“Nikes with an evening gown? Girl, just DON’T!” I had to laugh, too. “Now take your daddy’s shoes off, darling, and listen to what I have to tell you.”
He turned toward the bed and started opening up his large suitcase. The latches snapped open, and Harry lit into a lecture I’ll never forget.
“There is no such thing as a shoe,” he began. “Don’t believe me? Let me prove it to you. When I say ‘shoes,’ what do you think of? Maybe you think of your dad’s tennies, or of high-heeled boots that could minimize your feet. Me, I think of my favorites, my 1940s Carmen Miranda wedges with the cork heels and the painted wooden cherries dangling from the ankle straps—cha cha cha—they’re in here somewhere.”
His suitcase was full of shoes! “So what is a shoe?” He continued. “Shoes are an idea. An ideal. An ethereal concept that we attach to any variety of...of thing we attach to our feet. Shoes don’t have to cover your feet, or even protect your feet, necessarily, and believe it or not, you don’t even have to be able to walk in them. The one thing shoes all have, though, in a special way that socks don’t, is a sole.”
“A soul?” I asked.
“I think you just said soul,” he said.
“But I said sole.”
“As in only—but shoes come in pairs.”
“Don’t confuse me, child! It’s magical, isn’t it?”
“The soul or sole of a shoe. I don’t think it’s any coincidence they sound the same. We all walk our own paths in life, and our shoes give us direction! They give us definition! We wake up in the morning and say, Who am I? Who will I be today? A soldier? I’ll wear army boots. A sailor? I’ll wear deck shoes. A spy? James Bond dress shoes with daggers in the toe, as shiny as mirrors so you can see up the skirt of that beautiful woman you’ll seduce in the midst of danger. Darling, there’s a purpose to every variety of shoe, don’t you see? Fuzzy slippers keep you warm. Movie star mules with a pouf of marabou. Your toes may sweat, your heels may take a chill, but—don’t your ankles look lickable?”
I wrinkled my nose and smiled.
“Shoes tell stories of identity, Ashley. Think cowboys and indians. See, Native Americans wore soft-soled moccasins to sneak around in the woods, to be part of nature, to ride their horses bareback, in touch with the animal’s breath and sweat and muscle. Cowboys, not so much in tune with nature as wanting to boss it around, put tough leather soles on their tall, protective boots so they could step on cactus and walk through cow pies. They’d strap metal spurs to their boots to creep their horses out and make ‘em run. They put high heels on their boots to hold them in the stirrups while they threw ropes around things and tied ‘em to the saddle. See what I mean? Indians do their mystical campfire animal dances, communing with their ancestors. Cowboys stand up tall and strut, all ego; even when they dance it’s in a square!”
He did a little doe-si-do around me. Then he took my hands and pulled me down beside him on the bed.
“Ashley, do you know what it means to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes? Empathy. How can you truly understand someone unless you start with their feet? Wear their soles and you know their souls. Is any of this sinking in?” It was sinking in.
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