I don’t remember exactly when it happened. I’m too scarred from the experience to recall all the details. This is what I remember:
I believe it was sometime around 4th grade, my parents took me to a pediatric podiatrist. I’m assuming it was recommended to them by our family doctor. Supposedly I had flat feet. My right foot also pointed slightly inward and I think I may have had something going on with my left foot too. I’m not sure. Like I said, the memories are all very fuzzy due to the trauma. In any case, the doctor prescribed me corrective shoes, otherwise known as orthopedic shoes.
These shoes were custom-made for me and had to be ordered through Buster Brown. They were also quite expensive. If I remember correctly, they ran around $50 - $60 which 30+ years ago was astronomical. As far as I know, they only came in one color and style: Brown, leather, lace-up, hard sole, wooden, clunky heel with a small bumblebee design on the side. In other words: HIDEOUS.
I may have cried the first time I wore them to school and if I didn’t cry that day, I certainly cried many, many other days after it. They were SO ugly. I have always been a girly-girl. I like pretty, feminine things. I like things that sparkle or shine. I like cute, stylish things. There was absolutely nothing fashionable about these Frankenstein shoes whatsoever – not then, not now, not ever. If there had been a contest for ugliest girl’s shoes, these would have won. They were THAT ugly.
I already didn’t have very many things going for me at school. Let’s not forget I was the accordionist with the motorhome-loving mom who made salami sandwiches wrapped in paper towels. These shoes were the nail in the coffin. Truly. They were every bully’s dream! No one had ever teased me about my feet. No one had ever noticed that my right foot pointed slightly inward. No one ever even knew I had any foot issues at all. But here’s what they did know: Jackie has some ugly-ass shoes.
In sixth grade, a new girl in our class nicknamed me Holly Hobbie for my shoes and the name stuck for the whole school year (hence the trauma I speak of). This girl was not really someone I wanted to piss off. She was a gang-banger-in-training and her gang name was "La Sparkles". She had relatives in a gang called "VGGR" and had the gang name written all over her folders and binders. She would even write our homework assignments on the blackboard in graffiti lettering! I was not only very intimidated by this girl who I knew could easily kick my ass but also very impressed with her pretty graffiti writing. (I admit I practiced writing like her at home. It was like art!) Anyway, she scared the crap out of me. However, just like I had always done, I reacted to the teasing and the Holly Hobbie name-calling and I didn’t back down. If she was going to pull a shank on me for it, so be it.
|My yearbook signed by La Sparkles|
In another section she wrote LOWRIDERS
Thankfully, sixth grade was the final year of torture wearing those unsightly shoes. I don’t know if it was due to all the crying and complaining on my part or if in fact my feet were corrected. I don’t care! All I know is that when seventh grade started, I was free to wear white flats I bought at Fayva. Best. Day. Ever.
|First day of 7th Grade wearing my new shoes.|
Best. Day. Ever.
I wish my skirt had been a bit longer so that
centimeter of my knee wasn't showing
Speaking of fashion…My mom had her own unique style of dress. She wasn’t a trend-follower or a trendsetter. But if she liked a trend, she stuck with it long after the trend was over and she didn’t care one bit. For example: My mom made me wear knee-hi socks long after the trend was over – actually all eight years of elementary and middle school. It didn’t matter to her that all the girls at school were wearing “bobby socks” and later “pom pom socks”. She liked me in knee-hi’s and that was that. Of course, the knee-hi’s were really the least of my worries since I was already wearing the world’s ugliest shoes.
My mom, like many women, had a thing for shoes. She was very particular about what style of shoes she wore though. During the 70’s and 80’s she mostly wore wooden sole, ankle strap, high heel sandals with a platform. During the Disco era, this style was easy to find. During the New Wave era, it was not. We would scour shoe stores looking for platform shoes – Thom McAn, Kinney’s, Fayva, department stores – we hit all of them. She would tell me to ask the salesgirl if they carried platform shoes. I would argue that I was too embarrassed to ask. So she would ask in her broken English. Except, she didn’t know how to say “platform” so she would say “Escuse me, do you haf de plata-forma shoes?” I vividly remember one time the twenty-something salesgirl at Thom McAn looking at us like we were from another planet. All I wanted to do was run and hide.
|Circa 1984 - a pair of mom's favorite shoes.|
Dancing tango at the Argentine Club with dad.
Watching them made me happy and proud.
They were amazing dancers.
During the 70’s maxi dresses were all the rage. My mom fell in love with maxi dresses and owned several of them. Think Helen Roper on Three’s Company, minus the Wilma Flinstone jewelry. In the 80’s though, maxi dresses disappeared off the racks and my mom wasn’t happy about it. She would complain to me about it often. She didn’t understand what there was not to love about maxi dresses anymore: they were roomy, comfortable, great for warm weather, and if you didn’t have time to shave your legs, it was a good way to hide the stubble. Lucky for her and unlucky for me, her distress didn’t last long. Somewhere, somehow she found African Dashiki print caftans. It didn’t matter the occasion, she would proudly and comfortably wear her caftans – even on Christmas and New Year's. She loved them so much that she also bought a couple of African Dashiki tunic shirts. Maybe they were still in style, even though it was the early 80’s. I mean, she obviously bought them at a mainstream store like Montgomery Ward or something, unless she was shopping in exotic shops while I was at school unbeknownst to me. But I personally didn’t know any single person who wore them, especially none of the moms at school. It was the only time I was happy to be picked up in the motorhome at school. At least no one could see what she was wearing!
|Circa 1982...New Year's Eve|
As I’ve probably established by now, I was bullied a lot at school for being different. I didn’t fit in. I don’t have many fun memories of elementary school and Junior High (same small school). Those kids were terrible to me – the girls especially. Oh, those girls were SO mean to me. I only had three friends and they are the one and only thing that made school tolerable. They never made fun of me or questioned my differences. They just accepted me. I thought they were “like super awesome and radical for like totally” being able to do things I wasn’t allowed to do, like go to the Duran Duran concert and read The Hotel New Hampshire.(Scandalous!) They didn’t know it at the time, but I was living through them. I am so thankful still to this day for having had them. (And thanks to Facebook I still have them!)
I am grateful for all of it. I now have these hilarious stories of childhood that crack me up. (I was literally laughing out loud as I was remembering and writing them.) Most of all, I love that my mom never conformed to any standards. She was just who she was and that was it. It pissed me off at the time because I did go through unnecessary torment and embarrassment at school (although I never told my parents most of it – except about the shoes. They knew about those mother-%$&*@#! shoes) but now I am thankful that she was unknowingly teaching me a lesson. It’s ok to be different. It’s ok to do things differently. You don’t have to abide by any one way. Be yourself. Be who you are.