New Orleans 1958
High-heels echo across the deserted stage floor. Set pieces surround me, ghostly illusions of imagination, waiting for lights and music to call them to life. I like the quiet time, before all the noise and energy and magic swirls in the air like the trail of stars from Tinkerbell's wand.
Now, in the sanctuary of my dressing room, I lock the door and recline on the wide sofa—wide enough for my generous hips and impressive bosom. Surrounded by musty theater smells, dangling costumes of feathers and satin, I gather myself, find myself, remember myself.
An actress can get lost in her characters, confused by playwrights’ emotions
Being big, black and beautiful isn't easy. I lean back on the comfy cushions and conjure the other Mazie, the hidden Mazie that only a few can see. A scrawny, gangly child uncertain of her place in the world, overlooked in the struggle to keep mind and body together.
In the quiet, that Mazie comes to me.
My gaze travels across the room to the row of shoes, each one placed under the matching costume, a final accessory to set off the gown and flash under a shapely long leg. The younger Mazie is agog with wonder and delight. So many pretty shoes, dazzling rainbow colors made just for a Mazie foot.
Lord, Lord what miracles you have wrought on this wide-eyed child of the South.
Luther, Oklahoma 1935
My fascination with shoes began with a bright, green shiny pair winking at me from the shoe store window Mama and I passed everyday on the way to the Knight house in the white part of town. Until that day in my eighth year in 1935, I had no idea such wonders existed. The ugly, stiff-leathered hand-me-downs that came my way pinched my toes and made me awkward. I shucked them ratty old things the first sign of spring, running free until winter frost forced my feet into confinement once again.
We lived in Luther, Oklahoma, which survived the woes of the Depression and dust bowl by clinging to the life line of Route 66. My family survived by our work ethic, strong backs and a faith in the Almighty.
As the youngest child in a family of six, I'd learned to lurk and stay out of everybody's busy way. With a quiet demeanor—believe it if you will—and a vivid imagination, I trailed behind Mama in a day-dreamy world, far richer than our hardscrabble reality. So, when I saw those bright, green shoes, my imagination danced and twirled as I stood mesmerized by their glowing beauty.
“Mazie June,” Mama said, “quit your dawdlin'. We've got a mess o' work to do.”
“Mama,” I said. “I'm gonna have me a pair of shoes like that some day.”
Mama glanced at the treasures in the window and pursed her lips. “Who do you think you are--Shirley Temple? People like us wear plain work shoes. Times is hard and the sooner you realize you gotta earn your keep in this world, the better. I don't know where you get all your fancy ideas, but you best set 'em aside. Wishing for what you can't never have only breaks your heart.”
Mama grabbed my hand and dragged me down the street toward the Knight house.
Shiny Green Shoes is part of HOPE FOR THE HOLIDAYS
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