–I was working on this as a possible personal essay but it really wasn’t developing into something I’d send out for publication so I thought – I’ll share it with my blog readers!
I tried not to cringe as I unwrapped my birthday gift. Under the gift wrap, I noted the words Converse All-Star. I should have been thrilled because I wanted a pair of high tops like everyone else; but, this was a gift from my parents which meant it wouldn’t be what everyone else had.
By my parents, I’m referring to my father and step-mother, which means that my stepmother was the one who had picked out the present. (I’m not sure my father ever picked out a present for his kids. He spent little time in between marriages unmarried.) Before I even opened the box, I knew I wouldn’t be looking at your average pink or red high topped sneakers. No, my stepmother couldn’t buy anything that was “normal.” She thrived on the unusual. She’d dare, for example, to wear purple jeans with a red cable knit sweater.
From the box, I pulled a kind of neon blue colored pair of shoes. The insides were an equally bright yellow. I thought – perhaps – my stepmother had purchased on the somewhat reasonable side of fashion; but, no, something was off about the shoes.
“Try them on,” she said. She knew they would fit because she, my sisters and I all wore the same size of shoes. I put on the left shoe and that’s when I discovered that the high tops were ultra-high tops. “They’re convertible!” my stepmother told me, excited, as if this was a good thing.
I don’t know what I said, but I thought: convertible? Who wears convertible Converse? I’m sure I said thank you, but I didn’t wear the shoes out that night. In fact, I didn’t wear them for a long time. I probably wore out whatever K-mart Keds rip offs I had until I couldn’t avoid putting on the still brand new looking pair of shoes. My birthday is in February but I managed to make it until spring before I ever wore them. I should have been wearing shorts in the spring but I tried to hide how the tops of the sneakers folded down by wearing jeans.
This wasn’t the first, or last time, I received this type of “almost perfect” gift. My stepmother really tried to think about what we’d like; like the year we all wanted jeans jackets. Even though we showed her the ones we liked in a catalog, we ended up with these light baby blue jackets. They probably had been on sale. But, as with the shoes, we eventually wore the jackets because we didn’t have jobs and we needed coats. I ended up decorating my too bright jeans jacket with pictures. I let my friends sign it. Anything to make it less garish.
It couldn’t have been easy for our stepmother. She married my father when I was already 8 years old. She had never had children and only had a few nieces and nephews whom I don’t think she spent a great deal of time with. She enjoyed shopping and always came off as young at heart. But, when it came to purchases, for us, she was still a few steps off.
Towards the end of high school, I think she started to pick up on how we’d tuck away the odd items that she bought for us. We all started picking up babysitting jobs and/or part time restaurant gigs so that we could lay-a-way our own clothes. My siblings and I all had a fondness for Goodwill. How do I know she figured it out? We started receiving gift cards or cash.
I laugh now about what she did. How can I not resist telling the story of those ridiculous Converse sneakers which I wish I had now for the novelty and also because my sister-in-law collects Converse All-stars and I’ve never seen her wearing a convertible pair. I also like the chance to smile when thinking about my stepmother because I do miss her. No, she isn’t dead but she is out of my life. As I have gotten older, we have drifted more and more apart. I live very far away and she is not in great health. Her shopping these days usually involves things she doesn’t need from QVC.
Sometimes, when I walk by thrift stores (like the ones we always frequented on the weekends) I’ll see an odd plate or a funky sweater and I’ll think, “I should send that to, Bonnie.” But, I’m not even sure what she’d like anymore. There was a brief time in my 20’s when we seemed to know each other well. When we could both laugh about the year she gave me a huge makeup kit even though I, to this day, don’t wear makeup. But, while I smile at these memories, I can’t help but revisit how long it has been since we talked on the phone. I wish that each happy recollection wasn’t tainted by realizing how divergent our lives are now.
I just want to remember our shared joy in finding our sizes on a clearance rack; our shared all-star status when we scored a last pair of sandals for less than $10. Isn’t it all, at least a little bit, about want?