I have a little secret to share. I. Love. Shoes.
I’m not quite to the ‘let’s run away together and never, ever speak to anyone or look at anything ever again’ point. But, I do love shoes. There is something about them. Those two little combinations of leather and wood and plastic and straps and buckles and fur and design have some kind of crazy affect on me. I’ve never really been able to quantify it, but it’s there.
I can remember being a little girl and sneaking into my mama’s closet to secretly comb through her shoes. Heels were always the ultimate find. I would slip my tiny feet into them, push my little, knobby legs to a semi-standing position, and walk around my parent’s bedroom like a newborn deer who’s legs weren’t yet strong enough to handle the art form of walking. No matter that they didn’t fit. No matter that I looked ridiculous. No matter that I almost shattered an ankle every single time. In that moment, in those shoes, I felt untouchable.
The most coveted pair of shoes in the entire arsenal of shoes my mother possessed were a pair of black lizard skin strappy heels. Their straps criss-crossed in the front over your toes and the back had straps that wrapped around your ankle. The heel was thin and delicate. They were simply amazing. Even at 6 years old, I was very aware of the special power these shoes held. THESE shoes were always hidden. They were never easy to find, and if I did happen to find them, my mama would hear those shoes calling in panic as my tiny hands grabbed them, and she’d come running. In the past 38 years, I have managed to slip those heels onto my feet a total of two times. I’ve begged my mama for those shoes. (After all, they are my exact size, and, as you may have picked up on, they are amazing). But, mama holds steady. Those shoes have a very special meaning for her. They give her something that she can’t really explain. Something that she’s not ready to part with, even after owning them for over 30 years. They are her. And she is them.
I will admit, I’ve never understood the bond with those shoes. That is, until this past Saturday.
I must digress for a moment. About a month ago, one of my most special friends suffered the ultimate loss when her house burned. Yes, they made it out. Yes, the animals were all ok. Yes, the pictures (for the most part) made it. But, their bedrooms and closets and toys and clothes and shoes were a loss. When you make it out with your family and your things that just can’t be replaced, you grab onto that miracle and hold it so tight, you just might squeeze it into oblivion. But there is a moment, when the smoke clears and the kids go back to school and you go back to work and the builders start the process of rebuilding, that you realize what all was lost. And that is sad. Even if you hate clothes and even if you don’t feel wonderful about yourself, those special pieces were your’s and now they are gone.
It is in that moment that any good girlfriend does what any good girlfriend can do. She takes you shopping.
If there is anything I love more than shoes, it may be Charleston, South Carolina. The food, the architecture, the people, the shopping. Oh, the shopping. Did I mention the shopping? So this friend and I make a last minute decision and kiss the kids, kiss the husbands, pat the dogs on the heads and head to Charleston. Because, shopping.
This friend of mine. She hates shopping. Loathes it. But when you’re faced with two skirts, a couple of shirts and two, I said two, pairs of flip-flops, you give in and go shopping. We meandered down King Street, mimosas in hand, and bounced in and out of boutique after boutique after boutique. And y’all. She shopped. She shopped her way right down King Street until we rolled into Bob Ellis Shoes. If you don’t know of Bob Ellis, or haven’t been, pardon me while I have a moment of silence for you.
As we walked in, my friend found a pair of shoes, asked for her size, and sat down. She went in with the intention of one pair of shoes. As the salesman sat down in front of her asking what she was looking for, my friend smiled a small and sad smile and simply said “Everything. I lost everything in a fire, and I don’t have anything anymore.”
Y’all. Do you remember that scene in Pretty Woman where after Julia Roberts tries to shop and everyone is mean, Richard Gere takes her shopping, and she is treated like a princess? After my friend very reluctantly explained about the fire (because she never has and never will be someone who wants anyone to put her in the center of attention), our salesman, Joe, disappears to the back. Suddenly, we hear a champagne cork pop. Joe is popping champagne in the middle of Bob Ellis and pouring glasses for my friend and I. He walks over, hands my friend a glass, and says “Get ready honey. We are going to have some fun.”
At that point, champagne started flowing and shoes starting flying and people started running and laughter started bubbling. It was a constant blur of boxes and footy hose. Joe pulled out black boots and brown boots, over the knee grey boots that laced in the back, black suede heels with buckles everywhere, pumps, wedges, 10 & 2 shoes (for fear of keeping this family friendly, we’ll just say we had no idea what that meant, but Joe and Consuela educated us, and I’ll never look at those Prada boots the same way ever again). And in the middle of it, I watched my friend, champagne glass in hand, get completely pampered and doted on just as she deserved but would never ask for and never, ever expect. Over that hour and a half, the pain of the fire disappeared. The pain was replaced by laughter. And as she walked around that store in those Prada boots and those Stuart Weitzman heels, she never looked more beautiful or more relaxed or more alive. She radiated beauty. And it wasn’t because of the champagne or the laughter. It was the shoes. Each pair of shoes added back a little piece of her that had disappeared in that fire. And it was amazing to see y’all. I sat back, didn’t look at a single pair of shoes for myself, and watched my friend blossom and laugh and radiate happiness. My heart runneth over.
When we left Bob Ellis, shoes in hand, I immediately looked at my glowing friend and thought of my mama and her black lizard heels. And I suddenly got it. I know why my mama loves those shoes. Those shoes give her something about herself that nothing else can and probably never will. Something special, just for her. Something she needed and something she will forever hold on to. I used to long for those shoes, but now know that those shoes will forever be with my mama, just like those grey suede boots will forever be with my friend. Because those shoes make them feel beautiful and special. And we all need a little piece of that in our closet.