By Sue Mayfield-Geiger
I knew the way to Easthaven in my sleep. I memorized it in the backseat of the family 4-door Chevrolet sedan, recognizing landmarks along the way: Anita’s Mexican Restaurant, Ella’s Seamstress Shop, Bob’s Barbeque, Phillips 66, Tony’s Grocery Mart, the old red brick abandoned meat packing plant. Then there were miles of weeded road, railroad tracks, turn left, pass the Hobbs’ place, and there it was.
Make another left onto the shell driveway with just the tiniest of clover patches birthing through.
The house itself started out small – on pier and beam, wooden porch, red shingles on the roof. A breezeway (now enclosed) led to the two-car garage with apartment overhead. My grandparents lived above the garage when the side house was being built.
In my grandmother’s closet were her purple suede shoes. I would put them on when she was downstairs, my own heels a good two inches from the heel of the shoe. I would slosh around in them and prance in front of the closet door mirror wishing, waiting, wanting to be old enough to have a pair of my own.
Although my grandmother worked in the bindery department of a major publishing company, she could have easily been mistaken for a plus-size model. At 5’2”, she was at least a size 12 but wore her stylish clothes well. Most of her dresses were silk, belted and A-line, flowing against her knees to reveal not only the purple shoes, but the many other pairs that lived among them.
I was always fascinated with shoes and longed to have a pair of high-heels of my own. My mother was not a shoe hound so it was only during those trips to Easthaven when I could enter the fashion world of shoes.
Black patent leather pumps, white strappy sling backs, beige wedgies, and other neutral-toned lovelies lined my grandmother’s closet, but it was the purple suede heels that always shouted out at me: “Wear me! I’m the prettiest and the most elegant. Wear me!” And so I did. Every chance I got.
One time, as I was walking the bedroom “runway,” admiring myself in the full-length mirror, I began to sing. I was on stage and my audience was applauding loudly. I belted out a few tunes and thanked them sincerely as I bowed and pivoted in the purple shoes.
Another time, I was getting married. My dress was white, but the shoes were purple. I thought it would be totally cool to carry purple flowers, maybe even a wild crop of wisteria and wear a garland of the stuff in my hair. Always unconventional, my mind would race with possibilities.
There was an array of purses high on a shelf above the closet floor, but I was too short to reach them. And yes, there was even a purple suede one that matched those magical shoes.
The upstairs bathroom was filled with perfume bottles, sachets and bath salts. They were easy enough to open, sniff and put back.
I was careful not to do too much meddling as I did not want to be caught. Sure, I went through a drawer or two, but was cautious and left the soft slips and big brassieres untouched.
The dressing table contained a large wooden box full of costume jewelry, but when opened, it played “Fleur de Lis.” I knew the title because my grandmother often played it on the downstairs piano.
But it didn’t take me long to figure out how to turn the box over and keep the music from playing by making sure it was unwound. Then I could put on the clip earrings and wear the heavy necklaces, allowing them to drip down my throat.
Often I would walk the entire length of the bedroom decked out in jewelry, wearing one of grandmother’s shawls and, of course, the purple shoes. I would cavort and strut for as long as possible until I felt it was time to put everything away and return downstairs before inquiring minds came looking for me.
I’d appear at the bottom of the stairs and approach the living room where I would be asked the inevitable question: “What were you doing upstairs?”
And that would be the end of it. Yet, I’ve often wondered if she knew. Did she have even a hint of suspicion? Did she just prefer to ignore my meddling ways? Or did I truly fool her?
The shoes probably gave me away when she no doubt could smell little girl feet in them when she went to put them on. Or maybe not.
As I got older, I grew into the purple shoes, but they were not as exciting to me anymore, especially after my feet got too big for them. I don’t even know what happened to them because when we grow up, we somehow lose the inquisitiveness that lives in the world of a child. Yet, embedded in my long-term memory are those purple shoes – shoes that were literally soles for my soul.