I used to think the arrival of summer was determined by the weather. Not the most reliable source of information, as it always had a subtle way of teasing me: tempting me with a hot, sultry day followed by a sudden and dramatic temperature drop low enough to warrant pulling out a sweater I had just put away in the bottom drawer again. Then several more cool days as temperatures slowly crept up again. So unsure - so frustrating!
That is, until the year I figured out a surefire way of knowing when summer had arrived. My mother would emerge in the morning wearing her "spectators." Her legs would be bare and still rather pale, and, if she walked by just slowly enough, I could get a glimpse of her practical cotton Peds peeking out the back of her shoes. Hallelujah! Summer had arrived, and I could wear my T-straps without socks and play foursquare until it got dark.
The joys of summer's arrival would change as I grew up. T-straps became Capezio flats, and foursquare became the beach. But one thing never changed - my mother's spectators.
For her generation and her mother's generation, they were the quintessential summer shoe. Joan Crawford, Grace Kelly, and Claudette Colbert all wore them in films. Coco Chanel perfected them. You could buy them in white trimmed in black, white trimmed in brown, or white trimmed in navy. The trim on the toe and around the heel was always punched with a decorative pattern of tiny holes. They came round-toed, square-toed, pointed-toed. High heels, stacked heels, no heels.
With the advent of summer, my mother's winter shoes would be relegated to the back of the closet and the spectator pairs were spread out along the front row of the shoe rack. There they stood, soldier-like, shoulder to shoulder, ready to march. These spectators came in all shapes, sizes, and ages.
As years passed, she added a cardboard shoe chest in which to store them all. They seemed to be breeding in the dark recesses of the closet during the winter months. That, of course, was because she never threw any of them out. There was no reason to. Through the years, she had amassed a collection that included every possible combination of color, toe shape, and heel height. What could be better? Fashion would come and go, and my mom would be ready for it - actually ahead of the game. Where was Women's Wear Daily then? Why no feature stories about her? How had they missed this arbiter of fashion in the Midwest?
As her child, I had always thought her behavior sort of silly. It was much more fun to get new shoes all the time. I was fortunate. I had to. My feet hadn't stopped growing; hers had.
Yet now, as I reach the age she was when I first noticed this pattern, I have to admit that if I had kept all my summer shoes, my closet would be filled with all types of footwear, tributes to my peripatetic past. There'd be rubber flip-flops from the 1950s, Indian woven sandals from the '60s, Dr. Scholl's from the '70s, Birkenstocks from the '80s (I was a latecomer). I'd have everything up to the Teva's I bought last summer.
BUT, even if you opened my closet today - now that my practical winter shoes have been moved into its even-darker recesses - you would actually find yourself face to face with (gasp!) three pairs of spectators. Not yet in a lot of styles or heel heights. One in navy, one in black, and one with rubber soles (more practical, I said to myself). But collections start small. And my feet have finally stopped growing.
So my mother was right. She knew a classic when she saw it. And if she was right about that, I think I'll hold onto my silver charm bracelet and madras Bermuda bag. You never know.