It’s just too easy to roll back the years, and be there. I’m back to eight years old. The images are strong – I’m there, digging my toes in the dirt and stirring it until it becomes a fine powder at least 8 inches deep, thus violating the rule to always wear shoes. That was to protect against whatever parasites were lurking in the loam. Ha. Although my shoes were a little girl’s dream, wooden platforms with banana trees carved and painted on the side, pale green straps criss-crossing over the toes – I was a barefoot kid. But I adored them, for they were, in fact – high heels. I mastered them instantly, being only eight years old and thrilled to the bone. They were just my size… Filipinos were a small people. We got them in the local town of Tarlac near our military post.
It was in Tarlac that I learned humility. It was an epiphany – a pivotal moment in my life. Mother and I were shopping with her friends. A crowd of natives gathered to stare at us Americans, following us closely as we moved about. I was the first white child, and blonde to boot, that most had ever seen. I was a curiosity to be examined. Watched. I preened, I held my head high, I walked with dignity. I pictured myself a princess, above them all, in my own mind. I stayed close to my mother through the clothes market, peering at and examining clothes, acting interested and, I thought, oh so very grown up. I walked proudly in my shoes.
Then we wanted to cross the street. Cars were non-existent, except for the jeep that had brought us. The village was dirt roads and dirt-floored stores, the occasional wooden walkway mocked up in the aisles, and outside here and there to pass over deep mud puddles. Dogs trailed, chickens scattered, children peered, adults stared. I felt very superior in this sea of black hair and black eyes. The crowd parted for us to cross to another store. I lifted my head the way I thought a princess should, like out of one of my fairy tale books, nose up – not deigning to look down in front of me. A princess wouldn’t look down. And guess what… OH yessss…. There was a banana peel. SO classic. Whoop! Thud! – up my feet flew – and down I went. Big ouch!!! I dared not show pain, anything. I, the princess, had to carry this off, thought I to myself. Get up and smile, brush myself off. I did. Nobody smiled. They just stared.
I learned humility. My pride had shriveled. But my shoes had stayed on.