Rites of Passage and Shoes
by Lolae Joline Lambert
Another hot humid day in Seffner, Florida. The year is 1958 and although we are fortunate to own one window unit air conditioner, it is only used a few hours in the evening so Dad can get a good night’s sleep and be alert for his construction work the next day. It is the type of day where the air hangs heavy with moisture and every move of your body creates perspiration making you feel sluggish and extremely uncomfortable. The only activity that seems to help is to sit in front of a high speed fan with an ice cold beverage. On days like this, it is a welcome treat to have on the chore list for the day a shopping trip where it will be air conditioned and comfortable for a few hours… today would be the day. Mom, my two brothers, and I pile into the car and off we go to Sears and Roebuck. Sears and Roebuck was the closest thing to a Mall at the time, and in fact, this particular one was a very large store. So large that Santa Claus landed a helicopter on the roof one Christmas. Besides the air conditioning, the pleasant ride, and the fascination with the size of the building, I had a completely separate agenda. Today I would try once again to return home with something I have wanted for some time.
For months, each time we went shopping, I would wander over to the toy section of the store and immediately find the shelf with the candy apple red, speckled with gold flecks, plastic high heels, or at least what appeared to be high heels to an eight year old girl.
My mother owned a pair of clear high heels, which I called her Cinderella Shoes, and I wanted something more spectacular.
I had not seen the movie The Wizard Of Oz, so I had no inkling what the shoes represented to others. All I knew was they were beautiful, grown up looking, and I wanted them desperately. I asked every time we shopped and each time I was answered with a firm “No.” I knew better than to ask my mother, “why?” It would be useless. No meant No and that was the end of it…at least for that particular trip to the store. She did mention once, as a reason, that she thought that I was not old enough to wear high heels. However, as water wears at a stone, I eventually wore Mom down and in a moment of weakness, this day to my great surprise she said, “OK. You may have the slippers.” You would have thought I had won a million dollars. I could not wait to get home and take the slippers out of the package, put them on, and dance, dance, dance. Oh yeah! I was a dancer! If there was music, I was dancing. In my slippers, I would pretend to dance a waltz with my handsome prince in a beautiful castle in a lush valley in paradise.
The slippers proved to be everything I had imagined. When I wore them, I was magically transformed into another world. The real world of "just enough" became a magical world of "anything is possible". The pleasure of the hours with my ruby heels is almost indescribable. Oh, the Joy! It was the beginning of my love affair with possibilities and shoes.
Two years later back in New Jersey a few weeks before Easter, we were shopping for my yearly Easter Outfit. A lot changed in two years and the ruby slippers had long since been retired to a box of none used items awaiting their final fate. Each Easter in the spirit of new beginnings, I would get a complete new outfit which became my dress up outfit for the entire year. Usually, the outfit included a ruffled or fluffy dress, hat, shoes, gloves, and if appropriate for the dress, a crinoline. But, this year the Jackie Kennedy influence was emerging. Dresses and skirts were more A-lined and the overall trend was a streamlined classic mode. I was beginning to see myself as more grown up and loved the new style…not little girls frills, lace and starched petticoats with boring flat white or patent leathered buckle shoes. So, I am sure you can imagine the stress of this particular shopping trip when I announced in a very strong-willed voice my new ideas for my Easter attire. Resistance to my ideas would be an understatement!
I found a cute little A-lined sleeveless dress with a short jacket in a pale blue trimmed with white corded braid on the jacket sleeves, a pill box hat and a pair of white princess heels and matching handbag. I loaded them in the cart and hurried to show Mom the outfit I wanted.
I could tell by the look on her face that she was very sad. At the time, I could not be sure why, but looking back on my own experiences as a mother, I realize now it was because she realized it was a step in the letting go process. With this purchase, I would never be her little Shirley Temple any more. The Good Ship LollyPop era was ending and a new era was beginning. After much discussion, some a little heated as I recall, I left with my outfit. Mom and I agreed I would only wear the shoes for Easter and maybe once in awhile for church. But imagine the controversy and dialogue following my next announcement the following week when I decided that my new outfit required stockings and a garter belt?
We all survived the holiday, Mom with a real sadness in her heart and me with an exhilarating sense of the turning tides. I kept my word and only wore the outfit, shoes, and stockings for special occasions, but we both knew it was only a matter of time before major changes would replace the familiar ways of past years. Maybe ten was too young, but the times were changing rapidly and the young sensed it the most. It was not long before the concession was made to allow me to purchase more princess heeled shoes and to be allowed to wear them at school on occasion. Mom still had final call on the dress code, but my ideas seemed to be accepted more easily and with less struggle. Only in the early 1960’s would anyone attend a major league baseball game with the class in a dress, heels, and hair up in a French twist. What were we thinking? I was dressing in grown up clothes while still playing with paper dolls and my new Barbie and her wardrobe. Although come to think of it, Barbie’s fashions mimicked the times and added to my closets bulging with coordinated outfits. It was not long before Mom found a way for all this to work in her favor. Maybe I was not going to be her little girl forever, but the plus side to the changes was that she could add new responsibilities for each new stage. Clearly, she would make this work for her if she must move forward.
