I was raised in a Catholic family. I had five siblings. In the 50’s that was a sort of midrange size for a catholic family. Four of my five siblings entered religious life or the priesthood. That made us sort of a celebrity catholic family. So the following is a chronology of my experience of shoes growing up in that catholic context.
As a little girl, I hated shoes. Bare foot was how I went and how I was! I loved the feel of grass under my feet all the time but particularly just before Dad mowed it when the clover was cool and soft, fragrant and great for rolling in!
“Put your shoes on Lucy, don’t you know you’re in the city?”
Always sung, in his loud, booming voice that was how my favourite uncle, a missionary priest, would greet me on his return to our home to visit his Mum who lived with us. That was his version of “hello Louise, how are you?”!
My first specifically catholic shoes were my First Communion shoes and I loved them. White leather with a strap over the instep, held in place by a gorgeous gold buckle! They pinched a bit, but I didn’t care! My school shoes were brown leather. The girls wore brown, the boys wore black. At the end of every fitting the shop assistant would ask “how do they feel?” I was tempted to yell “awful, I hate them” but never dared to because the word “hate” was never allowed in our house, not even in reference to being force fed vegetables!
My eldest brother was a good cricketer. He was the first to leave home aged 16 to become a member of a religious order. Just before he left, just after brand new linoleum had been put down, he decided to give his new cricket shoes, complete with studs, la bit of a trial run! Hell to pay! Imprints remained until the bedroom was converted to “the front room” with the coloured TV in it and carpet replace the linoleum many years later!
My older brothers each became altar servers. Pre-Vatican II they wore red satin altar slippers.They were compulsory footwear for being on the sanctuary. Of course it never occurred to me, at the time, that I too might even be able to walk anywhere on the sanctuary unless I was changing the flowers or collecting the brassware for polishing!
The ritual polishing of school shoes at the weekend was a delegated family chore. Bristle brushes for applying the polish must never be mixed up with soft brushes for polishing . Brown Kiwi polish, black for Dad’s and the boy’s. In circular tins with a clever brass contraption to get the lid off! Apply. Wait. Polish. Scuff marks had to be removed. On the odd occasion when shoes were a colour other than brown or black, neutral Kiwi polish was required. When Grandma came to live with us, her black, lace up shoes with sensible heels were added to the list.
Sport shoes, sand shoes as they were called, required an application of a white substance which was applied, paint like with a sponge applicator. If it rained on sports day we created white puddles all over the playground and white patches in the classroom under our desks!
Like the wearing of red anything, but particularly above the waist, blouses, jumpers, skivvies, some shoes too, were classed as occasions of sin!. Its hard to believe that open toed shoes fit this category, but toes exposed in this manner were suggestive of cleavage and could be an occasion of sin to the opposite gender! Sling backed shoes (heels cut out, bare flesh exposed) were in the same category!But the cardinal sin of the shoe accessory industry was patent leather worn on the feet.
The reason for this edict was that the possible reflection of women’s underwear in the patent leather might incite impure thoughts in the opposite gender. With the arrival of stilettos, a combination of patent leather would send our parish priest into a rage! The”clacketty clack” of heels on the timber floors to and from communion was very much a distraction! However, the fact that there was a possibility that the reflection of the wearer’s underwear might be observed by boys, and or men (absolutely impossible to have a thought bubble involving observation by any women) teetered on being the number one confessed sin for the observer on Saturday afternoon!
When I was in year 7, in 1961, my sister was the School Captain. The annual mother and daughter dinner was quite an occasion. My sister went to the hairdresser and we each had new frocks. Mum wore her fur! It was a bit like being celebrities! My sister’s frock was magnificent A floral. poplin number in shades of blues and white and greens. A square neck, sleeveless and waisted with a full skirt under which were several layers of stiff netting to keep the skirt fully flared. She looked beautiful. I can still see her. Accessories included a patent clutch purse and a pair of almost ming blue patent leather stilettos to die for! They had very thin diagonal straps across the instep for no other purpose that to draw attention to the feet!
My frock was light green with lace around the neck. My shoes were the first pair of heels I ever wore, about an inch high! I felt special but my sister was a stunner! Poised and gorgeous! Two years later she wore the same outfit when she entered the convent. We took the outfit home. Having lusted after those stilettos for two years, imagine my disappointment when my fat feet would not go into them! At least I was protected from becoming an occasion of sin!
My graduation shoes got me into trouble too! I was at boarding school. Graduation dresses were meant to be pure white. My uncle, the missionary, sent me some exquisite raw Thai silk from Kuala Lumpur. Not pure white but not cream either. There was great disapproval from the Principal and the gold shoes I chose to wear with them got me into even more trouble! Less than three years after that those gold shoes walked me down the aisle for my marriage.
Now, shoes are my enemy. After hip and knees replacement I was unable to put them on by myself for a few years. I always required assistance. However, the introduction of velcro fastening and a bit more flexibility in the artificial joints, I can do them up on my own! However, the first thing I do when I get home is to take them off!
Bare foot is how I love to be!
“Leave your shoes off, Lou Lou even though your feet aren’t pretty!
My shoes stay off as often as possible!
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