I love shoes. There’s nothing like a new pair to hearten the soul. And the soles. Snazzy sneakers for Saturday morning strolls with the dogs. Dependable running shoes for weekday jogs. High heels with pointy toes for strutting or stumbling depending on the height. Cute comfy flats engineered for walking at lunch. Freedom flip flops in every color under the sun that just make me so happy. Summer sandals to show off my red painted toes. Butt-kicking black boots with straps across the ankle and shiny silver buckles. Cowboy boots. Doc Martens. Converse. Leather, canvas, suede or rubber. My love affair with shoes began early. And came honestly.
Little back story. When I was a kid, way back in the day, the arrival of Spring was a long time coming. Much anticipated and welcomed. Weary winter arms wide open. Some years there were a few false starts. Hiccups along the transitional path. Others years felt like it was never going to come. We were taunted and teased by Mother Nature. Occasionally, it seemed as though the season was by-passed completely. We were catapulted right into summer like a rock from a slingshot.
But when Spring finally did arrive, there were a few things that I could count on. The Easter Bunny. Chocolate eggs. Hot cross buns. And new shoes.
In northern climates, the mere thought of Spring is reason enough to rejoice. Celebrate. Skip to my Lou. Do a little Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah dance. You were happy to surrender your snowballs in favor of cats-eye marbles, skipping ropes and red rubber balls. You could smell the balmy potential for knock out ginger, dodgeball and red rover. Your bike was waiting for fresh air to be breathed into its tires. Peddle pushers and other cotton casuals, that had been hanging around all winter, were raring to go. You could smell change in the air the second you stepped out the door. Palpable. Expectant. Buoyant. There were chirpy hints of green everywhere. The possibilities were breathtaking.
In the midst of all this climatic commotion and hullabaloo, there was Easter. I’ve always found this particular holiday to be a bit emotionally and intellectually confusing. And perhaps that’s the point. To Christians, this is both a sad and happy occasion. Sad because of what happened on Good Friday. Joyous because of the awe-inspiring event that occurred the following Sunday. An entire religion was built around this belief. Despite the fact that we were Lutherans, this foundational theological presumption eluded me. It was only years later that I understood this core tenet. Doctrine aside, weather-wise I recall Good Fridays as being bleak. Grey. Cold. Depressing. And Easter Sundays were just the opposite. Bright. Warm. Optimistic. To add to all this dogmatic perplexity and emotional bewilderment, there was the Easter Bunny. It was a head-scratcher for a church-going kid.
I have to admit, that as a child I was much more interested in the big EB than JC. The Easter Bunny was something real. Fun. Exciting. Santa Claus’s good buddy. They were in cahoots. I loved them both. I looked forward to their annual visits. And the gifts they came bearing. In particular, I loved Easter Bunny’s sense of adventure and cleverness. Unlike Santa, who just deposited his gifts under the Christmas tree, Easter Bunny hid his all over the house. Chocolate covered marshmallow eggs tucked beneath the cushions of the couch. Bright colored sugary eggs nestle behind the clock on the mantel. Jelly bean eggs scattered hither and yon throughout the kitchen and living room.
Like Christmas Eve, I spent the night before the Easter Bunny visit imagining all the sweet treats that would be delivered to our house. Just for me. It was a night of salivation and sleeplessness. The next morning I would hop out of bed (in honor of my long-eared hero), anxious to begin the annual hunt. Ma would have a brightly colored woven basket ready for me to collect my hidden treasures. Around the house I scurried. Like a saintly little Jack Rabbit. Crouching and crawling to retrieve treats concealed under various pieces of furniture. Standing on tiptoes to peer over the top of the taller things. Carefully reaching behind Ma’s nicknacks and ornaments to gather these sweet rare gems. A special delivery made once a year by a giant white rabbit with enormous ears and a dapper pink bow tie around his neck. It was like I had died and gone to Sugar Heaven. It was exalted. Majestic. Downright divine. I suppose in my young mind this was somehow the connection to God. Only a Supreme Being could send someone so wonderful. So magical. So marvelous. And so imaginative.
After the hunt was complete, and Ma assured me that I had discovered every treasure hidden, we had breakfast. I never questioned her psychic ability to know this. It was all part of the fantasy. The wonder. The make-believe. After breakfast of eggs, bacon and hot cross buns, we got ready for church. This involved a new wardrobe. In particular, new shoes.
Back then it was tradition to get a new pair of shoes every spring. It officially marked a farewell, not only to winter but to sloshing around in big heavy pile-lined galoshes. I looked forward to the annual shoe shopping trip with Ma. I would try on various footwear options but in the end it was usually the black patent leather shiny ones that seduced me. With or without bows. Usually with round toes, straps across the ankle and gold buckles. They were magnificent. And I wore them proudly to church Easter morning. Along with the new dress Ma made for me, white gloves, my spring coat, an Easter bonnet and white cotton gloves. I was a vision of sartorial splendor.
Although Ma and I were the annual Spring shoe shoppers, my love for shoes actually originated with The Old Man. Next to sports, sweets, and Vodka, he loved shoes. He called them kicks. Even as he grew older – when his stride became a shuffle – and the compulsive hunger for a new pair struck, he’d declare that it was “time for some new kicks.” I suspect it was an urge as irrepressible as that for alcohol or orange filled wafer cookies. It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand the motivation behind The Old Man’s obsession with shoes. It was simple. As a child, he never had much of anything that was new, little alone a pair of shoes. Everything was either second or third used. Hand me downs. Patched, stitched, re-patched and repeat. Worn with holes in the soles. Broken laces. Flapping toed humiliation.
The Old Man had shoes for every occasion. And for no occasion at all. He needed no rhyme nor reason for acquiring new shoes. It was equal parts compulsion, exhilaration, triumph and satisfaction. And once purchased, he lovingly and happily cared for them. Polished. Buffed. And shined. Lined up in a tidy orderly row. Contained and coveted. Something he could control. They were his to admire and enjoy all the days of his life. It seems with each new pair, he was given a temporary lease on life.
It’s also not surprising, nor coincidental, that The Old Man not only named his horse Tootsie but one of our dogs as well. So great was his affection for his tender ones.
This Easter my grand daughter will hunt for chocolate bunnies and rainbow colored eggs, that the big EB will sprinkle about our house in all the usual places. But before that happens, we’ll go shoe shopping. This is not the time to break with tradition. And as the Paolo Nutini lyrics express so fittingly, “hey I put some new shoes on and suddenly everything is right.”