Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Mama, Put Your Dancing Shoes On!

By Cappy Hall Rearick

One time Mama nearly hair-lipped the community when I was little: she ordered a pair of shoes from Fredericks of Hollywood. They were black velvet stilettos with cut-out toes and straps that snaked up her ankles.

Sneaking the Frederick's form from out of a tabloid, she attached a note to her order: Send package back in plain brown paper. Then she ripped out the back section of the popular rag, crumpled it into a baseball-size wad and set it on fire. I come by my craziness naturally.

Daddy had recently become a policeman, so he and Mama were going to their first Policeman's Ball at the Armory. Mama was afraid the Chief's snooty wife might come over for an unexpected visit, see tabloids scattered around the house and tell everybody in town. Hence, the plain brown wrapper.

For two weeks she went to Efird's Department Store to sift through the dressy dresses, hoping to find a match for her Frederick's shoes. Mama was already heavy and had recently added a few extra pounds. We hadn't seen her in anything but navy blue or black since Dr. Cooper told her to go on a diet, which she didn't do.

The Policeman's Ball was drawing near before she found the sleek black dress of her dreams: Size 14 with silver sequins trailing down the arms and wide seams she could let out if she had to. It was love at first sight.

She stayed in her room primping all afternoon on the day of the Ball. At five o'clock, I said, "Mama, are you gonna fix supper? My stomach is growling." She cocked one eye at me, the other one remaining stuck between the vise-like grip of an eyelash curler. "I'm not cooking today. Just heat up some fish sticks." She squeezed the curler over her other eye.

"Fish sticks? Mama, I'm starving."

She gave me the parent look she perfected before I was born. "Do hush. Eat some potato chips if you're that hungry."

My brother and I were feeding fish sticks to the cat when Her Majesty swooped down the stairs in a fair imitation of Loretta Young. She didn't look like the same woman who'd driven us to school that morning.

My brother's eyes got big as Co-cola bottoms. "Holy Cow," he exclaimed. Thank goodness he didn't say his usual Holy something else, which would have landed us both in the bathroom trying not to swallow a mouthful of Ivory Soap.

Mama looked so glamorous that we could only stare. It was the first lesson I was to learn from my mother's interpretation of urban renewal.

Her smile was wide and her teeth sparkled in contrast to the bright red lipstick she wore. "Do I look okay?" It was a rhetorical question but we responded with the adulation she was fishing for anyway.

She preened at the foot of the stairs while we gaped, and then Daddy made his entrance. One look at him and Mama's big smile turned into a gape even bigger than ours.

"Harold," she gasped. "White socks? What were you thinking?"

Daddy, decked out in a black tuxedo rented for half-price at Rennekers, looked down at his feet. The pants were an inch too short, but except for his poor choice of socks, I thought he looked like a movie star.

"What's wrong with white socks," he asked. "They match my shirt."

I thought Mama was going to swoon. Her eyes rolled and she heaved an Ingrid Bergman style dramatic sigh. "Go put on black socks right his minute, Harold, and hurry up or we'll be late."

Daddy pinned an orchid corsage on her shoulder strap, and then they strolled out the door. Mama took baby steps as though walking on ice, but Daddy's steadying hand never left her waist. They were young and happy, like kids going to the prom.

The next day, Mama rewrapped her shoes in plain brown paper, taking pains to hide the Frederick's logo. She then placed them up high on a shelf in her closet where they would never again dazzle the eyes of her children or dance till dawn with the love of her life.

Long after I was grown, she admitted to having blisters, bunions and swollen feet the day following her enchanted evening. I thought I detected a secret hidden beneath her smile when she added, "But it was worth it."

Like my friend Laverne says, "If the shoe fits, then it's probably orthopedic."


"Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards and in high heels."