Contrary to the predictions of my heavily perfumed and amply cleavaged seventh grade French teacher, my stature never became commensurate with my outsized feet (and hands). She swore I would be at least 5’6″. Although I found her personality eccentric and her scent overpowering, I had faith in her prophecy and fantasies of becoming statuesque. While I didn’t wish to tower over people, I also did not want to be overlooked. Alas, when I stopped growing, I topped out at 5’4 1/2″. Statuesque would remain a pipe dream.
As a large-footed teen in the 1980s, cute shoe choices in size 10 were limited if non-existent. If stores carried them at all, usually it was just a few styles. Once they sold out, that was it. Having outgrown my mother’s shoe size, I couldn’t borrow hers. Off we drove to Tall Gals Shoes, located on Boston’s South Shore, far enough away from our suburban home to be a cross between a pilgrimage and a schlep. And it was doubly disappointing to go to a store dedicated to tall women, when I couldn’t even enjoy the benefits of height, and return empty handed or with just one pair. While they carried large sizes, the styles were often uninspired or drab. It didn’t turn out to be shoe heaven after all.
A few years ago, after experiencing intense leg pain after a hike, I visited a podiatrist who created a custom pair of orthotics. He said they would last a long time, but within two years my feet had flattened the material and the pain returned. I found another doctor who crafted a sturdier set. He told me to wear the orthotics every day. But the inserts didn’t fit most of my shoes. The thought of hunting for new ones and relinquishing other hard won purchases was dispiriting; it reminded me that my ability to walk comfortably in even a modest pump might be coming to an end. Heels not only offered the height I craved but symbolized elegance and sensuality. Perhaps because I had internalized such meanings that I was unwilling to face this transition, even though my life experience pointed to a different reality. Few of my life’s most fulfilling moments have taken place while I was wearing heels, and on many happy occasions my comfort and enjoyment were impaired because of them. Still, resistance trumped the possibility of relief, and I wore the orthotics only occasionally. Because I wasn’t in pain, I figured nothing was awry.
After walking the Camino de Santiago and returning with a limp, I realized something was amiss. Doctor #2 made a slight adjustment to the sturdy orthotics. He prescribed physical therapy with a fellow whose practice resembled a badly choreographed three-ring circus. I switched to another healer who, after several sessions of rearranging the bones in my feet and ankles as best she could, took imprints for new orthotics.
These new supports, #3, are even larger than pair #2. They don’t fit in most of the shoes that survived my purge last fall. As a quick fix, I ordered some boat-like, American made Keens. They’re great for getting around but are otherwise inappropriately casual. The time had come for another shoe quest, even if it meant buying what I once considered “old lady shoes”, low to the ground and without a distinctive design. While visiting a museum last week, I noticed a white haired woman whose shiny patent leather lace ups were a nice mix of fun and functional; she told me she had found them at a store close by. Checking online, I discovered the shop had closed, but there was another location 35 minutes away. I wondered if it was worth the time, the gasoline and the environmental impact to go there. Like the odyssey to Tall Gals, would it just be a waste and a letdown?
Off I went, crossing my fingers and bearing socks of different thicknesses, just in case a few millimeters of fabric stood between me and new shoes. When I arrived, the pasty faced owners were helping a heavyset lady, whose sallow skinned husband inhaled oxygen through a tube. Even the air seemed heavy and stale. My instinct was to flee this enclave of entropy but, since I had traveled so far, I looked around. I spotted a pair of red leather lace ups that had some pizzazz. While that color wasn’t available in my size, I tried it in another shade.
“We can order it for you in red if you like,” said the woman shopkeeper.
“How long will that take?” I asked.
“They ship from New Zealand,” she said. “It will be at least 10 days.”
I live in a community with a strong “buy local” ethos, and while I appreciate many Colorado products, their origins don’t always drive my decisions. Still, even though my current footwear hail from Canada, Germany, Israel and Italy, New Zealand seemed awfully far away, particularly for a special order. Did I really want to click my heels and summon shoes from the far reaches of the globe? Not to mention another 30-mile round trip to pick them up.
“I’ll think about it,” I said, making a note of the brand name and style. Meanwhile, I tried on a few other things from the discount rack. Nothing fit.
“You might want to decide soon. Our store sale runs through the end of the month,” she said. “10% off.”
Later, I visited the manufacturer’s website, found other retailers, and called around. None had the red shoes in my size. All offered to place an order. And one told me that the different colors did not come in the same widths. Did I know which width I had tried on? I did not. I called the original store to find out.
“Were you planning to buy them somewhere else?” the woman asked, her thin voice laced with disbelief.
“I just want to make sure I know which width I tried on,” I said, skirting her question to which an honest answer would have been “probably”. She offered to check and get back to me.
A few minutes later my phone rang. They were available. As much as I didn’t want to make a return trip, I had to consider the impact of our interaction. She had spent a lot of time with me and had introduced me to this New Zealand brand, something I hadn’t seen before. Should I take my business elsewhere, simply to drive a bit less and not set foot in that downbeat store? As a spoiled American consumer, I’ve often done exactly that, or simply found things online for less. Putting myself in her shoes, I ordered them from her. Perhaps the good karma will help offset my carbon footprint.