MY FEATS IN THESE SHOES
Author: Ronda Beaman
Publisher: Adelaide Books
Baby Needs New Shoes
It isn’t the mountain to climb that wears you out, it’s the pebble in your shoes.
My dad’s favorite books, Mein Kampf, Think and Grow Rich, and How to Win Friends and Influence People are book-ended by my bronzed baby shoes.
The shoes have deep copper colored wrinkles and folds, they cave in slightly at the arch, and one is missing a shoelace. My report cards aren’t bronzed, neither are my pacifiers, baby blankets, rattles, or bottles. My graduation shoes or wedding shoes are not plastered for posterity, only my baby shoes.
No other personal artifact, it seems, is significant enough to be preserved for all time as what I had on my feet when taking my first steps into the world. I chose to believe my bronzed baby shoes are a tiny monument to potential and promise. Over- come by this notion, I once made the mistake of asking my dad who it was that had my shoes bronzed and he said, “Why would I know? What a waste of money…and copper.”
Seeing my bronzed shoes on my parents’ shelf as a young girl made me feel I might be destined for something momentous, despite my dad’s snide comments or unsettling reading material. Looking at them made me feel a little famous; like, ‘Why would my shoes be preserved for all time if I wasn’t special? To someone?’
I considered the possible benefactors and did a mental lineup of possible characters who might have cared enough, or loved me enough to save the shoes, schlep them to the bronzing place, and ensure they were preserved for all time. The whole process took some effort—and as my dad had grumped—someone spent the cash. Both of which were in short supply when I was born.
My maternal grandmother, Echo Rose, stood 5’4” barefoot, was substantially redheaded with bright blue eyes, a DD chest, and the predictable man trouble that often accompanies those measurements. A photo of her at age seventeen shows her scowling into the sun, her arm raised and her hand above her forehead, but the sun still directly in her eyes. She is circled by a number of men from the 1932 Olympic track and field team. She had volunteered to be a times keeper at the prestigious event. None of the men were looking at the camera, their eyes were fixated on my grandmothers amply filled angora sweater. She looked not just aware but accus- tomed to the attention. In fact, decades later in her life I was with her when a man rushed to open a door for her.
“Grandma, you’ve still got it!” I joked. “At this age, who needs it? she replied, not missing a beat.
The day I was born, she was thirty-six years old. Her own mother, my great-grandmother, had been forty when she started having children and then had eight of them in succession. Echo was in the middle of this pack and despite so many efforts, with so many men, in so many jobs, the middle is pretty much where she stayed throughout her life.
At the time of my birth, she was also a divorced, single, working mother of three children who still lived at home—one of them being my teenaged, pregnant mother. Echo had dreams and aspirations of her own but, not unlike her name, whatever she tried to be or do with her life came back to her a little less strong and clear than how it started. She wanted to be a good mother but married crummy men who didn’t support her. She wanted to be a performer but instead loaded her daughters with lessons and cos- tumes and hoped, in vain, they would become the star she wanted to be. She worked fifty hours or more a week as a WWII riveter, developed people skills in retail customer service, and eventually was promoted to a fashion buyer position at a large and prosperous department store long before it was chic to have a career.
Echo had an easy laugh, a love for life, and a poet’s soul. She wrote poems about her day, poems about her family, her garden, and her work. She wrote poems she sent as birthday cards, poems for holiday gatherings, and metaphoric poems about sturgeons.
“When does the sturgeon get the urgin? It’s in the spring.” “When does the flower feel its power? It’s in the spring.”
In all of the eighty-eight years I knew her, I never heard her say “I’m tired.” Although in constant pain and taking daily morphine for a back injury, she never missed out on a chance to have fun. Her motto was, “I’m gonna feel awful sitting at home or going out— might as well go out!” And off she would go, me in tow, to Disneyland, museums, carnivals, or cake decorating class. She gave me a roof over my head, a crib in her room, and from the beginning made me feel like I was worthy of the “Sugar Plum” nickname she gave me. She taught me that a woman could call her own shots, build her own life, and have meaningful work outside the home long before society agreed. “Who needs a man?” she would always say, and then grab a hammer, a needle and thread, or a paycheck and get “it,” whatever “it” was, done.
Where was my grandfather?
This question echoed many times a day from extended family, neighbors, my mother, my ten-year-old aunt and my seven-year-old uncle. I didn’t miss him because I never saw him or even met him until I was in my thirties, and that turned out to be too soon.
At the time of my birth, he was a bellman at a tiny, exclusive hotel in Hollywood. That’s not accurate. He was a tiny bellman, at an exclusive hotel. In pictures from this era, he is standing as tall as a guy 5’5” can stand and is wearing a jaunty pill box hat, tilted slightly to the right, a red vest, white shirt, slacks, and a pair of loafers. Loafer being a key descriptor of more than his shoes.
When he didn’t go to work, which was regularly, he played the ponies at Santa Anita racetrack. He left his hotel job early and often, caught a bus to the track, and lost any money he had made at his hour or two on the job. The only shoes my grandfather was ever interested in were his own or those worn by a horse.
