Tuesday, June 16, 2009

To the Millie I hardly knew but will never forget

This past month my family lost a dear friend-Millie. Usually when speaking of someone who has passed, it's customary to highlight their accomplishments and attributes. I'd love to reflect on Millie's life and give her the kind of dedication I know she deserves. But for my sisters and I, we only knew Millie as our babysitter. I never asked where she went to school, where she grew up, or what she did for 40+ years of her life before she babysat us. All I knew was that Millie would be there when I got home from school. So in honor and remembrance of Millie, the following is the life of the Millie I knew.

1. Millie was deathly afraid of snakes. Millie grew up in the south- this much I deduced from her thick southern accent. I've since been told it was somewhere in the Virginias. I can only assume a traumatic childhood confrontation led to her irrational and lifelong fear of snakes. I don't quite know how Sara and I came across this information, but we treated it like gold. A trip to the Dollar Tree later, and we were in possession of two rubber snakes. We then used these props to terrorize Millie and exploit her fear as often as possible. Knowing that Millie would make Sara drink her milk, Sara would wrap the rubber snake around the gallon of milk to scare Millie off. So intense was her fear that the very sight of snakes, rubber or otherwise, sent her screaming. I once wrapped the snake around a jug of juice, and then politely asked for a cup of juice. Sara and I spiraled the snake around the doorknob and ding-dong ditched our own house. We laughed, she cried, and a good time was had by all (except Millie).

2. Millie was family. Sort of... My Grandpa Joe had a sister. His sister married a man who shall remain nameless due to his 'sketchy' history and subsequent ex-con status. She passed away. John Doe married Millie. Got it? She was my great-half-aunt-ish.

3. Millie liked to fatten up the kiddies. Well, Gracie specifically. Everyday after kindergarten, Millie would take Grace to the McDonalds down the street. Grace would have a Happy Meal that included French Fries, a Cheeseburger, and a Chocolate Shake- she was 5 years old. Practically being in a food induced coma, Grace would fall asleep on the couch while Millie caught up on her soaps. Occasionally, my sisters and I would walk up to the local restaurant, The Purple Onion, with Millie and Grandma Anna. It was approximately a ten minute walk, but Millie and Grandma (or 'Gramaw Annie' as Millie referred to her) would pick berries from questionable bushes along the way as though we were preparing for a long winter ahead. They would then INSIST that we ate the berries. Sara and I would adamantly avoid them, but Grace was too young to know better. Once at The Purple Onion, Millie would tear open a few servings of Half & Half and have Gracie drink them, exclaiming, "Yeah, you can drink it!" Well sure, you can drink it, but it's up for debate whether a 5 year old should down a few shots of Half & Half.

4. Millie was perpetually 29 years old. It seemed like every day I would ask Millie her age. Even as a six year old, it was obvious to me that Millie was an older woman. She wore T-shirts with cats on them and could drink coffee at any time of the day. Plus, she was friends with my Grandma so I assumed they must do old lady things together, like read The National Enquirer and smoke Virginia Slims Ultra Light Regulars. But everytime I asked her age, Millie would reply,"I'm 29 darlin'. "

5. I once drove Millie's car. It was an accident, and I was six. Here's what happened: It was the first week or two at our new school and Sara was in third grade, I was in first and Grace was about 3. Sara missed the bus home so Millie, Grace, and I had to leave our new house to pick up Sara. When we all returned home, we quickly realized that we were locked out. Millie didn't have a key yet, and none of us knew the code for our garage door (We later found out it was 1234). We were stuck outside until one of my parents could get home to open the door. The blistering August sun began to bother Grace and me so Millie turned on her car's air conditioner and had us sit inside. I was six and curious so, of course, I yanked on the shiftstick and put it in reverse. Slowly, at a snail's pace, we began rolling backwards. Soon enough, the moving car caught Millie's eye and she darted to the car, ran alongside my window, and frantically tried to motion at the emergency brake. I was screaming, Grace was screaming, and Millie was screaming. The car was probably moving at all of two miles per hour, but at the time I thought I was accelerating violently into my friend Diana's house. Eventually I found the emergency brake, and Millie had us wait outside. Of course, I never told Millie I pulled the stickshift- I acted confused and said I kicked it.

6. Millie may have been a hooker. This nugget of information comes from my Grandma. It was after Millie had already begun babysitting us when my Grandma casually mentioned to my Mom, "She was a hooker ya know?" Of course her days as lady of the night were years ago. Perhaps she was mixed up in the wrong crowd when she met her John Doe, but decided to start anew with a family. I urge you to consider the source (my Grandma). The details are sketchy.

And that's what I knew of Millie. She was what you'd call a tough cookie. She never hesitated to speak her mind and often did so loudly. She was also a warm, loving woman who cared about my sisters and I like we were her own, and had a boisterous scratchy laugh that I'll never forget. She spent her last days at her home in Las Vegas. She moved out to Vegas after Gracie grew up because the weather made her feel good, and she loved the atmosphere. When she passed away of stomach cancer she was 29 (okay, 77).

