Can Toes Tell a Story? A Personal Essay, Summer 2011

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Look at my feet. What's wrong? My toes are too small. Shriveled, wrinkly. "Like baby carrots" one of my sisters used to say. Also, my left foot is bigger than my right. I don't know why. What's right? I polished the nails. I haven't done that in a very long time. Or did I ever? It was an impulse thing -- light green with sparkles. It's nail polish that I found way in the back of my daughter's drawer of  junk that's been there since she was in jr. high. I'd been thinking about painting my toenails, only because sandals seem to be so trendy lately. I admire beautiful feet in sandals, with painted nails.

But not my own.  I've always disliked my toes. Why are they so small? How come most women's feet have long, elegant looking toes -- the same kind of elegance, in my mind, as a woman's long, elegant neck (which I haven't, either)?

I've sometimes speculated that my mother probably neglected my growing feet during some stage of my development, and maybe they're deformed because of that. One of my six sisters is only a year younger than me, and another two years younger. Perhaps my mother had too much to worry about with them than with her 3-year-old's feet. Further evidence of this possibility came to me from a photo taken one Easter. How old am I in the photo I'm remembering? Five or six? My sisters and I are all decked out in beautiful dresses. The dress I'm wearing in the photo is yellow chiffon, and definitely a hand-me-down from my older sister. I seem happy in the photo, as we all do, smiling and squinting in the morning sunlight, with our Easter baskets. But the shoes I'm wearing seem very out of place. Beneath the yellow chiffon dress, I'm wearing my older sister's scuffed up saddle shoes. Why was that? Everyone else had nice, new-looking patent leather shoes. I must have, for most years, had new patent leather shoes, because I have memories of how exciting it was to wear them when they were so brand new, gleaming black over white ankle socks. Like on the first day of school after a long summer. But old saddle shoes on Easter? And they look big on me, too.

Now I have another memory about my feet. I'm pretty sure I was in kindergarten. One of my classmates, a girl, made a comment about how small my feet were. She said my feet would probably fit into her doll's shoes. At the time, I thought that was a very unkind thing to say -- though looking back, maybe it wasn't meant to be unkind. Or maybe she just seemed to be mean, because I remember how ashamed I felt, and wanted to cry. Maybe I did cry, later, privately.

So here I am now, 56 years old, looking at how my toes haven't changed a whole lot in many, many years. I like wearing fashionable shoes, so long as they're not too uncomfortable, but have never liked wearing sandals -- except with socks. I really felt a kinship with Tina Fey when she made a similar exclamation in 30 Rock. In Alaska, wearing socks with sandals has been fashionable for a long time, until, it seems the last year or so. Tremendous varieties of flip flops and sandals now fill the stores. The other reason I have always liked socks is that they keep my feet warm. My feet have trouble staying warm around the house, no matter the time of year. I even wear socks to bed, except on the warmest summer nights.

So now, all for summer fashion, I've decided it's time for my toes to be let out of the closet. I kind of like the light green shade of the polish. It doesn't draw too much attention to my toes, the way, say, a bright red shade might. Maybe I'll get used to seeing more of my toes, besides in the shower.

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