The Mary Janes, Then and Now


When I was growing up, we did not have spare money for extravagant items. If it was in the clothing line, my brother or I did not wear hand me downs. We got new clothes, but they did not cost lots of money and they certainly were not designer brands.


Mom took me to a children’s shoe store called Dantzics. They had this x-ray type machine where you put your feet in and you looked down and there were the insides of your feet appearing in this slot. They gave you a balloon or a little pencil case if you bought your shoes there that day. Years later, it was revealed that those x-ray shoe places could be harmful. We did not know from harmful in those days. We knew it was fun to buy shoes at Dantzics. Mr. Dantzic was a nice and friendly store owner and he had a nice selection of up to date shoes for kids. Mom picked out a pair of black, patent leather and as they are still called Mary Janes. They had a little strap and were bright and kind of cute. However, I did not like them and I informed Mom I did not want them. Mom said that I would learn to love them, if not enjoy them. All of the way home on the streetcar; I told mom in my little and sweet voice that I would never wear them. She said that I would as I looked lovingly on my new and bright pencil case.

You see I loved sharpened pencils that came right from the manufacturer and I had a very good handwriting for a child of about eight. I always got excellent next to handwriting on the report card. So the shoes were put in the cupboard to be worn on Saturdays or Sundays or special occasions. The shoes were never worn by me. I had informed Mom of that on the purchase day and mom did not think I would carry out my threat. It was a minor threat, yet it was valid in my eight year old mind.

Holidays and special events came and went and I never would put on the black patent Mary Janes. They sat on the shelf gathering dust and I would dust them off and they still sat there. They were bright and shiny and ugly in my mind.


Many years later when I was an adult, I purchased my first ballroom dance shoes from a dance shoe store in Virginia via the mail and catalogue system. In the brochures, there was a picture of a Mary Jane style dance shoe all bright and shiny and ready to be purchased. I laughed when I saw them and they looked so comfortable that I on impulse ordered a pair in my shoe size and eagerly awaited their arrival via United Parcel Service.


A few weeks went by and they never arrived. I called the shoe company up and she said she was just going to inform me that they did not have my size and it would take six weeks to arrive at my home. I told her I would wait and I did wait. One Monday morning the door bell rang and there was the white box addressed to me from Virginia. I opened it up and there in my senior hands were the Mary Janes quite similar to the shoes from many years ago. They were bright and shiny and black and of course in a much larger size than those of the little eight year kid who had a mind of her own way back then.

I tried them on and they were very comfortable with their suede dance soles and I thought to myself, Momma, you should see me now. It may have taken sixty years for your daughter to learn to like the Mary Janes, but they sure were comfortable and even not as ugly as I remembered them. I wore them often and mainly for practice or to take dances lessons with. I would look down at my feet and think of how when Mom wanted me to wear those shoes I would cry and say "I hated them, they were ugly, you should not have bought them etc." When I, as an adult, looked down at them in this point in time, I thought that they made my bunion and hammertoe feet look much slimmer than they now were. I even thought they were kind of cute in an odd sort of way.

One day I was appearing in a showcase at the dance studio and my bunions and hammertoes were aching me, so I decided to wear my Mary Janes doing the dance with my dance coach. I came out to applause and somehow the shoes moved with grace and determination as I danced and flowed across the dance floor with him. They became like my magic slippers (there was a dance movie years ago called Red Slippers or something like that). I felt as if I was a ballerina in my red slippers (though these were black) and that I could accomplish anything in these dance shoes at that moment. I did very well in the showcase exhibition and I certainly did credit those shoes with the performance.

Mr. Dantzic and Mom would have been proud of me if they were alive to see me dancing in the shoes. Mom would have said something like this, my darling; I told you that you would like these shoes eventually. Mr.Dantzic would have said that they fit me well because the x-ray machine showed my feet looking fine in them.

To Mom and the shoe store owner, I say, yes, you were right. I did not ever make my son or daughter wear anything they did not like because of my black shoes, though they may remember it differently. I hope I remember that correctly because the black shoes certainly were a remembrance of mine and now I can laugh about it and recall it with humor. Mom, you were right, I did like them and it only took about sixty years.


Elita Sohmer Clayman

December 2005