I have small feet. On the hottest day of the year when feet are supposed to expand and swell the most, I can maybe make it into a size five. Why is my foot size important, you may ask? Well, it has impacted my life over the years.
I never really knew my small feet were a big deal until the third grade. Before that, people would comment on my petite feet, but I never thought much of it. However, it was during my third-grade year that my school got a new gym teacher. He had recently been discharged from the Marine Corps and had what I now would label as “issues.” He called us all by our last names and separated the class into squads. We had to address him as “Sir,” and when he asked a question, we had to yell in response, “Sir, Yes Sir!” or “Sir, No Sir!” Even at the tender age of eight, I knew something was wrong when boys and girls were battling with each other, trying to get promoted to corporal and sergeant, and each gym class started with all of us singing From the Halls of Montezuma.
I would tell my parents about gym class, and they would say, “Oh, he was in Vietnam? Your three cousins were in Vietnam. Maybe they were friends. Be kind.” To which I would respond—and again I stress that I was eight—“When any of the cousins want to teach gym, I will be nice, but this guy is sort of crazy.”
In my parents’ defense, back then, teachers were neither the subject of questions nor investigations, so there was no precedent for them to fall back on. No other parent seemed to mind either, but one day late in the year, the school principal happened to come into the gym during drills. She must have seen something she did not like because when fourth grade began, I had a kinder and gentler woman gym teacher.
I swear I am getting to the point, and here it is: It was the whacko marine who first made an issue of my small feet. In fact, it was my small feet that prevented my promotion to the rank of corporal in the Third Grade Armed Forces Auxiliary Unit. To this day, I am not sure what our unit could do legally, but I think by the time the year ended, we were prepared for armed combat. During one of our endurance and survival classes, I tripped and fell to the ground. Of course, the marine noticed and started to yell.
“Tozzi, what is wrong with you? Are your shoelaces untied?” Then, he looked down at my feet, and he was genuinely shocked. “What do you think you call those things?”
“My feet, Sir,” I dutifully answered.
“Those are not feet! How can those things keep you up? You could not be a marine with those feet! You can’t lead a platoon with those feet!”
Being very young and stupid, I was insulted by his remarks. Later on, I started to realize that if the government in all its wisdom kept the draft and started to expand it to include women, I probably would get a pass, so I embraced my small feet.
Now, let’s fast forward to the start of high school. I went to an all-girl prep school in Northern New Jersey. To this day, I love my alma mater and the friends I made there. However, before freshman year, my Mom and I went to the uniform store to get my freshman duds. My two sisters had gone through the school before me, so I sort of knew what to expect, but we soon learned that the incoming freshman class had one more item on the uniform list: shoes—bumper toe saddle shoes to be specific.
Apparently, the decision to go to a uniform shoe was adopted because the year before a girl in one of my sister’s classes fell down the steps and broke her leg. The blame for the accident went to the girl’s platform shoes. So, starting with my class, shoes were added to the whole uniform ensemble.
The salesman at the uniform shoe store put my foot in the metal measuring gadget and said, “The shoes do not come in a 13 1/2. The smallest is a size two. We can give you the size two and some foam rubber wedges to stuff the toes.”
My mother and the shoe salesman were fine with this arrangement so for two years, I walked around with my toes clenched around wads of foam rubber so my shoes would not fall off. Fortunately, junior year brought about upperclassmen uniform changes and the uniform shoe was the same as one of the local grammar schools, so they had the smaller sizes for me to order. My feet never felt so good. I had forgotten what it’s like to spread out one’s toes.
Since then, the whole small foot thing has proved to be a mixed blessing. For instance, today I can buy children’s Uggs boots for about $40 cheaper than adult size boots. However, not all children’s shoes fit the style demands of adult feet. For instance, children’s dress shoes lack the sophistication of, say, a sexy slingback. Little girls tend to want their shoes to have lots of sparkles, Barbie, or a Disney princess on them. Nothing screams, “Don’t hire me!” on a job interview like The Little Mermaid glittering on your toes.
In the full scheme of life, a small foot is a minor nuisance at best, and a nuisance I have unfortunately, passed onto my daughter. The first words the nurse in the delivery room said when my daughter popped out was “She has a ton of hair and really, really stumpy feet.”
Well, there was no denying that was going to be my fault down the road. However, now there is internet shopping, and we can find almost every shoe in the smallest of sizes. There is a rule of thumb we follow when it comes to shopping for shoes on line. As soon as you see a shoe you like, order it. Don’t ponder it; don’t think about it; just take out your credit card and purchase it. Why? Because every other small-footed woman is combing the same sites looking for the same shoes as you are, and there are not that many shoes that are size five or smaller out there. So, if you snooze, you lose and you are destined to either walk around barefoot or wear shoes with the word Barbie painted on them.