I was raised in a time where name brand shoes were really starting taking off. Jordan’s, Nike’s, Timberland’s, K-Swiss… advertisements reigned everywhere but didn’t move me.
My sister and I were granted one pair of shoes per year along with a pair of sandals for the summer. For the longest time, we had two choices Kenny’s Shoe Store or Payless. We would make our first stop at Kenny’s, it was on the way. Kenny’s sold the highest of the highest shoes to the lowest of the low. We would always find ourselves looking for shoes in between low and medium-low. For the first time ever, my sister and I were able to find the perfect pair of shoes without taking the hike to Payless, which was located near Comiskey Park (White Sox Stadium).
I was so freaking proud of my shoes. My sister picked out a pair of suede gym shoes that resembled Adidas (minus 1 stripe) and I picked out an all-white pair of faux leather gym shoes. Mama even threw in some white shoe polish just in case I discolored my shoes during recess. Mama was not a big fan of dirty gym shoes. I couldn’t wait to get home and break in my shoes.
That day, my sister and I played in our shoes. We watched Ghost Writer and Reading Rainbow in our shoes. We even ate dinner in our shoes. I looked down at my shoes during each activity to make sure that they remained bright white. I loved the way the light glistened off of the tips of the shoelaces. Clearly, I was obsessed.
I woke up extra early the next day! The first day of school, a new pair of shoes, new school uniform. Nothing could stop me. Mama put on her light jacket even though it was 80 degrees out and walked my sister and me to school. I walked gently looking down at my shoes every step of the way. I lined up with my new classmates, waving vigorously at each and every member of my 3rd-grade classroom. With every wave came an introduction and overwhelming excitement to show off new shoes…it was literally the only thing that set us all apart. All Nike’s with a mix of Jordan’s, then there was me. I became slightly discouraged but tried my best not to show it. I moved slowly, as to not draw the same attention to my own feet. I waved goodbye to Mama, wishing that she could take me with her.
By the time we made it in the building, no one cared about shoes, it was all about finding our new classrooms and meeting our new teacher. I was so excited for my seating arrangement which included a few peers that looked familiar from previous grades and two super nice newbies. We had 10 minutes for get to know you games and small talk. Immediately, the conversation about shoes and new backpacks came up. Some kid thought it would be great to go around and talk about our new shoes, school supplies, and backpacks. My palms began to get sweaty (they always are), I felt a knot in my throat that grew as each student completed their last statement when it was my turn I nearly passed out. Stuck without words, everyone looked down. “Those are um, cute” someone muttered while others snickered. “I got them from Kenny’s” I exclaimed. “Kenny’s” the class clown yelled. “Those aren’t name brand, those are clown shoes.” My heart dropped, I was sad. Mama had worked so hard to get us the shoes we wanted. I was so proud to have picked the shoes I wanted… and one tiny turd took my joy away.
Before I knew it, the day was over with. The walk home was silent. My sister who was in kindergarten went on and on about her day. I heard nothing. I said nothing. That night, I took out a Sharpie marker and drew three lines on my shoes just like the pair of basketball shoes that my cousin had. The lines were awful. I literally ruined my shoes, but couldn’t face my table area again with my off brand Bozo the Clown shoes.
Mama found the pair the next morning. She was almost in tears. “Bickie, goddammit” (she struggled with pronunciation and would often mix Spanish and English alphabet together creating words that I still don’t know). I had no words for her. She took out some Tide and bleach and scrubbed until her fingers were pink. She shook the white shoe polish with a slight grimace on her face, happy to be making progress and laid on coat after coat being sure to dry each layer with the fan in between. 20 minutes later, my shoes were brought back to life. I never had the opportunity to share my intentions with Mama, but I know in my heart that she had an idea.
Secretly, watching her clean the peer pressure lines off my shoes made my heart hurt. I was always an emotional kid (still am) and this took all.
The next year, Mama had saved every penny she could. She even reached out to my mom for assistance with school clothes and such. Mama purchased us three pair of shoes, one school pair, a pair for playtime, and one pair of sandals. They were even name brand.
Mama prepared for our walk to school. Being sure to wear her light jacket even though it was 80 degrees out. Walking to school didn’t feel any different in my new Nike sneakers. I walked up and greeted everyone in the 4th grade line. Conversations sparked about and backpacks.This time, they found a new kid to pick on. They pointed, made stupid jokes, enjoyed knee bent laughs with each other. That night, I pulled out my Bozo shoes and tidied them up carefully using the right bleach to Tied ratio. I pulled out the shoe polish and applied more coats than needed.
The next day, I proudly wore my double dipped all white shoes to school.