The Ugly Brown Shoes and the Belly Dancer

When I was very little, my mother tells me that I had a "small" case of polio. Now, I'm not sure that wasn't a fabrication on my mother's part or if indeed you can have a "small" case of polio. Anyway, when I was in Fourth Grade, we experienced one of the first mass physical examinations in the state of Washington - all of us ten-year-olds, boys and girls, in our jammies, in the school gymnasium, entering one at a time, into the "doctor's office" (formerly known as the coach's office), to get a physical exam. I have no idea why this was done, but they discovered I had curvature of the spine and was extremely pigeon toed; and my mother said it was a result of my small case of polio.

I went to the Shriner's Hospital (for children mainly with orthopedic problems or polio). I was told I would never dance - but that's ok, said the doctor, "she's only ten." I had to wear what I can only call "ugly brown shoes" from 4th grade to 7th grade, at which time my doctor ordered my parents to get me out of those shoes before my psyche was totally ruined. He said I might have problems as an adult, but nothing compared to the bruised self esteem I was experiencing. I hated those shoes. They were, well, BROWN. Ugly brown. And they went up past my ankle like a baby's boot. ugly.brown.shoes.

Funny - I happened to google "ugly brown shoes" and I came up with a whole LIST of sites that were all post-polio survivors and each person was describing their shoes exactly as I had. So much for being unique.

These UBS, as I nicknamed them, cost my parents a small fortune. They had steel plates in them and they were probably ten times more expensive than a normal shoe. So they were held above my head (metaphorically but just as heavy) like a sign. Something like, “Here stands Jeanie in her UBS because she had a small case of polio.”

They were ugly. They made me feel ugly. I was ugly. They were just hateful, nasty, ugly, brown, shoes.

But revered by my parents......


We went to a local lake one summer and (this tells you how old I am - but just look to the right and I tell you how old I am!), the dressing room just off the beach was a large, two stall, out house. My mother, sister, and I went in there to change into our swimsuits. I can still picture this - I undressed and carefully placed my folded clothes on the bench between the two "holes." And then I just as carefully and neatly put my UBS next to my clothes, and poof, down a hole they went, to the dark, murky, icky abyss below. I debated for about two seconds on making an announcement to my mother – dollar signs flashing in front of my eyes. And when I did, the expected all-hell broke lose. She went to my Dad who was in the other side of the long dressing building.

To my horror, Dad found an opening outside in the back of the outhouse and he crawled in there and rescued my dang UBS, washed them off, handed them to me, and told me to never, never, never, ever, drop them in the outhouse hole again. Ever. {sigh}

A couple years later we were on vacation when my Dad shouted his infamous "I Know A Short Cut" and away we went to places where no man has been before. Well, no vehicle had been before for a long, long time. It must have rained heavily in the area, as we found ourselves on a mile long road with swamp on either side of it. Dad fishtailed a few dozen feet and narrowly missed going into the swamp on one side or the swamp on the other side, when he got mired in an unbelievable sticky, mucky, muddy mess. My mother, my three siblings, and I all got out and pushed the station wagon as far as we could, whereupon Dad would take off again, fishtailing, narrowly missing getting swamped, and then again getting stuck, and we would start all over again, muttering things like "short cut, my tush."

When all of a sudden one foot was FREE! The mud had sucked the UBS right off my foot. Immediately, without taking a breath or a pause, my mother said, "Get that shoe right now." So – almost saved there for a second.


I was sorely embarrassed by those ugly brown shoes. I hated them with a passion. I would close my eyes really, really tight and visualize them being white, or better yet, girly girl pink! I'd open one eye, and there they'd sit, two ugly brown shoes each with an ugly brown tongue sticking out at me in a neener neener kind of way that you would expect from your bratty little brother – these were simply SHOES, I'd tell myself.

I was turning 13 and got to go see my doctor by myself. I was thrilled because I just got a new bra that I was hoping someone would notice instead of my UBS. (ok, training bra, size AA.) Well, he was kind. A grandfatherly sort – he knew right off the bat that I didn't need a bra but he humored me anyway. When he got to my feet, he asked how the shoe thing was going. I wailed and wailed. “Don't you see?? They are Ugly.Brown.Shoes!!!” He called my mother before I got home and that was the end of the UBS. I took great delight in standing as far away from the garbage can as I could and chucking each shoe into the garbage can as if I were a ten-foot-tall star basketball player.

