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Somewhere Between Manolos and SAS

Recently I had the pleasure of working an expansive comic con event, a gathering of people who love comics, science fiction, animation, and fantasy genres. There are loads of amazing costumes as fans cosplay everything from Captain Kirk to Captain America, or perhaps Storm Troopers to X-Men’s Storm. I spent three days standing and walking on concrete floors while I answered questions about my own business and searched for potential artists to recruit.

When I got back to my hotel room and slipped off my bright yellow Converse All Star sneakers, I was dismayed. I saw angry feet — indignant, irate, ill-tempered feet — and I just sighed. After a shower, I grabbed a tube of lotion and began restoring my poor feet to a place of peace and comfort. As I rubbed, I noticed prominent veins and ligaments, blisters, and protruding bones along the sides of my arches that I think are the early phases of bunions. I remembered the beautiful feet of my youth. Plump, straight toes that didn’t crook to one side. Beautifully curved arches. Pretty pink toenails without ridges. Skin free from scars. Heels without cracks.

Then there was the thing I couldn’t see and didn’t even know about: the padding at the bottom of feet that cushions bones as you step, jump, run, or dance. We lose that fatty foot pad as we age. I didn’t learn that until recently, and it explains so much about why my feet hurt so much.


When I was younger and rocking stiletto pumps regularly, I looked with pity at the older ladies, slightly derisive, certain I could keep wearing my heels forever.


It also clarifies why I see so many women transition from heels to flats, then from flats to Clarks slides, and then from Clarks slides to SAS orthopedic shoes. When I was younger and rocking stiletto pumps regularly, I looked with pity at the older ladies, slightly derisive, certain I could keep wearing my heels forever. One of the teachers a hallway over had a collection of Reeboks high-top sneakers in every color of the rainbow; she wore them every day, even with dresses. I shook my head then.

Now I understand: Middle-age ladies wear sneakers so they don’t hurt. We can sit at home in our heels, or we can conquer the world in our Easy Spirit clogs.

I love sweet little baby feet and the feet of preschoolers; they are so pink and plump! I love the feet of dancers; they are ragged but capable of creating beauty.

But the most beautiful feet I have ever seen belonged to my grandmother.

They were not beautiful for the usual reasons. She had polio when she was young; her legs were thin, there was little muscle left, and the bones seemed curved too far outward from each other. When we were children we never got to see her feet, and I didn’t know why until I became an adult and glimpsed them: clubbed, toes curled up under the balls of the feet, they looked like knobs. When she walked, she walked on knobs. She always needed to touch something for balance if she took more than a few steps: a hand along the top of the sofa, a wall, the bed, the kitchen counter. If she walked around outside, she usually held onto my grandfather’s arm.


Now I understand: Middle-age ladies wear sneakers so they don’t hurt. We can sit at home in our heels, or we can conquer the world in our Easy Spirit clogs.


Most women know the novel and movie A Walk to Remember, by Nicholas Sparks. Mandy Moore plays a teenager with terminal leukemia, and popular bad boy Shane West falls for her and asks her to marry him. She painfully walks down the aisle to become a wife before her death. I have witnessed an even more beautiful walk, though. Since my grandparents married during the Depression, they had no wedding; so for their 50th anniversary, their children threw them one. Grandmother made an ivory dress of lace and taffeta. She carried a bouquet and walked in her cream-colored orthopedic shoes down the aisle of the chapel.

She walked down the aisle at my wedding too, and I didn’t know it then, but by the end of the day her feet were bloody and she was in a lot of pain. She did it, though, because she loved me.

Those scarred, bloody feet and spindly legs carried this gift of a woman through more than 80 years of life: marriage, motherhood, grandmotherhood, church service, sewing, driving, travel to South Africa, cancer, congestive heart failure, and love.

When my dogs are barking, when they are swollen and tender, I soak them and rub them, and then I keep moving. Aging, for me, is not going to be about sitting still. It’s going to be about exploring and dancing. I will honor my grandmother by continuing to walk.

Kim Bryant lives in Texas, where she manages the largest Renaissance festival in the country. You can read more of her work at fairymiddlin.com.

Photo: Lumina

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