The next battle became an outright war. I wanted a new bathing suit. To be more accurate, I wanted a bikini. I was almost twelve and Mom was determined there would be no victory for me on this issue if she could help it. This would be a difficult win and I knew it! Children know when their parents are dug in and strategy becomes extremely important. The usual nagging until they cannot stand it anymore was not an option. Crying was "rewarded" with chores to do to keep my mind off my self-imposed unhappiness. So, I opted for a sensible approach. My birthday was coming and I was having a large party at my house consisting of my entire sixth grade class, a few other friends from school, and some neighborhood children. It was my first girl/boy party. We would be serving snacks, playing games, dancing to a 45 RPM record player with all the latest songs, and my favorite things… presents. This was already more than my mother wanted to allow, so pushing for something I did not need until summer made little sense. Still, I could ask for a bikini as presents, which is exactly what I did. Whenever, anyone asked what I wanted for my birthday, I would tell them a bikini. It was a great party with memories to last a lifetime. I received many lovely presents but there was no bikini and no mention of one either. Desperate times need desperate measures, so I decided to enlist the help of my father. I had a few months to work on this project and if I could get him to nudge mom a little to my side it might make a difference. Mom and Dad had been separated a couple of times in the last few years, but for the moment he was with us, and I fully intended to use my leverage. Reluctantly, he agreed to talk with Mom about the bikini.
One Saturday soon after I talked with Dad, Mom said we could go shopping and compromise with a two piece instead of a bikini. The rules of the shopping trip were that Mom had to shop with me and she had to approve the bathing suit before any purchase. Store after store, week after week, my choices were denied. I would go to the movies each week and watch the actresses on the big screen wearing their tiny weenie bikinis and I wanted to look like them. But to my dismay, as never before in the past Mom, wore me down. Twenty stores later, there was only one suit she would even consider. It was that one or nothing... Bikini good bye. Something was better than nothing and I agreed to the white two–pieced, boy cut leg bathing suit. Both pieces covered more area than I wanted. The top was almost to the waist and the bottom looked very masculine, but the compromise stood. I never learned to like that bathing suit, but strangely, I never wanted a bikini again. The prime time to show off my changing body passed and maybe even my common sense returned. Whatever the reason, this was a draw. Whenever I think of the bathing suit episode, I remember the struggle. I wonder why she was so opposed to the purchase. A question I never thought to ask while I could.
Soon after my thirteenth birthday, I began to baby-sit which ushered in an entirely new debatable era. Now I had my own money! It is amazing how earned money equates to freedom in a teenager’s mind. Suddenly all parental guidance is disregarded because, after all, you earned it so you should have the right to spend it anyway you choose. While this makes perfect sense, it could not be further from the truth. Maybe I started making wiser choices in the ways I spent my money or Mom retreated from the battleground more often, but one thing was clear, I now had the money to purchase my first love of fashion…shoes…glorious shoes. There were still other attire rules… skirts must be below the knee, heels could only be so high, blouses could only be cut so low, but otherwise I was permitted more input and shoes once again became my favorite fashion accessory. I purchased flats and heels in every color, style and fabric imaginable. Shoes, along with matching handbags, grew into a minor obsession. I liked a completed look and was quite the fashion statement with outfits consisting of undergarments to hats completely coordinated. My taste did lean heavily into business fashion, but I loved to dress up for special occasions, too. Sunday best was my favorite look, but a well planned summer top, slacks, shoes and bag were equally exceptional. I loved to look at fashion magazines and then try to re create the image in a less expensive version. Sometimes I think I should have considered a career in fashion.
I spent my money on other things, too. One large purchase of which I was particularity proud was a complete bedroom ensemble. I saved and purchased the paint for the walls, the rug, the bed, dresser, nightstand, lamps, bedspread with matching curtains, and all the little extras, like an exquisite vanity tray and clock radio, to name a few. Forty four years later, I still own the bedroom set. Because I saved and purchased the best I could buy, it is as sturdy today as the day it was first delivered. It may be a little faded and worn from wear, and way too outdated, but structurally it is better than any I have purchased since.
When I look back with nostalgia to the ruby slipper days, some of today’s cares and troubles melt away. All the struggles through the rites of passage are nothing compared to real adult life issues. It is easy to see how they pale in comparison. Life was so simple then. Put on the shoes and a magical world came to life. Change your style of dress and you were instantly more grown up. Declare the need for mature clothing and you were treated to a small degree with more respect. Stand your ground and loose the battle taught that not all wars can be won…sometimes compromise is necessary. Earn money and gain a new sense of independence. All lessons learned with patience and persistence. Yet, compared to the responsibly of careers, marriage, and children…all so simple. Simple is what I yearn for more and more as the years go by. With feet too swollen to ever wear my treasured shoes of the past, a body aging that will never see a swim suit of any kind again let alone a bikini, fewer places to go and less need for many outfits, closets filled with items I never wear at all, and money becoming less and less available every day, there seems no need for acquiring more things. While my life as a child was anything but normal, the rights of passage illuminated by clothing and shoes appear so completely standard there is probably not a daughter or mother who does not relate.
Growth is the result of many different rites of passage. Each of my stories built upon the other and played a part in the person I am today. My rites of passage were like the roots of a plant, reaching deeper into the soil absorbing nutrients, making the plant stronger and able to achieve its maximum growth and produce an abundant crop. The patience, persistence, work ethic, and frugality lessons have served me well. But more importantly the memories… ah the memories… are like a peaceful wave breaking on a storm battered shore giving comfort and knowledge that all storms end. Who am I today? Close your eyes and you will see me dancing in my ruby red slippers.
Written in 2010 and reprinted with Permission.
About the Author
Lolae Joline Lambert resides in a quaint village in Southern New Jersey. Always looking for new adventures, she is entrepreneurial by nature. Her careers have included real estate sales, real estate investing, and property management. She was Director of a Christian Preschool, and is currently a Substitute Teacher. Writing has been her life long love. For Speaking Engagements and Book Signings, please contact the Author at email@example.com. For more information, visit her website, http://www.lolaejolinelambert.com.