’ve always had a thing for shoes. And when I was a kid, our downtown was home to about a half dozen excellent locally owned shoe stores.
Maybe it’s something in the water because Jefferson City has a long history with shoes, having been home to many shoe factories over the years. Whatever the reason — I love shoes.
My mom and I always window shopped the stores before deciding where we’d stop first. Then we’d walk in the front door and be greeted by the smell of the hunt, the glorious scent of New Shoes (they should have a candle with that smell!).
Back in the glory days of shopping, a real live person was always there to see if we needed any help or wanted to look around first. To make the experience last as long as possible, I always wanted to “take a moment to look” first, to admire all the shoes and see if any of them were talking to me saying “ooh, take me home with you.”
When I found something I liked (because…SHOES!!), Mom would get the salesperson and we’d take a seat while he measured my growing foot. Then he’d disappear into the back room to see whether the shoe I’d picked was in stock.
The suspense was killer! What if they didn’t have my size? What if they had the right size but not the right color?? What if they didn’t fit quite right?
We’d try on several pairs, maybe pick one or, if they didn’t fit just right, maybe move along to the next shop.
I always felt like a princess when I walked out of a shoe shop holding a brown paper bag with a box of shoes inside.
As I got older I took advantage of the fact my mom had a part-time job as a tailor at a men’s clothing store downtown. The best thing for me about her gig was a home base on High Street. I could ride to work with her, wait for the stores to open, and head out for a day of shopping!
Turns out, one of the most momentous days of my life was the Friday after Thanksgiving the year I was in seventh grade. It changed the way I saw Christmas for the rest of my life.
During the morning, I visited the stationery store and purchased a couple of nifty pens, bought a book at the small independent bookshop, grabbed a bag of freshly popped popcorn at the drug store, and checked out the clothes at JC Penney.
And the afternoon..the afternoon was reserved for shoe shopping.
I had saved up some money, so as soon as I finished my brown bag lunch I was off! My quest for the afternoon: the perfect pair of shoes to go with what I planned to wear to church on Christmas Eve.
My outfit was a red, white, and black plaid wool skirt, cut on an A-line, and since Mom had made it the plaids matched up perfect on the center front seam — plus it had a nice swishy swing when I walked. She’d also made a red satin shirt with a Peter Pan collar and a black narrow-wale corduroy jacket to go with it. I had the cutest little gray mouse pin with googly eyes that I planned to wear on the lapel.
Now — with a lead-up like this, you know my 12-year-old self was not just on the lookout for “shoes,” she was hunting for high heels.
I finally hit pay dirt at Schell & Ward, where I found this utterly smashing pair of black heels — wing-tips with T-style Mary Jane straps, and thin stacked wood heels that stood about 3 inches tall. Perhaps the heels aren’t much by today’s standards, but for first time high heels, I was thrilled!
I developed a crush on these shoes when I looked at them, and I as I tried them on I fell deeply and passionately in love. I saw the light. I heard angel voices singing.
These were The Ones.
My first high heels.
When I went to the counter to pay for them, the woman behind the register asked me if I wanted them gift wrapped, which kind of startled me because she’d seen me trying the shoes on. She knew I was buying the shoes for myself.
Why bother with wrapping them?
Ms. Olderandwiser looked at me, then ushered me into a secret society, “They’re for you?”
“Then you definitely need to get them wrapped. All women should buy themselves at least one gift at Christmas time. That way even if all the other gifts are a bust, you’re sure to find at least one thing under the tree you truly love. A girl’s got to take care of herself. You’re worth it.”
With that she ripped off a sheet of shiny red and green wrapping paper and got to her work. Ribbon crisscross the box in the upper left corner. There was was crinkle ribbon curled with a scissors, there were bows.
This was a GIFT.
A few moments later she slipped my beautifully wrapped shoebox into a plastic Shell & Ward bag, and I went on my way. As I walked out the door with my to-me from-me Christmas present, I felt like I’d upgraded from princess status to Queen of My World.
I’ve thought about that day many times over the years. The sales clerk took my money and handed me shoes I’d bought and paid for, but she still gave me a gift. During the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve, when I looked at that festive package tucked underneath our Christmas tree, the lights reflecting off the ribbon, I heard her saying, “You’re worth it!
When Christmas Eve rolled around and I opened that package so I could wear my new shoes to church, I was absolutely giddy with excitement. Almost as if what was inside was a total surprise.
And maybe it was…because what was inside was a symbol that, while it’s good to do kind things for other people, it’s also wonderful to be good and kind to yourself.
All too often we’re not.
I wore that pair of shoes for years. Had the rubber on the heels replaced at the shoe repair shop. Then finally, one day I gave the Mary Jane T-strap a tug and it gave up the ghost.
I probably should have made a boat, put the shoes aboard, and set it aflame to give them a proper burial.
Over the years since then I’ve thought about how 30 minutes in a shoe shop in downtown Jefferson City changed the way I view the holidays.
Every year since then, I’ve made sure to buy myself something. Even during years when things were very lean, there was always a way to give myself some small gift — a book, a single pristine chocolate truffle, a cheap pair of dangling earrings. Some years when I felt more flush, I’d splurge on something bigger like a pile of fabric and thread for a new quilt, a beautiful sweater, or several skeins of yarn and a new crochet hook.
As I’m writing this at the end of a long, crazy year, my 2020 To: Me From: Me gift to arrived in the mail yesterday. I know what’s inside — a necklace I saw in a Facebook ad a couple of weeks ago — but I’m still excited to open my package on Christmas morning.
This year I hope you indulge in a To: Me From: Me Christmas gift, too. There’s still time to pick out something that’s just for you…from you!
Pro Tips: Support small business owners. Find someone local. Small businesses are more likely do free and fabulous gift wrapping. But even if you order online, see if they’ll gift wrap it for you.
And be sure to send me a selfie of you unwrapping it!
PS — works for birthdays, too!