Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Red Shoes by essayist and poet Barbara Carle

Barbara Ann Carle is a poet and personal essay writer.  Her poems have been published by Maps of Austin, Sol Magazine and Gulf Coast Poets.  In 2008 her poem “The Battle” won the Ted O. Badger Award.    She has recently completed her first chapbook, “New York Rhapsody”, a collection of poems about growing up in New York City during and just following World War II. 

Barbara’s personal essays have been published in “Chicken Soup for the Chocolate Lovers’ Soul”, “The Democrat’s Soul”, “The Republican’s Soul” and the anthology “Thanksgiving to Christmas, a Patchwork of Stories.”  Her latest essay “A Promise to Keep” was published in the anthology “Fearless Nest”.     
She is a member of the Gulf Coast Poets, the Poetry Society of Texas, the Bay Area Writers League, the Spectrum Center Writers’ Guild and Women in the Visual and Literary Arts.  Barbara is the mother of four and grandmother of six.   She resides in Friendswood, Texas with her husband, Ed.

The Red Shoes
By Barbara Ann Carle

My mother had many great qualities.  Unfortunately allowing others to make their own decisions was not one of them.  She was a firm believer in the “Mother knows best” theory. 
            When I was 12 years old, I picked out a beautiful navy blue suit to wear on Easter Sunday.  My mother announced that we would take a trip into Manhattan on Saturday to look for accessories.  Of course, New Yorkers never call it Manhattan.  To us it’s always “the city”, but a trip to the city was an unbelievable treat.  We always spent the whole day and were required to wear our very best clothes.  I chose to wear my green and black plaid skirt and my green sweater.  My mother was decked out in her favorite rust color gabardine dress, brown high heels and silk stockings with the seam up the back that she miraculously always kept perfectly straight.
            I was always fascinated with my mother’s coloring.  She had long; dark brown hair that she would upsweep into two intricate rolls, a style called a pompadour.   She was tall, slim and had large expressive eyes the color of dark chocolate.  My sister and I looked nothing like her, having inherited my Dad’s blue eyes and blond hair.  She was energetic, vivacious and had a steamroller type personality.     
            To make the trip even better, my mother decided that since my Dad didn’t have to work that Saturday, my younger sister, Roseann, who detested shopping, would stay home with him, giving me a whole day to spend alone with my Mom.
At the close of these day long trips, we always visited my mother’s favorite Chinese restaurant, the Red Dragon.  At the top of a long stairway, giant red doors decorated with gold leaf dragons lead into the restaurant.  The walls were covered with gorgeous oriental screens of black and white mother of pearl scenes from Chinese villages.  The tables were configured around a huge dance floor and while you ate your egg drop soup, and shrimp chow mien; you listened to piped-in Big Band music as couples jitter bugged or fox-trotted past your table.  My mother explained that at night the restaurant had a live band and sometimes she, my Dad and their friends would go there to dance.  So you can see why boarding the subway that Saturday was a memorable event.
            I always loved the city, especially in early April.  The snow was finally gone and the trees in Central Park were dressed in that pale green of new growth.  The yellow forsythia supplied the brightest color in the landscape with crocus and daffodils just popping up.    The city was crowded, noisy and exciting.    The air was cool and crisp and any unpleasant odors were masked by the smell of street venders selling hot dogs, large pretzels and sausage hoagies.   
I never understood who designated the flow of foot traffic in the city but my mother always managed to maneuver us so we were swept along in the exact direction she wanted to go. 
            We were stopped in front of the plate glass window of Tomm McCann’s shoe store; gazing at the huge display of shoes when my mother grabbed my arm and cried “Oh, Barbara, look at those great red shoes.  Aren’t they beautiful?”  Being on the threshold of individuality, I innocently replied “I don’t like red shoes”; a simple statement.  Not one you would classify as a declaration of war unless, of course, you knew my mother, which I evidently didn’t. 
The hand on my arm tightened as my mother spun me around to face her.  “You don’t like red shoes?  How can anyone not like red shoes?  You can get a red hat, a red bag and with those shoes you would look great.  Everyone needs a pair of red shoes.  They go with everything, blue, black, white.  I have 3 pair of red shoes.  Come on let’s go try them on.  You’ll love them.” 
I’ll never know why I drew a line in the sand that day but my response was clear and direct.  “No, I don’t like red shoes.”
            The expression on my mother’s face changed from shock to curiosity.  She lifted the left eyebrow of her beautiful brown eyes and stared at me.  I could almost hear her thoughts.  “Strange, I thought I brought my oldest daughter shopping.  The easy going, well behaved one who always tries so hard to please.  I thought I had left the difficult, defiant one home with her father.”  The curiosity instantly changed to anger and she stormed away from the store.   For the rest of the day my mother proceeded to drag me to every shoe store in Manhattan pointing out every pair of red shoes we encountered. 
It was a minor rebellion in the scheme of things but I am happy to report that I stuck by my decision.  At the end of a long, frustrating day my mother finally relented and bought me a pair of navy blue shoes. 
Of course, freedom comes with a price, and there was no trip to the Red Dragon.  I knew her clip “We don’t have enough time” was not the real reason.  Down deep, my mother hated to lose.  But at that point I didn’t care.  I rode home on the subway, clutching my new blue shoes, more than happy to have suffered the consequences.  And between you and me, I must admit; here I sit, a seventy-three year old woman who still doesn’t like red shoes.

Copyright © - Barbara Ann Carle, 2008

Look for Barbara Carle to be a featured essay reader at an upcoming Friendswood Public Library program.

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