I grew up in the years following the Second World War, when life had rules and you knew what was what. Most moms stayed home, few of them had cars, and they all wore house dresses. Daddies went to work. Mine wore a suit and went to the office. Jeannette’s wore overalls and had dirty fingernails because he owned an auto repair shop, called a garage back then. R-Kay’s daddy disappeared for months at a time because he was something called an engineer and was helping Westinghouse install electrical relay stations in South America.
Little girls wore dresses to school, much to the delight of little boys waiting for glimpses of panties when we played on the rings and monkey bars during recess. Boys wore jeans or cotton slacks. Once a year, on “Play Day,” girls could wear pedal pushers or shorts. Jeans were something we wore only if we went to camp or horseback riding.
I remember at about age eight or nine going to the airport with my family to see my mother’s sorority sister Ann off on a major vacation. My mother was a wonderful and intelligent woman, quite open-minded, but she was mildly shocked that this friend wore trousers and a silk shirt rather than a dress to fly on the airplane. The practicality of pants on a long flight with many stopovers – remember, this was in the days of propeller planes – did not seem to occur to her. Nor did the friend’s ultimate destination, the jungles of Africa, seem to affect her opinion. Flying on an airplane was an occasion, and you dressed up for it, even if the dress would spend the rest of the trip in your suitcase. That was the proper way to do things.
These were some of the rules of life. I don’t remember being taught them, they just were. You knew. Everybody knew.
Some rules, however, I knew, but I wondered about them. And that brings us to Enna Jetticks. To those of you born after 1960, I should state that Enna Jetticks was not an actress or member of congress or the wife of someone important. Enna Jetticks were shoes. Perhaps they still are. I remember some years back seeing an ad about Enna Jetticks and how they had changed for the modern woman, but those shoes were not really Enna Jetticks. No-sir-re-Bob!
Enna Jetticks were kid leather tooled in an eyelet pattern. They were almost always black, although you occasionally saw navy blue, and I knew one woman who actually had a beige pair. They had fine round laces and a modest, firm, broad heel. And they were worn by only one person. Old ladies. Enna Jetticks were old lady shoes. My Grammies both wore them, as did everybody else’s Grammy. Old maid aunts wore Enna Jetticks. The church organist wore Enna Jetticks. She dyed her hair red to look young, but we all knew she was old. Her shoes gave her away.
In fairness to the Enna Jetticks Company, they did make stylish shoes for younger women, but when we said Enna Jetticks, we meant just one thing, those shoes Grammies wore.
I learned the truth about Enna Jetticks I was maybe six. My mom and I took my Grammy Gilbert to the shoe store for a new pair of shoes. She sat down in the chair, and the shoe salesman measured her foot with one of those wooden foot rulers. Then, without even asking her what she wanted, he went in the back and brought out a pair of black Enna Jetticks in her size. And my Grammy tried them on and bought them.
And I watched, wondering, how did he know? I mean, I knew that her old shoes looked like that, but how did he know she didn’t want something like the fancy high heels my mom was wearing?
And then I knew. Just like boys wore jeans and girls wore skirts and moms wore house dresses, Grammies and other old ladies had to wear those shoes. That was what was done. That was the rule.
This of course brought up an even more important question. At what point did you officially become an old lady and have to wear those shoes? Someday, when my mom went to get a new pair of shoes, would the salesman without asking, bring her a pair of black Enna Jetticks? How would my mom feel? It was not lost on me that women worked hard to look young and pretty. Would she suddenly feel old and wrinkled? Would her feelings be hurt by the salesman’s decree that she had reached the age of old lady’s shoes? I quailed at the thought of that painful day coming to my mother.
And what of my Grammy? I mean, from my perspective she had always been old. But I had seen pictures and knew that she, too, had been young once. Had it been an awful day, the first time they made her buy those shoes?
As I grew up, of course, I learned that when my Grammy and all those other Grammies were young women, the shoes they wore with their long skirts and formal hats were Enna Jetticks. As women’s shoes evolved, their generation held on to what they had always worn.
I’m glad I know that. I’m glad to know that my Grammy didn’t suddenly lose her youth on the say-so of some shoe salesman. And that my mother was spared that awful moment of having to buy shoes that would announce to the world she was officially old.
©2010 Barbara Wray Wayland