Black Patent Leather Mary Janes

Black Patent Leather Mary Janes

Unknown Designer
Ventura, California

My mother nagged me for years to clean out the garage. “You have so much stuff down there!” she would rant on. I knew it was true. One perk of growing up in a house with an exceptionally large garage is that you never had to throw anything out. There was always another nook to tuck away a box of treasures. My parents did it and so did I. I had boxes full of all of my books and papers from high school, college and graduate school, the notes I passed in grammar school, stuffed animals to fill a zoo, and many other boxes full of miscellaneous treasures that I had collected over the last 30 years.

Earlier this year I finally made my way down there and chose a corner of the garage to start from. The first box I opened was full of my baby clothes. I fawned over every precious pink dress, every stitch on the embroidered collars, and every pleat in every skirt. They were all so cute. There was the red plaid taffeta I wore to the Christmas program in the fourth grade, the Florence Eiseman bathing suit in bold primary colors, the white islet sailor dress I wore to my 8th grade graduation and the pink chiffon with staggering number of pleats I wore over and over again. Digging deeper and deeper in the box I finally found them. There they were – my very first pair of black patent leather Mary Janes. They were not much bigger than the palm of my hand, and had just a few scuffs on the toes. Family photos reminded me of the days back in the early 70s when I wore them – the red velvet Christmas dress with lace collar, opaque white tights, ponytails with matching red bows, and the fabulous shiny black patent leather shoes that completed my ensemble. How I loved those shoes. I guess that was when it really all began.


Black Lacquer Getas with Red Velvet Straps

Black Lacquer Getas with Red Velvet Straps

July 1979
Kyoto, Japan

We had just visited the tomb of Chairman Mao and began to explore the rest of Tiananmen Square. Gradually, a number of Chinese people began to cautiously walk over to me and my brother. Within a short time a crowd had formed and everyone was staring at us and our blond hair and matching Los Angeles Dodger t-shirts. They were all dressed in navy blue, gray and black and I don’t remember any of them speaking a word of English. We didn’t speak any Chinese. Elderly women, almost in a stunned daze reached out to touch our pale skin and our blond hair. We were startled but not really scared since our parents were close by. We nodded our heads, smiled and said hello. They made the same gestures in response. The crowd continued to grow as more and more people wanted the chance to touch my hair and fair skin. After a few minutes I began to feel uncomfortable and my parents came over along with our tour guide to take us to the next monument. We waved goodbye and smiled and then went on to continue our tour of the historic sites. It was an amazing experience for an eight year old and one I will remember forever.

A few days later we climbed the Great Wall of China. “Daddy, are we there yet?” I moaned as we reached each archway. I thought the retaining wall in the back of our house was big – I couldn’t fathom the magnitude of this extraordinary structure. I remember looking out at the expansive green hillside and the endless wall that spawned across the hills like a slithering snake. When we reached the bottom, after our climb, I asked my dad to buy me two orange Fantas because I was so terribly thirsty. He obliged, but in the end, Daddy had to finish the second one.

Our next stop was Singapore. We stayed at the luxurious Shangri La Hotel. It was heavenly. The shape reminded me of the Michelin Man with its white bulbous curves. My brother and I shared a room that seemed to be as big as our entire house. There was a console between our beds that enabled us to control our entire room from a panel of knobs and buttons. As soon as we stepped into the room we would begin to fight over the controls. Open the curtains, close the curtains, open the curtains, close the curtains – all night long until our parents would finally come in and tell us to stop.

One evening we were walking up and down a few streets looking for a place to eat. My dad selected a restaurant and we sat at a table that was out in the middle of the street. The waiter came over and talked to my parents while my brother and I ran around. My dad finally called us back and said that it was time for us to pick out our dinner. With the waiter guiding us, dad took us by the hands and walked us over to a large aquarium up on the sidewalk. It was chock full of frogs. “Pick which one you want, kids,” Dad nudged us. “Acckk!” we shrieked, “we can’t eat frogs,” we laughed in amazement. “Yes you can,” my dad insisted. Still in disbelief we watched them float around and then we pointed to the ones we liked. The waiter caught the frogs that we selected and then we rushed back to the table to be the first to tell mom what we had just done. A bit later dinner was served and sure enough we ate Kermit and his friends. They really do taste like chicken.

All of this took place during the summer of 1979. My family took a trip to Asia with a group from the Los Angeles Natural History Museum and we visited China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand. I wore my blue and yellow Zips throughout the trip – my favorite sneakers at the time. My brother wore identical ones. With our bright shoes, blond hair and OP corduroy shorts in vibrant colors, we were quite a spectacle for the many Easterners who had never seen white American children.

In Kyoto my mother bought my brother and I matching black lacquer Japanese sandals – the ones that look like a wooden flip-flop resting on two boards turned sideways. The simple straps were a wonderful red velvet. When we put them on in the store we both giggled in delight. We never thought we’d be able to walk in them, but of course we wanted to have them.

A few days later we were in Tokyo. My dad and I went for an evening walk and I wore my new Japanese shoes. I vividly remember passing by the rows and rows of arcades with all of the pulsating music and flashing lights. The clanking noises from the machines, the American pop music, the neon lights – it was such a sensory overload. There I was in Tokyo, an eight year old California girl in my brand new pair of getas singing along to Shawn Cassidy. What a sight to behold.

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