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

They didn't have my size: The story of a size 11 shoe

I wear a size 11 shoe. For those of you unfamiliar with women's shoe sizes, let me explain: that's HUGE. ENORMOUS. It's so abnormally large that most retailers don't carry sizes past a 10 or 10.5. On more than one occasion I have happened across the world's most perfect pair of shoes- fashionable, dainty, versatile, and affordable, only to be told, "I'm sorry, we don't carry that size." Sometimes it is said with pity but more often it's said in the same manner as 'we don't serve your kind here,' as though I should be ashamed of my big clunking feet. Or even more ridiculous, it's said as though I CHOSE to have the feet of the elusive Sasquatch. But I implore you shoemakers of the world as I shake a defiant fist in the air, am I not human? If I am hurt, do I not bleed?

So rare is it to find a size 11 or, god forbid, a size 12 shoe, that the Nordstrom Rack store has an annual event for women with my particular...burden. Each summer, Nordstrom Rack hoists a huge blue sign that reads "LARGE SHOE SALE" in their storefront window. You might think this sign to mean a shoe sale of large proportions but you would be wrong. It is, in fact, a sale consisting solely (pun!) of large sized shoes. While I appreciate the effort Nordstrom Rack, I would be more appreciative if large sized shoes (especially sale shoes!) were always made available. Of course there are those few retailers that manufacture and sell shoes on a regular basis for women like myself. These retailers generally stock a scant few size 11 shoes and the big-footed women of the world are left to the unspoken battle of being the first to snatch those few coveted pairs. Rather than unite with them, I am forced to turn my back on my fellow Sasquatches as I run wildly from the store, drunk on power and the adrenaline rush of finding my size.

Perhaps more frightening are shoe sizes 12 and up. I truly lie awake at night wondering where those lowly and unfortunate size 12 wearing souls (pun #2!!) even begin to search for a decent pair of shoes. I know of only one store that stocks women's shoe sizes 12 and up, and the selection is dismal. Unfortunately, I have discovered from years of personal experience that the size of the shoe is directly proportional to the incidence of Velcro. For example, a delicate size 6 will find little to no Velcro present on a shoe. Their shoes will be only the most fashion-forward and always in stock. A size 12, on the other hand, would be hard pressed to find a shoe WITHOUT Velcro. I suppose shoemakers assume that large footed women are also mildly retarded with clumsy and beefy fingers not suited for tying a shoelace. Size 12 shoes are often stocked in the dimly lit cavernous halls of a shoe store, left safely out of sight along with the shoehorns and clearance socks. My sister (a mere size 6) often complains that she's usually forced to buy the display pair of shoes. Oh how horribly painful and unfortunate it must be! (note: read preceding sentence with sarcasm) I am then forced to give her a solid smack to the face and remind her that a size 11 shoe would NEVER be a display pair because they're simply to immense and unappealing.

I distinctly remember when I first realized that my feet were abnormally large for my size. It was Ms. McKay's fourth grade class, and we were studying the moon. Each student was to head to the front of the class where Ms. McKay had placed a scale. We were then instructed to step on the scale, and she would announce our weight in front of the class. Being discreet and tactful wasn't Ms. McKay's style. Having once completed an assignment about symmetry that required me to sketch the other half of Abe Lincoln's portrait, Ms. McKay deemed my sketch inadequate in front of the class by scoffing, "Well Ann, it looks like he has a rash." She practically spat the words in my face as I looked on flabbergasted. I mumbled something about his beard and went sheepishly to my seat. And so went our moon project. After learning my weight (90 lbs), I then computed my 'moon weight' (something less than 90 lbs). Midway through the computations, I came to the frightening realization that I was a solid 30 lbs heavier than my friend Stephanie, and I knew the reason why: my shoes. Fourth graders just don't wear a size 9 shoe, but I did. I was convinced the two bricks on my feet I called shoes added at least 15-20 lbs to my weight. Nevermind the fact that Stephanie was a twig, and I towered a good six inches above her, I declared a second shoe-free weigh-in. Ms. McKay did not oblige.

From there on out my life has been filled with astonished expressions and awkward pedicures. On a positive note, I never lose a swimming race with these flippers. I would be amiss in my shoe story if I didn't mention my standard 'dad joke' that "I'll never fall over!" Sure, my friends can never borrow my shoes without looking like a six year old playing dress up in their mom's shoes but in all honesty, I've never been self-conscious about my feet (even though I probably should be). My feet have become my trademark. Cindy Crawford has her mole, Angelie Jolie has her lips, and I have my size 11 feet. Besides, my Grandma Anna always said that having big feet meant you'll be rich. She never explained much beyond that but I never asked her to. Wanna know why? Oprah wears a size 10.5 shoe.