When I was 14 years old, my Dad bought me my first pair of high-heeled pumps. We drove all the way to Lincoln (a two and a half-hour drive) to shop for them, and we bought them (get this) in a shop in the mall. This was a big deal to a little girl who lived in a tiny town in rural Nebraska. We had a lot of little stores in Nelson, and you could buy a new television set in one, bags of fertilizer in another one, a pair of overalls in another, but we didn’t have one shop whereby a person could buy pumps. Pity us.
I chose a pair of rust-colored velvet pumps, similar to these pictured, with a Mary Jane strap, moderate heels, and they–were–perfect. I felt so grown-up wearing those shoes! So lady-like! So beautiful!
In truth, the typical 14-year-old girl, in the event of wearing her first pair of high-heeled pumps, does not really have the coordination needed to sashay about as smoothly and as elegantly as she might like. I was a fairly typical 14-year-old girl, in that I was gangly and skinny and awkward as all get-out. I was more accustomed to running bases and climbing trees than wearing such lady-like gear. I had aspirations, though, to be a proper lady someday. Every time I pulled on panty-hose (also a new and bewildering experience to an active, sunburned tomboy like me) I would rip monstrous holes in them. Every stinkin’ time.
Good thing my dad owned the drugstore, where pantyhose could be acquired at wholesale prices!
I teetered and tottered around the house in my new pumps (and my holey pantyhose) for several trial periods, trying to get used to the tipsy nature of walking on a very unstable surface, before I ventured out in public in them.
And then the day came for the public debut of my beautiful velvet pumps–it was a Sunday and I was going to church, wearing a new dress that Mom had made me. It was my very favorite dress–it had poofy elbow-length sleeves, three ruffle tiers that made up the skirt (I loved ruffles then, I love ruffles now) and (wait for it!) a velvet, rust-colored vest. Mom had made the vest with care, lining it with rust-colored satin. Have I ever mentioned how remarkable my mom is? I still own that vest. I still love that vest.
So it was Sunday morning, I was wearing my new dress and (even more importantly) my brand-new velvet pumps, which matched each other perfectly, for the first time. I was the picture of elegance, I knew. It was the awesomest day ever.
Then something awful happened.
A lady rushed up to me. I don’t remember who she was, because what she asked me threw me into such panic and such unease that the rest of the morning was kind of an anxious blur that I’ve tried to forget to this day. She opened her mouth.
“Anne–” she gasped, (that’s my sister’s name) “Anne, dear, Sharon is home with the flu and she was supposed to be the acolyte today–can you fill in?”
I was struck with instant fear and panic. It may seem like a silly thing to you, Gentle Reader, but at this time in my life the very last thing I wanted was to be seen by others. Even if I was wearing my new dress with the velvet vest, and matching pumps. I preferred to be invisible. I was a shy child with a very small voice and a frightened mien. I was a mouse of a girl. A mouse of a girl wearing new pumps. And here this woman (who didn’t even know my name) was asking me this monstrous favor–to go up in front of the entire church and take care of lighting all the candles on the altar as the service began, and then extinguishing them afterwards. All by myself. Where people could see me.
I opened my mouth, a mute, gasping fish, willing the words “I’d–rather–die–and–my–name–isn’t–Anne,” but nothing came out. She smiled in relief, taking my muteness for passive agreement. She looked at the clock on the wall in the cloak room, gasped, and shoved an ugly choir robe into my arms.
“Here’s your robe–you know what to do, right?–Put this on, and get up there immediately!”
Like an automaton, I stiffly clomped to the bathroom and pulled the ugly blue robe over my lovely new dress. I glanced down at my pumps. Blue and rust are ghastly together, I noted. I clip-clopped as quietly as I could into the sanctuary and up the side aisle to the pew where the acolyte always sat. I had been through all the training in catechism class on Wednesday nights to be a proper acolyte, although I had never intended to be one, not in my wildest nightmares.