So, I'd grow up crooked, with inward toes, trip a lot, and not dance.

Then I got to high school and the Junior Class (my class) was putting on a two-hour play and I wanted to be in it. They were casting for dancers. Well, I've always done what I'm told I can't. There is a button on me somewhere that toggles off or on in opposition of negative presumptions. Nobody has told me I can't fly, so I haven't attempted it. So, I timidly and shyly tried out for the chorus line. It was just like what you see on the movies – a whole crowd of dancer-wanna-bees jumbled together on stage, trying to follow directions and listen to music at the same time. (Not really my talent, but hey.) Before I knew it, the instructor was weeding out flat-out-no-talent from maybe-can-dance, to Can-Dance. And I ended up in the final twelve. I had to go buy a bikini so I could fit some gauze on it to look like a belly dancer. (Still iffy on filling out the upper part of my costume, but never say I don't give it my all.)

Mom told me later that Dad, who was in the third row to watch his “baby” on stage, covered his eyes. He may have laughed; he may have wept. She couldn't tell - he just shook his shoulders a lot.

So now you know the story about the Ugly Brown Shoes and the Belly Dancer!


Anonymous said...


Your writing is fluid and captivating. It rolls off your keyboard like melted chocolate off an ice cream cone in July. (clunky description, but you get the gist)

Anyhow, I love your description of single parenting and the dreaded "UBS".....I suppose I will never think the same of my financial planner, who works for...UBS....
B-ank of

Ugly Brown Shoes indeed. (-:

Congratz on joining Dave Laird at the Spokesman Blog. I am persona non grata there, banned from blogging...although recently, for fun I "became"

Andrew Soze
Kaiser S Dufresne
Patrick Bateman

Hybrid character names from my three favorite movies.

1) Shawshank Redemption
2) The Usual Suspects
3) American Psycho

Just wanted to say hello and fess up to my real identity...and once again tell you what a treat it is to read your writing(s).

David Elton

MarmiteToasty said...

Oh my..... what an amazing piece of writting, ya put me to shame lol yours is eloquent and flows and is like the cornish cream dod on top of the icecream that Elton talks about....

My matie at junior school had the same UBS as you and she felt exactly like you.....

I had sensible UBSs when I started senior school (age 11) obviously not the same reason for yours......... but all me maties had lovely shoes with buckles and patent leather and I had to have sensible brown lace up shoes... jebus, did I stand out like a sore thumb.... I leave home for school and get around the corner and hide them in the bushes and put on me plimsols and wear them to school.... or I would put them in someones unopened locker outside the science rooms lol.... well until Violet Arnold (see I even remember her name) who was right poor found them and with my permission STOLE them lol..... and that was until my mum (the cow) investigated via the school and went round violets house and got back me brown lace ups.... I did have the beating of me life lmfao.....

Loving your blob....


JeanieSpokane said...

Marmite! You are hilarious! O if I only had someone crazy enough to steal them! damned things.

Anonymous said...


You and Dave laird hit the nail on the head with regard to the importance of caregiving (Spokesman Blogs). I was a CNA/NAC in 2000 for a valley woman named Jenny Mahlstrom. It was only 7 months, but it was quite possibly the most spiritually and emotionally rewarding job I have ever had. I took great pleasure in attempting to improve Jennys life, which is severely hampered by debilitating arthritis. She is a talented artist who uses chopsticks because the affliction has rendered her hands almost close-fisted with the crushing day-to-day pain of inflamation. We must have played a thousand games of chess. She is a brilliant woman with a razor sharp and insightful mind. I will never forget the effort it took, 24 hours a day, to do a good job using creativiry and loving kindness. It was also hard work.

JEANIE.....I hope your 4 days are going well.

God Bless,

David Elton

Anonymous said...

:) Ha! Ha! So funny Jeanie! I loved reading this! I was supposed to get a pair of UBS, but fortunately my parents couldn't afford them. My friend Roberta wasn't as lucky, however, because her mom bought her the WHITE ones; you only think would have liked those, but I'm sure Roberta would tell you that she would rather have had to wear ugly brown shoes than BABY shoes at the age of 10... Bobby, if you are reading this- how did you manage?