Guest Essay | Mary Lea Carroll: Easter Shoes

Published on Mar 31, 2024

Easter: rebirth, renewal and all about being alive! At this time of year, I am reminded of one of the weirdest Easter egg hunts we kids ever had. . . 

There were nine of us, growing up all together in the big white house on Santa Rosa Street in Altadena. Money was really tight for my parents so Mom always looked for ways to make extra money.  She did things like sell custom Christmas cards by appointment to wealthy ladies—she did things like sell newspaper advertising door to door to businesses and she did something— for years—which was to write a column for our local paper.  It was called “Conversations With Jane Ray”.  She loved Erma Bombeck, and styled her column after Erma’s witty style. It was Erma who announced in one of her columns that “nobody ever died from an unmade bed”.  My mother, like mothers all over the country,  took Erma’s advice to heart with relish.  Anyway—how Mom made money off her column was when she mentioned a business in “Conversations With Jane Ray, they would then pay her or she’d get something in fare trade.  For example, she’d write—“ This week Riley’s Tuxedo is running a special.  What surly teenage boy doesn’t look great in a tux? Perfect timing to take Danny in for his prom tux!”  And they’d give her the tux.  That’s how she got our family portraits done. The car repaired—a set of glasses—school shoes for us. Her breezy “Conversations with Jane Ray” provided for much of our family’s needs. 

Well famously one Easter, I and most of my siblings all received brand new Easter shoes.  Mine were black patten leather.  The boys were  smart-looking  saddle shoes. How exciting it was to get anything new and that Easter there they were, six pairs of shoes lined up in the living room, looking shinny and expensive.  And they fit!  We were far too young to wonder where they came from. 

So, Easter Sunday, we wore our new shoes to church.  We wore them through the brunch of ham and deviled eggs and Easter cake—and we wore them as we ate our way through our Easter baskets so they’d be empty for the big egg hunt.  My parents were not playful people in the least but they truly enjoyed putting this massive egg hunt on together.  Mom started at the beginning of Lent blowing out eggs so we had dozens and dozens of hollow colored eggs.  She stayed up late stuffing each one with little notes saying things like “rain or shine you win a dime”.  Or “a ticket a taste a penny in your basket”.  Back then, even a penny had value to us.  Penny candy meant it cost one penny.  You can imagine how motivating such an egg hunt was for nine kids under 13 years old. 

The big house on Santa Rosa had a huge yard, full of ivy and bushes and lawns.  That year, the night before the big egg hunt it had rained.  Nobody cared that it was sopping wet outside and when Dad called “go!” — we all ran out into the yard with our new shoes on. Well—because it was so wet, what began happening was that my beautiful patten leather shoes started to come apart!  With Kevin’s saddle shoes, the soles flapped open!  John’s saddle shoes, the laces just broke.  The buckles fell off Bethie’s straps.  Kevin tripped when one sole flapped all the way off.   Mom—watching this, started cursing under her breath, “Dammit.  Dammit. Dammit. . . . ” 

What was happening?  Our Easter was getting ruined! We waited for Mom to start yelling at us for not being careful, as she surely did at other times. She could have a really short fuse, off the deep end she went when we drew on the wallpaper—her top blew when the kickball broke the window—she smacked us when we let mulberry juice, from the mulberry tree next door,  go down the front of our white uniform shirts.  But that day, no, she got over herself quickly and was soft and soothing, telling us not to worry, it wasn’t our fault.  But, why wasn’t it our fault?  

Well, Mom got such a great deal on those shoes by running a nice ad for a—a  Mortuary Supply Center!  A company that supplies all the necessities for embalming and OPEN CASKETS! —the false-front shirts, the wigs, the clip on ties.   This is where  our Easter shoes came from! It never occurred to her of their one-time use  . . . of how something would’ve had to’ve gone terribly wrong if the one these shoes were intended for got up and started running around.  Of course she didn’t tell us where the shoes had come from until years later, which cleared up the mystery of why she hadn’t been mad because,  I’m sure what she felt was gratitude,  Her children could run around and were very much alive.  And just,  thank God her children didn’t need those shoes for real. 

An essay from local author Mary Lea Carroll, in support for her third book which is due out in June.   Entitled Across the Street Around the Corner—A Road Home,  it’s about living in her present neighborhood of 35 years and growing up in Altadena.  Watch for a Vroman’s launch in June and look for it wherever books are sold. 

Make a Comment

  • (not be published)