A couple weeks back when I wrote about things my parents used to say, I didn’t mention, “Put your best foot forward.” My mother was the person who most often offered that proverbial advice, and although I knew the purpose of the saying I was a little confused, since both of my feet looked about the same to me.

When they were saving up to make the down payment on the house Dad still lives in, they worked at about anything possible to save. Mom made buttonholes for folks who sewed, but didn’t have a buttonhole maker. She worked in the kitchen of the small restaurant nearby where she was allowed to bring little Mike with her (he played in the back room away from the stove and fryer). Dad mended things, especially cars, raised turkeys, sold sewing machines (hence the fantastic buttonhole attachment), delivered appliances, and was a shoe salesman in Burlington, not, I hasten to add, all at once.

I remember the shoe store. It had a lovely leathery scent; “man made materials” were not common then. The lighting was good, the better to examine your potential footwear. There were chairs in lines so a parent could sit beside you, floor level mirrors to reflect your feet, and special benches made so you had a place to rest your foot, and the salesman (almost always a man) could sit to fit your shoes. Some stores may still have had a fluoroscope with which one’s feet and shoes were X-rayed to assist with fitting, but I never saw one. In the aftermath of the atomic bomb people were starting to wake up to the dangers of x-rays, so it became less common and more outdated. Instead of radiation Dad used a cool item with slides to measure your foot. (If you bought from a mail-order house, there were complicated-looking charts where a child stood and Mom marked off both width and length.)

I don’t know how long Dad worked there. He was probably good at it – with his friendly and warmhearted approach he may have been good at it, but perhaps his honesty worked against him, for he would never talk you into something he didn’t feel was right for you. He would come home frustrated no end because customers would ignore his advice and insist on a smaller size shoe because they had never worn larger than some painfully too cramped size they had been wearing since before the war. He couldn’t imagine doing that but I had lived with Gram and knew how proud she was of her very narrow feet. I recall her telling me to never buy shoes larger than what I wore in college or my feel would spread out and get bigger. Foot-binding, anyone?

I don’t know how other people get along with self-service shoe stores. I use knowledge that Dad passed on – important places to measure – heel to wide part of foot, not heel to toe, for instance. Is it wide enough to not pinch? Walked around while paying attention to how it feels. Try on both shoes because sometimes one foot is a bit bigger than the other. And you never, ever bought a shoe too small.

I am older now and my feet are knobby and weird-looking, probably due to the times I didn’t pay attention or listened to someone else. Like the time I bought cross-trainers that were supposed to improve my gait. My knees hurt for a year, which I didn’t associate with the shoes – until it was summer again and I turned to flip-flops. No pain in my knees or hips. It was the shoes. I haven’t listened to anyone since then, except Dad. My best foot is the one that doesn’t hurt!