High Heels

Last weekend I bought a pair of high heels to wear to an upcoming party. Not kitten heels, but real heels. Killer heels. Spiky heels that make me tower over the kitchen counter when I wash dishes.

Because it’s many years since I wore heels, I decided I should get used to them, so Sunday evening I wore them while I did my ironing. It brought to mind advertisements from the fifties that showed women wearing shirt dresses and heels while they cleaned their houses. I don’t remember actually seeing real women dress like this when they cleaned, but on TV and in newspaper print ads and magazines they did. I used to wonder why my mother didn’t dress this way. She dressed in slacks and sneakers most of the time. It probably had something to do with the fact that she had eight children and worked a full time job teaching school. I don’t imagine it crossed her mind to put on a simple shirt dress, freshen her lipstick, and slip into black pumps before she scrubbed the bathtub.

There were a few occasions, however, when my mother stepped out of her Keds and into a pair of black stilettos. I used to love to watch her get ready to go out with my father. She removed a tiny glass bottle from a black velvet drawstring bag and daubed Chanel No.9 behind her ears. She dampened a little brush, stroked it across a cake of Mabelline mascara and applied it to her lashes. And she applied red lipstick and kissed me on the lips so I could wear some too. She was tall, and elegant, and beautiful. I wanted to be just like her.

As I think back, my mother was around the same age then as my daughters are now. They too, carefully apply makeup, slip into something black and lacy, and step into heels. They are tall and elegant and beautiful. And they can run in heels.

Not so true for me. I am a jeans and sweater woman. I am practical and dependable and down to earth. I wear long pants to cover my legs and long sleeves to cover my arms. Now on the downward side of my fifties, my feet have carried too many pounds over too many miles. The assault of three inch heels leaves them screaming for mercy and an Epsom salts bath.

By the time I finished my ironing, I questioned the wisdom of my decision in the shoe store.

I’ll probably tower over everyone at the party.

I’ll probably get blisters.

I’ll probably teeter a bit, even before I have a glass of Savignon Blanc.

But nothing makes a woman feel so utterly feminine as a pair of high heels. And right now, I need to feel as my mother did. I need to feel tall and elegant and beautiful. So high heels it is.

Who knows? Maybe my daughters can teach me to run in them.


Even though February is a winter month, it always reminds me that spring is not far off.  When I was growing up, February brought a mailbox overflowing with seed catalogues.  We would pore over them, wondering what varieties of vegetables and flowers we should raise during the short New England summer.  One winter, my father built a small greenhouse off the southern kitchen window.  Long before the winter snows melted, my mother filled it with tiny cups containing potting soil and seedlings.   On brilliantly sunny days, I would stick my head inside this little incubator and inhale the moist scent of warm soil and budding leaves.  When I closed my eyes, I was submerged in the flavor of green.

In February, there is usually a thaw.  As a child, I thrilled to hear my leather shoe soles grind against the sidewalk, rather than the scuff of rubber boots, or the crunch of snow.  I loved to watch the water run in little rivulets under the bridge of ice between the curb and the road.   My siblings and I broke melting icicles off the roof and sucked them like popsicles.  We made snow mush and pretended to feed it to imaginary farm animals.  We searched for mittens lost in the back yard during a December snowstorm.  And down by the river, we looked for pussy willows.

I’m not sure why I equate pussy willows with February.  Perhaps it is the soft gray buds that are the same color of the sky on a February morning.  Perhaps it is the starkness of their branches, stretching over the frozen banks of a river whose ice is only strong enough to hold small woodland creatures.  Perhaps it is that the blooming of pussy willows signals the coming spring.  Whatever the reason, when I think of February, I think of pussy willows. 

One year when the pussy willows bloomed, my mother put a vase of them on the kitchen table.  A couple of days later, two of my siblings, preschoolers at the time, got the bright idea of pushing the little gray buds up their noses.  They sat at the table for an hour, sneezing out slimy little fur balls, a captive audience to my mother‘s admonishments.   From that day forward, I could not look at a pussy willow without laughing.

