The Real Reason My Characters Have Bare Feet

Toes with GirlI love shoes.

Now you must think this is crazy, coming from woman who is barefoot most if the time, and who has built her art around that fact. But I have to admit, I am addicted to shoes. My dear friend Candy, who died from Ovarian Cancer back in 2003, was a shoe nut too. Although she was not so much into quantity, she did have a bunch of cute ones.  If the saying is true, that “She who dies with the cutest shoes, wins” I have bad news. The game’s over. Candy won. I’ve never have seen so many cute shoes as she had in her closet after the funeral.  I only wish I wore her size. But my obsession with shoes doesn’t come from the fact that there are just so many cute ones out there to collect.  It stems from a slightly sad, lack of self esteem story from my childhood.

I was one of those kids who got her growth spurt in one spontaneous explosion that left me at my full height and bone structure by my 11th birthday. At five-foot-nine and 110 pounds, my large bone structure was even more exaggerated.  I stood out among all my friends. I was taller than my 16 year old sister by an inch and had large size 10-1/2 wide feet to match. I was a stick with duck feet!!!  My long, blonde, almost white hair and bright blue eyes just added to the oddity that I felt growing up in Hawaii in the late 60s.  Hawaii is a multicultural melting pot of mostly small, petite Asian and Polynesian girls with jet black hair and dark exotic features. I can remember coming home from school one day and begging my mom to dye my hair black so I’d fit in better. Thank goodness she didn’t!  Can you imagine how my platinum blond eye brows and eyelashes would have looked, framed by a head of dyed black hair? (Thanks Mom for saying, “No.”)

But back to shoes…Fortunately shoes were totally optional at most places on the island. Bare feet were the norm, at school anyway. But if I did need to wear something on my feet, I could get my size 10-1/2 wide feet into a pair of men’s rubber flip flops.  I was always on the lookout for a non-gender-specific color (men didn’t wear pink back then) and style that wasn’t too manly. But there were a few situations that called for shoes…real “girl” shoes.

This is where my challenge came in. In the late 60s, on a little island in the middle of the Pacific where most petite women there never wore bigger than a size 6, choices were limited to say the least. Catalogs from the mainland offered my size, but only in matronly orthopedic varieties that looked like something worn in a soviet block countries by female shot-put champions. So instead, we’d travel almost an hour to shop the Ala Moana Mall, hoping to find something that would fit.  Shopping was horrible. We’d walk into a shoe store and my mom, who has a loud booming voice second only to mine, would ask the cute little Asian shoe man, who was half my size and height, if he had anything in a women’s size 10-1/2 wide. The man, along with everyone in the store, would look down at my feet as if to catch a glimpse of an oddity only reserved for those with a paid ticket to Ripley’s Believe It or Not. The salesman would shake his head as I tried to slither out the door before any of the Japanese tourist got their cameras out.  This whole situation, experienced over and over again, did NOT help my self esteem. Many times I remember whining to my mom, asking her what we’d do if my feet kept growing. Instead of answering me, she hit me with one of her famous platitudes (she had thousands): “There was a girl who cried because she had no shoes until she met a girl who had no feet” Then she would try to boost my spirits.  Usually we’d sit together at the counter at Longs Drug Store, still shoeless, and share a piece of Coconut Cream Pie.

Once however, low and behold, we found a pair of X-large, slip-on mules with a bow across the toe. They were a bit too small, but they were backless.  They allowed my heels to hang out over the back edge, and they hurt my little toes like crazy, but at least they didn’t look like something a grandmother would wear. (Thinking back now I think they were actually some kind of glamorous Boudoir slipper to be worn with lingerie!) Nevertheless, I was able to endure them in short spurts. I owned them as my only pair of shoes for well over 3 years. They started out as white leather, got resoled yearly and then in an effort to suck as much life out them as possible Mom had them dyed different colors several times in an effort to hide the wear. I hated those shoes after three years, yet I lived in a panic of what I’d do if they ever got to the point where they were no longer repairable.

By the time I moved to the mainland, it was only slightly easier to find stylish shoes in my size.  But somehow I survived my shoe trauma of young adulthood. Today, the options for a size 10-1/2 wide shoe do offer more choices …thank you Nordstoms and Zappos!  But every time I find a pair of shoes that do fit, I have this compulsion to buy them, cute or not, in every color they come in. And then, after they have served their purpose and lived out their life spam, I can’t bear to get rid of any of them.  I have shoes in my closet I haven’t worn in years that are so worn out that they are not fit to give the thrift store — but I almost go into an anxiety attack if I have to throw them out.  So I hoard them.

I can still remember a few short years ago when I came home from the store with shoe boxes in tow, my mom, who was then living with me, would be just as excited as I was to put another pair in my closet. She still remembered this silly little trauma of my childhood and each time would tell me “It’s okay Suzy, you just buy all the shoes you want. You’re making up for lost time!” Today, when the same scenario repeats itself, my  husband, just rolls his eyes. He knows better than to say anything. I add them to my stash and remind him that shoes are a cheap fix and  my drug of choice for a traumatic childhood!

It is interesting that my life’s work, The Sacred Sisterhood of Wonderful Wacky Women, is noted for their wild haired, faceless heads and their bare feet. I am continually asked why they have these traits. As I finish telling them the “Why no Faces” story about my adopted son, wanting to know what his birth mother looked like and how I drew a little faceless woman so he could imagine her face himself.  I quickly add that their bare feet are most likely a result of my growing up in Hawaii and the fact that I never wear shoes.  Well now you’ll know the real story. The fact is, they all wear size 10-1/2 wide and just can’t find a pair of shoes that fit.

Regardless of the stash of shoes that now fill my closet, if I ever get the chance to meet you, look down… most likely you’ll see the cutest pair of 10-1/2 wide bare-feet you ever saw!