My seventeen-year-old mother, Echo’s eldest daughter, was also a petite redhead. She was often mistaken for Debbie Reyn- olds and just plain mistaken. For instance, the prom night I was conceived—an event that gives a whole new meaning to Senior Ball—she erroneously believed the boy in the backseat meant it when he said he loved her. By this time, she had been cooking, cleaning, ironing, sewing, and standing in for her working mother—and a father who never ponied up—and was itching to be in someone else’s shoes.
My dad, the boy in the aforementioned back seat, was a handsome star athlete and smooth talker. He was popular, a “catch”, and my mother willingly lost more than her Keds in the back seat of his Oldsmobile. Nine months later I was born, but the childish things like the prom queen crown and letterman’s sweater were never, ever, really put away. I grew up with the stories of the glory, glamour, and popularity my parents had reluctantly surrendered “because we had you.”
Sometime after the ink had dried on my birth certificate foot- print and before my first birthday, my dad moved into the very house my mother had tried to escape by dating him. And speaking of escapes, my dad had tried; leaving my mother to attend col- lege in another state and even pledged a fraternity. Once I was born though, he was forced to pack up his university potential and pipe paraphernalia—a new habit he thought made him look collegiate—and return to the pledge he had made my mother.
My parents still had pimples, no paycheck, and delusional, somewhat unwarranted self-regard. I am sure there is a scientific or psychological name for this disorder. Throughout my life I just called the syndrome Mommy and Daddy.
My adolescent parents could barely take care of themselves, let alone another needy, self-centered, hungry human. With idle days at home they practiced creative child-care. One favorite activity became scooping me up out of my crib, standing me on the ground in front of them, and dropping ice cubes down the back of my diaper. Watching me stomp my pudgy, baby feet around the house gave them cheap laughs and me welts.
My teen parents were overwhelmed and under-prepared, maybe even uninterested, and if ice cubes down the pants were considered playtime then buying or preserving baby shoes were most likely not a priority.
And my gambling grandfather, with his losing track record, was most likely extremely careful to never utter, “Baby needs new shoes!” for fear he might have to provide them.
It does not take too many leaps of armchair psychology to know my first pair of shoes were purchased by the only employed and generous person in my family…my grandmother, Echo.
It makes me smile to imagine her making a special detour home from work to pick up the bronzed baby shoes she ordered. I like to think that she was looking at them and smiling while she recalled those moments when she held my hand and watched me walk—wobbly, then willfully forward, taking my first steps toward an unclaimed childhood.
Your past doesn’t define you.
Sure, my dad kicked my self-esteem to the curb when he told me my feet were ugly. Shame on him. But if I let that comment—or the other hundreds like it—define me forever, shame on me. And the same goes for you. Better to concentrate on who, what, and where you can find or create love than hold on to disappointment and despair.
You can blame parents, teachers, whoever and whatever for your depression, failures, anxiety, lack of focus, and ongoing heartache. Heck, blame someone else for every wrong, every slight, every set back you have faced. How’s that been working for you so far? I’ll answer that—all you’re getting from the blame game is emotional bunions!
At some point, you have to put on your big boy or big girl boots and get on with it. The world doesn’t care if you give up, if you stay standing in one place claiming everyone let you down and it’s all their fault that you stepped in it. Nope, the world just keeps on going without you.
I have never known anyone great who didn’t face hundreds of pebbles in their shoes as they climbed their mountain of purpose, contribution, and meaning. What do they do? They untie their shoes, pick out the biggest pebbles, throw them underfoot, put their shoes back on and then put all their weight into pulverizing the remaining gravel holding them back or down—and then they keep climbing.
About the Author
Dr. Ronda Beaman has been Chief Creative Officer for the global research and solution firm PEAK Learning, Inc., since 1990. As a national award-winning educator, Dr. Beaman is Clinical Professor of Leadership at The Orfalea School of Business, California Polytechnic University. She is Founder and Executive Director of Dream Makers SLO, a non-profit foundation granting final wishes to financially- challenged, terminally-ill adults, and serves on the Board of Directors for the National Pay It Forward Foundation. She was recently named a Stanford Fellow at the Distinguished Career Institute.
Her national award-winning book, You’re Only Young Twice, has been printed in five languages. Her memoir, Little Miss Merit Badge, was an Amazon bestseller and was featured at The Golden Globe Awards. Her children’s book, Seal With a Kiss, is designed to improve skills for beginning readers and is offered at Lindamood-Bell Learning Centers internationally. My Feats in These Shoes will be released in Spring 2021.
Dr. Beaman is an internationally recognized expert on leadership, resilience, fitness, education, and life coaching. She has conducted research in a host of areas, written many academic articles and books, and won numerous awards. She was selected by the Singapore Ministry of the Family as their honored Speaker of the Year and named the first recipient of the National Education Association’s “Excellence in the Academy: Art of Teaching” award. She has been selected as a faculty resource for the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) university in Argentina, Kyoto and India, where she received the highest speaker ratings among 36 elite faculty. She has been featured on major media including CBS and Fox Television, USA Today, and is a national thought leader for American Health Network.
Dr. Beaman earned her doctorate in Leadership at Arizona State University. She is also a certified executive coach and personal trainer with multiple credentials from the Aerobic Research Center. Her family was named “America’s Most Creative Family” by USA Today and she won the SCW National Fitness Idol competition.