It was a ritual at the beginning of every school year; a trip to Buster Brown next to the grocery store for new school shoes. Dad insisted on good, quality shoes, a legacy left over from his years as a shoe salesman.
In kindergarten, my Buster Brown’s were dark brown leather with little yellow bumble-bees printed on the sides of each shoe. My best friend, Stacie, had the same bumble-bee shoes.
The next year, my Buster Brown’s were dark brown and navy suede. I remember when the toes got scuffed and the nap of the suede wore off. I asked Dad if he could fix them. He used some brown shoe polish. That didn’t fix it, it only made them look darker brown, dirty, and shiny, definitely not the magic I expected. But, they still fit, so I knew they wouldn’t be replaced soon. I would stare at those ugly, shiny brown spots and wish I could feel my toes pressing against the inside of the shoes so we could make another trip to Buster Brown for unscuffed, pretty new shoes.
I don’t remember when I stopped getting my shoes at Buster Brown, but I do remember shopping for shoes at the mall. Two chain shoe stores always had the shoes I liked, but Dad would have none of it. “Cheap shoes that make your feet hurt,” he would say, then we’d trot off to a department store with shoes that met Dad’s exacting shoe quality standards.
I always felt proud when shopping for shoes with Dad. He knew what he wanted, so no one was going to talk him into something cheap. Sometimes, it wasn’t so great. Like the times I would find the perfect, beautiful shoes that every little girl dreams of, but they only had it in a size too big, or too small. “They’ll be fine, Daddy. My heel only slips a little.” Or, “Daddy, I can hardly feel the end. Please, Daddy, I love these shoes!” But, there was no arguing with the shoe expert. An imperfect fit would have meant failure to him.
But, the times the shoes fit, I could wear them right out of the store; carrying the shoe box containing my old, battered shoes and looking down at my brand-new, smooth, unblemished shoes. How many times did Mom say, “Stop looking at your feet when you walk,” on those shopping trips when I had scored new shoes? Didn’t she understand? I had on new shoes, why would I want to watch where I was going when I had my feet wrapped in the glory of beautiful new shoes? Her parents must never have let her wear her new shoes out of the store, or she would have understood.
Shoe shopping isn’t has fun as it was then, and I never wear my new shoes out of the store. Neither do my kids, actually. But, I often catch a brief glimpse of Dad’s finger pressing down on the toe of my shoe as I press down on the toes of my kids’ shoes; looking for the perfect fit.