This February more than any other I yearn for pussy willows.  Life events have turned my heart sallow like the February sky.  I know this is a passing phase, much like a February snow storm.  It comes with fury, the white snow relentlessly driving against a darkened sky.  It is frigid, and blustery and heartless.  But the February storm melts quickly.  The pale February sun becomes less shy.   Icicles turn tearful, dripping holes into the snowy ground below.  February’s weeping washes winter away, leaving a clean bed for Spring to plant her children. 

The weatherman is forecasting snow storms this week.  People around me are gearing up for another of February’s tantrums.  They are pulling out plows and shovels.  They are canceling school, scooping bread off the grocery shelves, and renting movies in anticipation of a few snowbound days.  

As for me, I’m finished with winter.  I’m ready for sun and warmth, and a light heart.  If you need me, I’ll be down by the river in search of pussy willows.

Somebody’s Child

When my kids were in elementary school, I worked as a medical assistant in an Internal Medicine office.  I loved my work, but I was always reluctant to be around patients with communicable diseases. This was largely due to the fact that my youngest daughter, Elizabeth, had serious chronic illnesses that often landed her in the hospital.  A simple twenty-four hour stomach virus was sure to have repercussions that lasted at least a week.  It was imperative that I avoided bringing home germs that could trigger another round of illness and hospitalization.

One morning, a new patient was put into the schedule.  Her complaints were my two least favorite illnesses; vomiting and diarrhea.  I escorted her to the room, all the time silently repeating, “Just get the vital signs and get out of there!  Just get the vital signs and get out of there!”

She told me her name was Rachel Scabbard *and she had recently been discharged from the hospital.  While I wrapped the blood pressure cuff around her arm, I asked why she had been hospitalized. 

 “I ate batteries.”

“Oh great,” I thought.  “Not only is she contagious, but she eats batteries.  Just get the vital signs and get out of here!”

Rachel silently sat in the chair as I pumped the cuff.  I stole a glance at her yellowed hair and lined face.  She was in her fifties, but looked much older, probably because she was missing several teeth.

I tried to concentrate on her blood pressure,  but all I could think of was, “Just get the vital signs and get out of here!” 

As I turned the screw to release the air from the blood pressure cuff, my plan for escape was interrupted by a sudden revelation.

Rachel Scabbard was somebody’s little girl.

I thought of my own Elizabeth, painfully thin, dark circles shadowing her eyes, struggling to celebrate the innocence of a child in the world of hospitals and doctor’s offices.  I loved her more than my own life.  When her vital signs were taken, when her blood was drawn, when she was poked and manipulated, I hovered close at hand, determined to make sure she was treated in the kindest, most gentle way possible.  I stood sentry over her bed while she slept, and rocked her in my arms and sang to her when she could not.  I questioned doctors, challenged nurses, and charged through walls of rules and policies.  I did this because she was my flesh.  My child.  My little girl.

Rachel Scabbard was somebody’s little girl.

I wondered if Rachel’s mother had agonized over her child’s illness.  Had she lain awake at night like I had, wondering what she did wrong… what she could have differently to spare her little girl?  Had Rachel’s mother looked at her newborn baby girl and thought “This is the most beautiful child in the world.  I would throw myself in front of a bus for her,” the way I had?

Rachel Scabbard was somebody’s little girl.

How could I give Rachel Scabbard less than my little Elizabeth deserved?  How could I treat another mother’s child any differently than I treated my own?  How could I give her less than my kindest, most caring, best efforts?

 Rachel was a patient in that practice for years after that.  She was difficult, non compliant, and often rude.  But the gift she gave me is priceless.   In the time it takes to measure a blood pressure, my approach to health care was forever changed.  In fact, in those few moments, my approach to life was forever changed.   No longer would “just getting the vital signs and get out of here” be good enough. 

For we are all somebody’s child.

*Of course this name is fictitious, in order to protect the patient’s privacy.

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