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  WINDY CITY TIMES

THE AMAZON TRAIL There is no place like home
by Lee Lynch
2018-09-26

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I was recently contemplating my shoes, which, along with clothes and boxes of books, are the only closeted things in our home.

That morning I'd noticed my sweetheart had attached a magnet depicting Dorothy's ruby shoes to our back door. Now, I'm as big a fan of The Wizard of Oz as the next gay person, but those shoes were never particularly significant to me. Which might be because, as a little kid, I read and reread the 1903 edition of The Wizard of Oz handed down to me from my considerably older brother and, perhaps, from my father before him. The inscription from Grandma and Grandpa Lynch is: "To read on train to North Dakota. March, 1939."

Of course, the shoes were not ruby-colored, as pointed out by the witty and erudite Kajmeister ( kajmeister.com ), in her blog "The Page Turns," which she posted not long after the magnet went up. Kajmeister wrote: "L. Frank Baum, author of all the Oz books, originally put the witch and Dorothy into silver, not ruby, shoes. The color was changed to ruby so that the new color process used in MGM could show the shoes off better against the yellow brick road."

I checked the book. The color plates are in orange, blue and yellow, no reds. The road, by the way, is definitely yellow and the artist, W.W. Denslow, outlined bricks on one of the color pages. Baum describes the shoes as silver and pointed and "tinkling merrily on the hard, yellow roadbed."

All that ruby slipper focus led to my footwear contemplations. Aside from tap shoes, the first pair I remember caring about were in a Medford, Massachusetts store front and made of faux alligator leather. Why I longed for them I have no idea, and I never got them. They were probably too expensive for my family.

This was back in the unimaginable 1950s. Since then, I have spent my life in footwear more likely to be worn by the scarecrow. I wasn't exactly a demure little girl and went through white sneakers before I could outgrow demure shoes. I used a lot of white liquid polish to cover scuffs and stains on my white sneaks, which were made of cotton. The stain also worked on white leather shoes, but the Mary Jane style didn't suit me at all.

My mother always said loafers were bad for my feet, and they were because I've had plantar fasciitis since the days we shopped at the Buster Brown shoe store on Main Street in Flushing, New York. But I loved my loafers, especially the ones that were dyed to the shade of a vanilla milkshake. These were the shoes of my coming out time. Nothing made me feel spiffier around town with my girlfriend Suzy than my vanilla loafers.

Except white sneakers, blue jeans and a plain white sweatshirt, sleeves pushed up.

Except white bucks with crepe soles, blue jeans, a button-down shirt and a golf jacket, collar up.

Then came the '60s. At college by then, I forswore shoes. Campus lesbian poet, it was practically expected. There's a photo of the barefoot student that was me in that yearbook, striding across campus like Dorothy, very much "a little girl … who had been suddenly whisked away from her own country and set down in the midst of a strange land."

I found my "hippie sandals" at an upscale sidewalk sale in Boston. It was also the psychedelic era and sandals, among the liberal arts majors, were de rigueur. Thin-soled, leather thongs with straps, they were the next best thing to barefoot when you had to go into a store or pizza parlor.

Were any of these the silver shoes that would take me home? Not yet. Not for a long while.

My generation of women got tired of doing the behind-the-scenes work for the revolution. We paradoxically experienced patriarchal oppression within the counterculture and got mad. No more Ms. Nice Girl, I bought shitkickers. In the 1970s, Army-Navy Surplus stores carried the jump boots of Paratroopers and the Airborne Forces. I felt pretty powerful lacing them up my calf and knowing the rigid toe cap could endanger male chauvinist pigs.

Next came the ankle-high Timberlands which I bought to wear in chilly Connecticut. The tread didn't cut it on the ice and they did me no good whatsoever in deep snow so I made the sixties journey a little late ( in the eighties ), went to California and bought my first Red Wing boots. Soon those Red Wings carried me west for good to the lesbian mountains, women's land, and tall rubber mud boots.

Not that I left my Birkkies behind. Arizonas, Bostons, I re-soled them until they weren't fit to wear, then replaced them year after year. I guess they were my middle-age shoes, though I still wear the Arizona knock-offs recommended by my podiatrist. By the time one gets to Medicare age, and the plantar fasciitis rages, and everything in Trumplandia costs double what it used to, the real thing isn't as important as it once was.

Now that I can no longer run, the doc has put me in running shoes. Most of my waking hours are spent in Asics. Men's for the wide toe box. Neon green to honor the late young writer Sandra Moran, who ran in lively-colored shoes. My sweetheart and I even have waterproof Gore-Tex Asics, for our Northwest rains and for walking our coastal beaches.

It seems like I never needed silver or ruby shoes to get home.

Copyright Lee Lynch 2018

September 2018


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