5. Big Feet in a Small Town

5. Big Feet in a Small Town

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

Big Feet in a Small Town

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

~Dr. Seuss

Mr. Winter’s voice boomed across the store as I hurried to put my shoes back on. “We don’t carry those in size 10. In fact, we don’t carry any size 10 shoes for young ladies.”

My head sunk lower as a warm flush crawled across my face. My fun trip to the store with my girlfriends to try on new saddle shoes was no longer fun.

Later, when I complained to my parents about the size of my feet, they told me that my feet were doing their job, supporting my body.

“Besides, a nice tall girl like you would look ridiculous with tiny little feet,” my father added.

The good thing about growing up in a small town is that you get a lot of feedback. The bad thing about growing up in a small town is that you get a lot of feedback. Neighbors, friends, church folks, even grocery clerks knew my family, and knew that I was the second child, taller and broader than my older sister, and had big feet. What I thought were personal details were topics open for discussion.

On one annual trip to the doctor in the seventh grade, I was measured at 5’8”. I overheard Dr. Ostler speak in low tones to my mother in the hall.

“They make a pill to inhibit growth.”

I bristled. Hadn’t I learned in school that girls were usually taller than boys at my age? This was okay with me as long as they would catch up in the future when I might care, maybe someday far in the future.

Mom and I stepped out of the medical office into the hot and humid sunshine.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“The doctor says we need to keep an eye on your height and that we can give you a stop-growing pill, if we want to.”

Our church taught me that my “body was a temple,” which meant I was required not only to take care of it, but also to appreciate it.

“Oh,” I frowned. “Can we go get ice cream?”

She nodded and we both shrugged it off, heading to the drugstore across the street for my hand-scooped treat. The subject never came up again.

People described me as “a big-boned girl.” My stature came in handy for winning hundreds of “king of the raft” games and rowing my boat down the canal and across Little Lake Jackson. Roughhousing on the sand piles in our yard, I won many “king of the mountain” games, which were loads of fun. And I could see perfectly at the Fourth of July, Veterans Day, and Christmas parades downtown while my friends had to peek around the people standing in front of them.

If I ever compared myself to others, my parents were quick to repeat all the clichés ever known. I grew up with “beauty is as beauty does” and “beauty is only skin deep.” Our church taught me that my “body was a temple,” which meant I was required not only to take care of it, but also to appreciate it.

At our swim meets, I was the long-distance swimmer for the team. At the end of the season, when my name was called for being the “Most Improved,” my heart sank in disappointment — until I heard my family cheering as if it were an Olympic medal. That trophy turned into one of my prized possessions.

My Granny Gert lived next door and sewed most of my clothes. I was happy to have handmade clothes that fit, unlike those from the shops downtown, which had to be altered. I felt lucky to be able to select my own colors and fabrics.

Dad grumbled that I wasted electricity when I held the refrigerator door open searching for after-school snacks. It occurred to me years later that what he was really grumbling about was my chubby, pre-adolescent hands reaching in for more calorie-laden treats, but he didn’t know how to address it.

Mom probably worried every year when I watched the Miss America pageant and disappeared into the bathroom afterward to look myself over in the mirror. She made a point to stop whatever she was doing to talk during the commercials. She called the show “entertainment” and held a low opinion of contests designed to judge a person primarily on her outer beauty.

Driving home from town one sunny day, Mom pointed to an elderly woman trudging down the sidewalk. Her back was bent forward, almost parallel to the ground, and I thought she looked grotesque. Mom stopped the car right in the middle of the road and looked straight at me.

“I want you to understand that if you don’t stand up straight, you’ll look like that someday,” she said, which scared me.

So I always stood up straight, but I also always stood out. I thank my physical stature for making me aware of the differences between what people said and their hidden inner thoughts. Someone might ask, “Oh, you’re in what grade now? How nice!” while they’re thinking, “My gosh, she must be the tallest girl in her entire class.” My intuition and people skills flourished as I grew.

Back when I was, in fact, the tallest girl in my sixth grade class and covered with miserable welts and scabs from mosquito bites, a “friend,” Shelby, cornered me on the playground underneath the shade trees. She told me every single thing she didn’t like about my appearance, starting with my skin’s response to insect bites. In shock, I stood there and listened to her angry observations about me and my body — I was too tall, my shoulders too wide, my wrists and ankles too thick, and on and on. I am not sure how I responded but I will always remember feeling alone, horrified, and defenseless.

After school I told my mother what happened. She sat me down and told me that people were going to be jealous of who I was and what I could do because they felt bad about themselves. She said their opinions were more about who they were than about me, and she repeated a quote to me, which I wrote down. It’s from “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann: “If you compare yourself to others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”

I began adding meaningful quotes to my journal and practiced my skills of empathic listening, unconditional understanding and acceptance of others. Later, I graduated with college degrees in psychology and counseling for a lifetime career of helping dysfunctional students and families.

Ironically, in my sixties now, my feet have grown into a size 11. I’ve been told they will grow even longer as the years go by. But my life has also grown and is filled with love, family, and friends.

And I believe life will grow even fuller as the years go by.

~Wendy Keppley

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