I was a fifth-wheel in fifth grade, and I knew it.
Two years earlier when I returned to Irvington Elementary from the Potter School for sick and frail kids, I felt like an outsider in my home school. But, in spite of the discomfort, I have no good or bad memories of third grade, so I must have managed without memorable mishaps.
However, a lot had changed in two years, and now I was ready to leap out of the shadows and into coolness.
A house for entertaining
Dad’s plumbing and heating business seemed to be thriving, so the trappings of family success had changed. My folks purchased the lot next door to remodel our house and add on a modern living room. A new dormer raised the attic roof and created a playroom rather than a roughly finished space to house the foster kids.
We’d gone from a little two-bedroom bungalow to a mid-century modern something or other, and I thought the glorious space would help me make friends.
The upstairs playroom was a terrific attraction. Dad had guys from work install a model train on a raised platform. They made a big storage cabinet behind the stairs, and I tacked up a curtain so that I could crawl inside and have it as my private place to hang out and be away from my younger brother, Billy. There were other places for playhouses too, and I knew that I only needed to get some friends to check it out, and then I’d be the center of an exciting universe.
In earlier years, I often blamed boring clothes for my inability to find a groove with the popular kids. Mother purchased most of them second-hand from a woman whose daughter, Lucia, was a grade ahead of me. Mom probably bought those clothes because they were affordable. But, she always told me it was because Lucia was an “exceptional girl” and that getting her clothes would guarantee that I went to school in the best of taste.
Before I started fourth grade, Mom brought home my new wardrobe and displayed the “new” outfits so that I could see how wonderful they were going to make me look.
Then Mom announced, “Lucia is getting to go to a new school for gifted children this year. She passed all the tests!” She then went on to add that since I had been sick so often, they wouldn’t even test me. But, “We know you are gifted anyway.”
But in spite of Lucia’s clothes, I was clueless and on the outer rung of school society throughout the fourth grade.
Shopping to get ahead
When an inconspicuous fifth-grade year was nearly over, I got my chance to leap into coolness, and I intended to take advantage of it!
I was nearly 12-year-old, and Mom let me shop by myself for new shoes! I would shed her opinions and be able to get something that would communicate that I was with it!
The night before the trip, I laid in bed and rehearsed the journey. I would leave home and walk two long blocks to Washington Street and then go about a block to a bus stop and wait. I had the exact change I would need in a little coin purse that contained the card for the saleswoman who Mom had primed to help me.
I would ride about five miles and get off at Meridian Street, and then walk to the LS Ayres Department Store. And when I finally arrived at the massive children’s shoe department, I would be free to pick out my very own footwear from those predetermined to be sturdy and with enough room to grow.
Without Mom by my side, I intended to get something much cooler than the boring saddle shoes that so many girls wore!
It’s not hard to know how I noticed the shocking pink and black oxfords with thick black crepe soles! As I gazed on the dazzle, I saw little side zippers with pink tassels on the pulls that made them so unique.
When I tried them on, I walked through the shoe department and felt springy and a bit taller. Each gawk in a mirror was satisfying as I admired the shoes from every angle.
I tried on other choices to satisfy the saleswoman, but she was only going to make one sale that day, so she packaged my treasures and sent me on my way.
Clueless doesn’t equal coolness
Shocking pink shoes stood out for sure, but I’m not sure even hypnosis would help me remember my logic in selecting them. Was it a statement of independence? Love at first sight? Did I hope to be spared the bother of keeping my shoelaces pristine white? Sixty-five years is a long time to remember the reasons for a purchase.
However, it took a clueless kid only a few minutes to know that I was stuck with a lousy wardrobe decision. After I stepped into class, I realized that my nifty shoes did get noticed. With eye rolls.
It was then that I knew those thick spongy soles would never help me leap over the gap to the cool kids, and all I got with my choice was very conspicuous feet and a fifth-grade memory that I would never scratch from my psyche!
My friend Donna drew the picture of my shoes from a collection of photos, a color swatch, and descriptions that I gave her.
Now, as I look at her drawing, the memory of that footwear finally makes me smile and realize why, for a moment, they once made me so happy.