not the accommodating era such as we live in today. If you were passed a certain size for anything, you were forced to get your clothing tailored or custom made. There were no Lane Bryant’s or Ashley Stewart’s. And there sure as heck wasn’t a size 10, 11, 12 or higher rack at Thom McAn, Florsheim or Kinney Shoes. Even the swankier department stores like Gimbels, Abraham & Strauss or Caldor couldn’t help much in that arena. But the goal THAT DAY was to shop for shoes with Tante Yvonne.
They unsuccessfully scoured the streets for size 12 shoes for Women. It was like they were in a hunt for the holy grail. They went in and out of countless establishments on foot just to be turned away and recommended that they move to another retailer. My mother was exhausted. Six months pregnant in the sweltering NY heat chasing a dragon that wasn’t hers. In her mind she started cursing this whole mission. Cruelly calling my aunt names in her head and wondering how a behemoth of a woman managed to keep clothes on her at all. Eventually abandoning the hapless mission they returned home and life went on.
Fast forward- late 1980’s. As I’m progressing through the 6th, 7th and 8th grades, I am sprouting up like a tree. One summer I went through 3 sizes of shoes. I was able to pause at the 5.5 shoe size for a few months and strut around in my mom’s beautiful heels, practicing walking in them so I would look chic and lady like. I even remember my aunt sneaking me onto the even linoleum of the 2nd floor project hallway to give me my first runway to fully extend my growing long legs. This was short lived. I shot up. Size 6…. size 7…. size 9…. size 10.
Size 10 at 13 years old was only slightly less burdensome to shop for than it was for my aunt. The “larger” racks at the likes of Fayva and Alexander’s were limited, boxy and never as cute as the smaller sizes. My mom would grumble under breath, “if I had never made fun of your aunt that day when you were in my belly… you wouldn’t have been cursed with huge ugly boats for feet.” She angrily relived the frustration of not being able to shop with ease.
At 43 and a size 11, I live in a much more accommodating world than what was made available in the past. Online retailers allow women to shop all the way up to and past size 15 if needed. And the styles are fire. Hence me being known for my “Victoria Heels” status. But there’s more to it there. My shoes are a way for me to ascend from this label of having “ugly” feet by virtue of them not being small or average sized. It’s the way parents color things for us that make it hard for us to SEE ourselves. I have no corns. No hammer time in my shoe. I take fairly good care of them when the resources are available. Shit… I’ve gotten my share of unexpected compliments.
As my Theeny gets taller and more gloriously statuesque, I love on her. All parts but her feet I give special attention to. I tickle. I kiss her toes. I don’t begrudge her wanting to walk around barefoot. I tell her words of beauty in relation to who she is and if I ever have reservations about any of it, I keep it in my head as a reminder to help her navigate it as a young adult. She even reciprocates and tries to tickle my feet.
The thought that anyone would want to touch them still baffles me. Old notions, even ones that are not wholly your own, are incredibly hard to shake.