Janet Sheridan: An April Fool’s prank?
A teenager, I examined my bare feet, wriggled my toes — 10 snakes a-writhing, according to my brother — and wondered if God played an April Fool’s prank when he gave me the feet of a giant.
In elementary school, nary a classmate could place a shod foot next to mine and take up more territory than mine did, which, at the time, I considered a praiseworthy accomplishment. My pride in having the biggest tootsies in class skyrocketed when a shoe clerk with a rambling nose peered at the length of my foot on his measuring device and whistled in amazement. “That’s quite a foot,” he said to Mom, “We’ll have to fit her in women’s.”
When I entered the peer-pressure-cooker of junior high, however, the effort of buying shoes I would willingly wear changed how I felt about my enormous feet. When I shopped for shoes, I dreaded the words, “Sorry, we don’t have that style in either a 10 or an 11,” as, sweaty from the struggle and red-faced with embarrassment, I tried to force my foot into a nine-and-a-half. I usually went home with shoes like the ones old ladies wore to church.
Though I haven’t had trouble finding stylish shoes in my size for years, I now choose the comfortable, low-heeled shoes I used to reject. Also, listening to others describe the miseries of bunions, hammertoes, and heel spurs has increased my appreciation for my trouble-free feet; I’m proud of them again, and I thought I should tell them so.
I admire my young feet for learning to walk, skip, hop, jump, tiptoe, and avoid cow pies. I like the way they won foot races, relay races, sack races, wheel-barrow races, and three-legged races. On occasion, they even out-ran my riled-up siblings. When I insisted, they walked barefoot on hot asphalt to prove my toughness and climbed the tallest trees to prove my derring-do. They danced the bunny hop, the hokey-pokey, the stroll, and the twist with vigor, if not grace. And when I forced them into size nines — the only strappy, high-heeled shoes that matched my prom dress — they complained but did their best.
My adult feet willingly adapted to my changing expectations. They ventured with me into wilderness areas, where they carried a heavy backpack, kept their footing, and learned to be at one with dirt. I don’t know if they shared my happiness at walking trails that wandered among mountains and sleeping under low-hanging stars at night, but every time I soaked them in the rush of a cold mountain creek, I thought I heard them chuckle.
They also helped me learn to cross country ski in my 60s. At first, they shuffled cautiously as we worked our way around the perimeter of the golf course again and again. Though I sometimes fell, I didn’t blame my feet, because I could topple even when standing still. I’ll never forget my first day at Steamboat Lake on a groomed trail, and I’m sure my feet won’t either. Together, we skied like we knew what we were doing under a sky so clear it looked fragile. Cold air slipped by my face; snow sparkled with diamonds on the surrounding terrain, and gliding replaced shuffling. I stood tall, breathed deeply, and felt Nordic as, at last, my feet and I experienced the graceful rhythm of the sport.
After Joel and I retired, we took up hiking. As I grew more confident, we decided to try fourteeners and wisely chose less arduous treks. My feet carried me without complaint to summits I thought I’d never see, where we gloried at the sight of mountains stretching like waves into the vast distance.
Now, my feet and I mostly walk around town through the early morning light, but we do it well. Rather than an April Fool’s prank, my big feet were a blessing.
Janet Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at auntbeulah.com the first and 15th of every month.