What is it with shoe obsessions? I suspect the seeds get planted from young. And before you realize it, you are spellbound, like Cinderella and her rats.
“Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world”. – Marilyn Monroe
My sister and I were forbidden from going into the garage at Tremont because Nana made Papa put down rat poison everywhere and did not want us to get leptospirosis. We were constantly warned that if we touched anything with rat wee wee or poo poo, it could be fatal. Naturally, this raised our curiosity. Death by rats. As law abiders with the loving fear of Nana in us, we stayed clear of that old garage. Instead, we chose to recreate our own run-ins with a pair of rats in the house.
[Photo credit: Etsy.com. Vintage 80s Benjamin Walk Black Lace Kitten Heels.]
The wood plank flooring at Tremont was a deep, dark stained pine that had become warped from time and wear. Viewed at the right level, say, between three to four feet off the ground, it took on a whole new persona. In our young minds, we decided that rats could quite possibly, most definitely lurk, and hunt for prey. For the starring role, my sister and I would sneak into Nana and Papa’s bedroom and steal Nana’s black lacy kitten heels. These heels Nana wore to many of the parties they attended. But for us, we created our own parties. With a swirl of an invisible wand, those heels magically turned into “the rat shoes”.
If Marilyn Monroe was indeed correct about having the right shoes, then I have no doubt that my sister and I conquered the world. Our world. Being three years younger than my sister, it meant she had greater speed and agility in bringing those heels to life. She could shuffle her feet very quickly in a forward, shimmying motion. Even though her feet could only half fill the heels, she always made her way towards me at what felt like lightning speed. It was then up to me to try to get away from being caught by the ‘rats’. Running for dear life was the only escape option. And just what was the only acceptable home base/safe house/finish line? A bed.
There were three beds to choose from in three different parts of our Tremont world. First, there was a twin bed, with a green gabardine floral bedspread in the living room. If you look really closely at the photo I shared in my story about Papa’s Keys, you can just make it out with my sister lying down looking at me. It doubled as a sofa. Second, was a bed in my uncle’s bedroom. And last, was Nana and Papa’s bed.
The game was perfect in our minds. Nana never allowed shoes on the beds. Or rats. We reckoned they were only allowed in the garage. Each time I escaped the wrath of the rat shoes, my sister would shout out, “My Turn!“. I would then take the reins and chase my sister in similar but far more clumsy fashion. Through giggling hysterics, I would make a similar demand once home base was reached. “My Turn!”
I cannot stress enough the heart palpitations this game created as we ran for our lives. Like two little banshees. Makes me laugh to this day. And no one ever died. I found a photo of another pair as I thought the bird’s eye view was important to emphasize the magnitude of the fear. The only thing really missing, besides Nana’s wear and tear from many a night out on the town, is the little tiny string bows on the fronts. In our minds, they looked exactly like rat tails.
[Photo credit: Adrianna Papell Lois Lace Kitten Heels]
As much as we loved playing this game, our other favourite pastime was to go rifling through Nana’s jewelry closet. She liked to wear the occasional sparkly piece she acquired when her and Papa went out. All her jewels were kept behind lock and key. The key was kept on a plastic rainbow key chain, always hidden in the top drawer of her dresser. Just opening the boxes and holding the odd ring, bracelet or necklace felt like Christmas each time we opened the boxes.
We were also really good at not getting caught. Nana always gave us ample warning. She wore several gold bangles that clinked together whenever she walked. If this tipoff didn’t do the trick, she also wore Dr. Scholls wooden clog sandals during the daytime that were comfy for her bunions. After a night of wearing rat shoes, I suspect they were a welcomed retreat.
Even though they had a soft rubber sole, they were quite worn and would make a distinctive wood-on-wood, dull, tapping sound. We could hear their noise with just enough time to put everything back in its place and return the key. We developed almost photographic memories of how each of her jewelry boxes were stacked so that when the clogs and bangles signalled, we could jump into action and quickly hit the reverse button. Never once do I ever remember getting caught cold handed, or questioned about anything being awry. In hindsight, I suspect I missed my calling as a cat burglar.
The last shoe memory from Tremont involves the night Nana and Papa went to The Pepperpot nightclub. As the band’s manager, Papa was normally stationed at the entrance of the club. He made sure all the money was accounted for, the head count was accurate, and any ticket sales that were to be collected at the door, were executed correctly. Naturally, Papa’s long career at Barclays Bank made him a maverick at this role as band manager. Names were recorded in ledger format to ensure that the mailing list was up to date. Nana usually stood not far away and could often be found people watching, socializing with familiar faces, or watching the band while bouncing her head in enjoyment.
On this night, in the rush to get to The Pepperpot to work at the door, Nana dashed into the car, like Cinderella making her hasty exit to the ball in the chariot. As they arrived at the nightclub, Nana noticed something seemed awry. Perhaps it was nothing but she could not help but notice that she was limping. She chalked it up to the rocky, uneven parking lot. It was also dark.
Only when Nana got under the string lights inside, did she look down to realize she had put on two completely different shoes. Different colours. Different heights. It is no wonder something felt funny. Luckily, Nana was wearing a long gown. She sat and tucked in her feet under the chair so no one could see her feet. When the right moment came, which was likely before midnight, she looked at Papa and said: “Herbert, we need to go back home now”. And just like that, she made her exit, like a fractured Cinderella tale, with two mismatched slippers.
* * * *
Because of Nana, I always look down at my feet before I leave my house. A life lesson worth not repeating. I have also never looked at kitten heels in any other way since our childhood. I simply refuse to own a pair. Let’s face it, kittens become cats and cats love rats.
Thanks to the careful unstacking and restacking of Nana’s jewelry boxes, I developed a love of the video game, Tetris. In fact, I pretend to play it daily at the supermarket when I bag my own groceries. Jewelry still fascinates me but not in the way you might think. I don’t have or wear much of it. Truth, just looking in display cabinets makes me feel like a child again and gives me a feeling of joy. I cannot speak for every girl, but I think many little girls growing up in Barbados may have felt this way when they were taken to the three main department stores: Cave Shepherds, Harrisons or Dacostas. For me, being eye level made me feel that I too was like the rubies, sapphires, emeralds and diamonds. Looking at all the pieces made you wish. Wish that you too could one day have something so beautiful.