The organist began to play an introductory hymn. I glanced up, trembling in fright, at Pastor Ensign, who gave me a sedate, yet very clear nod. He mouthed the words. “It’s time. . . Anne. . . ”
The candle-lighting, despite my nervous misgivings, went fine. I didn’t have any trouble with the candles lighting, I didn’t fall off my new pumps, nor were all my worst fears realized. I carefully went back to the pew where the acolyte always sat–right in front of the Pastor’s podium, six pews back. Another six pews behind me was was where the first row of church-goers sat. Ours was not a front-row type of a church body. We were a smallish congregation in a largish church building, and we all preferred to sit in the middle-to-back part of the sanctuary. We were Lutherans, and that’s the way we liked it. That included yours truly.
The first part of my obligation was over. It hadn’t been as horrifying as I had anticipated, and now I just had to stay alert during Pastor Ensign’s sermon so I’d know when to go back up to the altar and extinguish the candles with the cup on the long brass rod. Not so bad. I was going to live.
The Pastor droned on and on. My nose itched. I scratched it. My new velvet rust-colored pumps began to pinch, and I carefully slipped them off, lining them up neatly in front of my now-stockinged feet. I admired them with a little smile. I looked back up at Pastor and urged myself to focus. I knew that he would fix his gaze on me when he was almost finished, and that would be my cue. I had seen him do the very same thing dozens of times, all while watching from the back. I suddenly realized that the tiered skirt of my new dress was folded underneath my posterior, probably resulting in an unattractive wrinkle. I didn’t want my new dress to be wrinkled in the back.
I slid my hands carefully along the edges of the robe, and braced my stockinged feet against the slick linoleum floor. I kept my eyes on Pastor, easing my posterior gently up, while trying to smooth out the underside of my dress. Suddenly, my feet slipped forward on the slick surface, and I slid down on the polished wooden pew. My feet had hit something, and I realized in horror as I righted myself what the somethings had been, and where they had gone.
You guessed it, Gentle Readers, because you are unusually astute and plus, you read the title of this story already. My feet had made contact with my brand new velvet rust-colored pumps, and had shot them forward . . . six pews forward.
I felt my face turn crimson, and tiny sweat beads begin to gather on my forehead. I looked up at the Pastor, who was revving up to his mighty conclusion. Great. I would have to do something–and quickly! In my panicked brain, I only saw two options: 1. I could calmly rise, walk to the front of the church in front of everybody, and calmly sit down in the front pew and slip my shoes back on, in time to go do my extinguishing thing, resulting in forever shame and humiliation, for the rest of my days, or 2. I could lower myself down quietly to the floor, feigning, oh, I don’t know–snapping my shoes on, or somesuch?–and crawl rapidly under the pews to my shoes in the front, retrieve them quickly, and crawl back, popping innocently back up in my aforedelegated acolyte pew. The Pastor would witness the event, true, but he would be the only one who would see me, and surely he would not be so lacking in manners to ever mention it to me. I could always change churches.
Besides, he thought I was Anne, anyway. Worse case–he wouldn’t ask me to acolyte again. Which was just fine with me. And don’t ask why I couldn’t walk up there in my panty-hosed feet to do the acolyte duties, because I just couldn’t.
I chose plan 2, without overthinking it. I didn’t have time to think. I lowered myself down to the floor, crawled rapidly to the front, struggling to not get entangled in that wretched blue robe, retrieved my beloved pumps, crawled back, and sat back up just in time to see the Pastor’s intense (and astonished) gaze on me. I took that as my cue, and I slipped the lovely shoes back on, and–shaking, but grateful–I clomped back up and did my thing.
The flames extinguished, I didn’t waste any time in quietly walking back down the side aisle, jerking the robe off, fussing it onto a hanger in the cloakroom, and hurrying through the Sunday School and to the exit, to wait for my parents in the car.
I never did hear anything about this incident from the Pastor or from the dozens of people sitting behind me, who must have wondered where I went for those few minutes when I disappeared. So maybe they didn’t even notice that I was gone. Maybe they were all dozing. Studying their watches, perhaps. And I never was asked to be an acolyte again, and (come to think of it) neither was my sister Anne.
Which was fine with me, although I would imagine my sister might have been sad about it.
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