When I was a kid, my mother always took me and my sister to Hahn's Shoes in the summer time to get new shoes for the coming school year. We'd also go to Sears or Montgomery Ward and stock up on corduroy pants and stiff denim jeans that one could prop up in a corner. The smell of newness is so indelible in my memory, so indicative of the whole concept of starting fresh.
I remember wanting a pair of Converse Chuck Taylor basketball shoes. Chucks. I dreamed of them, stared enviously at boys' feet that were lucky enough to be encased in them, and I even tried to con a friend's mother into getting me a pair when she took us shopping one day. But I was summarily denied, because they were "boy shoes." Every morning when I laced up the "Safeway Special" tennis shoes my mom bought me from the grocery store, I thought about those Chucks and started my day with a heavy sigh.
When I was 12 I became fascinated with Desert Boots, the tan suede ankle boots worn by the cool guys on television in the 70s. They were rather plain, with a rounded toe, and I had to have them. I put them on my Christmas list, but alas, no shoe box under the tree. Then on my birthday, my grandmother handed me a big elongated box wrapped in shiny blue paper with a big white ribbon around it, and I knew it was a shoe box. I felt my heart leap inside my chest, and my face was hot with anticipation. I couldn't believe my luck! I opened the box and tore through the white tissue paper to reveal them... and there they were... dark brown Wallabees ... the square-toed uglier cousin to the Desert Boot, and I was devastated.
It's funny what's important.
I remember trying to pretend it wasn't the biggest catastrophe in the history of the world, but it wasn't easy. My grandmother was so hopeful that she had selected just the right thing, inching toward the edge of her chair as I unwrapped her gift, her eyes lit up in anticipation of my approval. And I looked up from the box as if there were a dead animal inside it and silently gasped at her inability to buy the right thing. Naturally I smiled weakly and thanked her for the gift, casually neglecting to try them on as I moved to the next package. As I unwrapped a GI Joe (the kind that was 12" tall with fuzzy hair and "real" dog tags), I couldn't get those stupid boots out of my head. How could she get Wallabees? How could she be so stupid?
That night I explained the tragedy to my mother, who took me to Hahn's the next morning and got me a pair of genuine desert boots, and I was beside myself with glee. I could barely contain myself all the way home as I anticipated the envious looks I would soon be getting from my classmates. I sat on the edge of my bed and began the ceremonious preparation, removing each blob of tissue paper from each one, then the lacing of the boots, making sure that each lace was even in length with its partner, and as I slipped them on I could practically hear the choir in my head. Glory!
They were the most uncomfortable shoes I'd ever put on my feet, and I made my mother return them two days later.
Some twenty years later I was browsing through a store in Denver when I saw a pair of Converse Chucks. I practically knocked over a woman and her young child to get to them, and in one fluid motion I quickly found my size and immediately took them to the register, amazed at my luck. As I sat on the plane heading home, I felt myself smiling, and thought of the irony of finally getting something I had wanted so very long ago. Shaking an emotional fist into the air, I silently laughed at my mother for refusing me this small joy when I was a child.
The next morning I got up, having planned in my head the perfect outfit to compliment my new shoes, which were happily all the rage now, and began to ready for the day. Once dressed, I walked proudly to the full-length mirror to gaze upon my prized possessions. And as I stood there looking at myself, I realized that these shoes looked ridiculous on me.
Be careful what you wish for. There's a good reason why life is so full of fresh starts.