The Hush Puppies the salesman brought out were grayish green suede. In the 1960s, Hush Puppies weren’t ‘geek chic’ like Doc Martens or Uggs. They were shoes suitable for an old lady, not a 9-year-old.
The Hush Puppies’ black crepe soles were quiet, but I wanted the click of leather heels that made the wearer sound important, grown-up. The suede was soft and comfortable on my toes—not that I cared. I craved shiny brown penny loafers like my 4thgrade classmates wore. Unfortunately, my AA-width feet slopped around in those B-width loafers, and they slapped my heels with every step. The shoe salesman and Mom ruled them out.
The idea of wearing those terrible shoes brought tears to my eyes, and I might have begged for a reprieve. Mom was sympathetic but unyielding. I had to have a pair of school shoes that fit properly.
Shoe shopping got easier by 7th grade, when I could wear women’s shoes, which offered a bigger selection. I’ve inherited narrow feet from my mother, and all of her life, she’d faced the same difficulty with finding attractive shoes that fit. Mom and I both trod the path of cute but cruel shoes and endured blisters and corns.
When she was in her 80s, Mom succumbed to wearing plain sensible shoes for most occasions—big white sneakers or boring taupe lace-ups for everyday wear. She hated them but her feet hurt. With dress shoes, she did her best to work a compromise between style and comfort.
Over the years, I have spent hundreds of dollars—guilt-free—on stylish shoes and sandals to make it up to that sad 9-year-old and delight my grown self. Nonetheless, my closet is full of failed experiments. All too often I’ve discovered pairs which seemed fine but hurt my feet if I needed to really walk, not just stroll into a restaurant or party.
I’m still trying to thread the needle: find shoes which aren’t too ugly but meet my feet’s many picky requirements. However, during a recent vacation my feet hurt every day. So, I bought some brown leather lace-ups reminiscent of Mom’s. I’ve got places to go. I need comfortable shoes to get there. At least they aren’t green suede Hush Puppies.