Monday, December 29, 2014


When I was a kid my mother insisted that I wear dress shoes everywhere. I was allowed to have a pair of “gym” shoes but I was not allowed to wear them around like the other kids. My mother had a thing about shoes. She was deathly afraid that any of her children’s feet would go bad.  In junior high school, during winter, she made me wear yellow fireman’s boots with big buckles; two sizes too big so my dress shoes would fit in them.  You couldn’t ruin your two-toned “Buster Brown’s.  One day my friend Kowalski asked  me, “Does your mom make you wear those shoes?”  I embarrassingly nodded. He said, “Well it’s your mom and hard as it is; she’s your mom and you gotta listen to her.” 

One year my grandmother bought me a pair of Ked’s Flyers in her small Indian town’s shoe shop, because I coveted them.  Their tagline was, “Run faster and jump higher in Keds.” My grandfather took me across the road from their house to the county fairgrounds and timed me as I ran around the horse track. He said to me when I was done, ”Good job, but remember,Tommy, it’s not about the shoes; it’s about who wears them.”  I always liked that line.

When I was thirteen and very self-conscious, my father took me to the mall and said, “You need better jeans than Toughskins and new shoes so you look normal. We went to the County Seat and got me some pairs of jeans, another place to get some sneakers and he bought me a couple of long-sleeved plaid shirts that I wore everywhere after that with (dear God!) puka shells around my neck. I asked him, “What is the deal with mom and the shoes?“ He replied  to me, “I’ll tell you later.”  That was the year of freedom when I was allowed to escape crew cuts and grow my hair as long as I wanted it.

When I was in college, despite working four jobs to stay in school, I was very poor so what I would do was pay five dollars at the union bowling alley, trade my shoes in for beige, green and red striped lane shoes and then walk out.  One day I walked in and Murray, who ran the place, said, “T.S. when we rotate the shoes we give them to Goodwill. “I said, “That is very nice.”  Murray smiled and said “T.S. we’re on to you. When you want new shoes go to Goodwill.” I laughed and left.  I started buying my shoes at Goodwill. That being said my bowling shoes became a signature of my personal fashion.

When I was late in college, home for a bit, and needed to start thinking about what I would do after I graduated, my father came to me and said, “I have enough to buy you a suit and some good shoes.”  We went into the city to Maxwell Street to a tailor who had put together suits for my father since he first came to Chicago.  We had a couple of nice Italian beef sandwiches. We then went to Florsheim’s and I got my first set of black wingtips.  I hated them but my father said, “You’ll appreciate them later. They’re like camels in the desert.”  He was right.

When my college roommate, Geoff, and I were interviewing, and hanging our bong letters on the wall, tired from talking to people in our suits, and drinking beer. I asked, “When was it that we become our fathers?”  He said, “I don’t know, have we really? That sucks....On the other hand, we both have really nice shoes. Lets walk them to Murphy’s.” It was at that time that I shaved my beard off, got my hair cut and stopped dressing like a hippie.  Looking at my shiny black shoes I realized it was time to grow up.

One time my father came to visit me in Champaign and we got into a deep conversation. I asked him, “What is the deal with Mom and shoes, and why do her pinky toes lay over the other ones?”  He told me, “When your mother was young they were dirt poor during the end of the Depression. She didn’t have indoor plumbing until she was twelve.  Every Christmas she got some art supplies, a book, and a pair of shoes that sometimes didn’t fit her. Shoes and books are very important to her.”

Not too long ago my daughter asked me look at a cut on her foot and I noticed that she has overlaying pinky toes.  “Wow,” I said. “Maybe it is not about the shoes but maybe just more about genetics.”  I haven’t figured that one out yet but we always make sure Meredith has the right shoes because she has “Patra toes.” She laughs about them, which I like. She is an awful like her grandmother who she never met, because Patra died when I was 24.

When my grandmother, my mother’s mom, who was our mom for long time after my mother left, then also left us at the age of 96, we had to clean out her house out and we found in her closet over 100 pairs of shoes she had collected. Apparently shoes were her compulsion and indulgence. There were pumps, flats, and espadrilles in every color to match every one of her outfits.  We donated them because that is what she would have wanted, so someone else could have some shoes. It is funny how shoes can become such a very important part of your life.

For a large part of my career had to visit Washington DC a lot. One day when I had some free time I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. There is hall there and when you walk through it, it is very hard not to cry. It contains 1,000 shoes of the people who died in that atrocity.  I defy anyone who walks through that room and doesn’t have some sense of emotion about the senseless  maasacre of so many innocents…and how they stole their shoes.  Along with death, the ultimate humiliation.

I used to be very embarrassed about my shoes because I don't spend a lot of money on them or keep them up but I’m not now. I consider myself very lucky that I have three pairs. I have a pair of “gym” shoes that I rarely use, a pair of casual brown shoes that look a lot like bowling shoes, and, of course, a pair of black wing tips. 

I’m very fortunate that I can get up each morning and put my feet into one set or another.  I have never had to worry about not having shoes. 

I wish everyone here and done could feel that way too.