To me one of the marks of Labor Day is the expiration of opportunity to wear white shoes. I am of a generation that was taught that one should not wear white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day. I've tried to convince my daughter to adopt the same rule, but to no avail. She thinks I'm silly and old-fashioned. Funny thing is that I thought the same thing of my Mom and the rule - until that fateful day in the third grade.
My brother Rick and I made our First Communion together, when I was in second grade and he was in third; we're 14 months apart in age. My dress was a beautiful, frothy, white confection of tulle and lace. I had a sweet shoulder length veil with a circlet of pearls which, in retrospect, I imagine were faux. And my footwear - in addition to the delicate white anklets - were white patent leather Mary Jane shoes. Walking in those shoes was like walking on clouds. They were, I thought, the height of glamour and fashion. I know that the First Communion wasn't about the great ensemble, but to a 7 year old girl it was certainly a big upside.
Well, I certainly could never wear the First Communion dress again for any occassion. (Sort of like a harbinger of underused bridesmaid dresses...) But, those perfect shoes! Surely I could wear those again and, in the process, add shine and sparkle to my otherwise ordinary school days. It was autumn by then, months after the Communion, and those glistening white shoes would standout like jewels among the muted earthy fall colors that everyone else was wearing. I was crestfallen when my Mom refused to let me wear the shoes. It was, she pointed out, long past Labor Day and white shoes were not allowed. I used every persuasion technique I could; probably I mostly just whined. Mom would not budge. I was absolutely forbidden from wearing those white patent leather shoes. So, I snuck the shoes to school one day and changed into them as soon as I got there.
Yep, I sure did feel special dancing through the halls in those shoes. In my view, Cinderella in her glass slippers had nothing over me. But then it hit me: a stomache ache. I got sicker and sicker as the morning passed. I think it may very well have been guilt, but I'm not sure. Whatever the cause, my teacher sent me to the school nurse (who was also, by the way, the school secretary.) Mrs. Caswell - who had the sweetest, most kind demeanor but had no time to have a sick child hanging around the office - called my Mom to come pick me up from school. I didn't have the presence of mind to change back into my regular, regulation shoes. Mom came to the school, retrieved me and got me home. Of course she spotted the shoes immediately. So, despite my stomach ache, I got in big, big trouble. I don't remember the details of my punishment but I probably got spanked - a common practice among most parents back then - and restricted too.
This I do remember: The shine was off those shoes; the allure was gone; the fairy tale was over. With the exception of my wedding pumps and a parade of canvas sneakers, I've never owned another pair of white shoes. And, even though I do know that the rule is long outdated, I feel a bit jarred whenever I see someone wearing fine white shoes before Memorial Day or after Labor Day. And after the jarring feeling passes, I smile at the memory of my white-patent-leather-shoe-caper and the many times Mom and I laughed about it years later.