volkswagon polo fashion and shoes while growing up in the Merrimack Valley
Shoes make a fitting vehicle for Andover native Patricia Morrisroe’s memoir “9 1/2 Narrow: My Life in Shoes” as it roves 60 years of fashion and family, popular culture and relationships.
It follows her from baby boots to the New Balance sneakers she bought her mother, Eileen, in her old age; from her first shoe crush, Mary Janes, to the high end Blahniks craved in more recent years.
At each stop, “9 1/2 Narrow” ties a shoe style to the times they were worn and the social and emotional place in Morrisroe’s life. Style, time and place stand together like heel, sole and toe.
Feet grow. Shoe styles change. But what remains most poignant and touching in Morrisroe’s footwear chronicle is the relationship with her mother, Eileen, a larger than life person who died at age 93 in 2014.”9 1/2 Narrow” moves at times like the movie “Peggy Sue Got Married,” where the main character, Kathleen Turner, faints at her 25th high school reunion and awakens back in her senior year in high school.
There’s a heart rending moment in the movie when the transported Peggy Sue first sees her mother as she was back when Peggy Sue was in high school.
“9 1/2 Narrow” feels like that at times, as Morrisroe steps back in time with her mom and other family members.
Morrisroe stamps her feet, shuffles, digs in, struts, jumps and glides. At times, it’s easy to imagine her whacking one of her sisters on the head with a pair of flats, though not her ostrich flats.
At most junctures Morrisroe’s mother is there, sometimes surprisingly in tune with popular culture and often in counterpoint to Patricia’s latest plan or shoe crave.
styles and mom
It’s unthinkable today but in the 1950s shoe stores across the country including Reinhold’s in Andover had machines called shoe fitting fluoroscopes that took X rays of people’s feet.
Morrisroe’s mother warned her daughter to not touch the machine, saying it might explode. Her caution was prescient, as it turned out.
Customers were exposed to twice the recommended dose radiation each time they placed their feet on the X ray tube, according to the book.
Morrisroe would wind her way through her Beatle boot craze, endure brogues while attending a Catholic school, and wear numerous styles while going on to college, studying in Europe and forming relationships.
At one point, when she was in a relationship with a young man named Scott and was bound for New York City, Morrisroe heard her mother tell her to throw away her precious granny boots, saying they were filthy and falling apart.
“I fell in love in these boots,” Morrisroe tells her mother.
“Well, they look it,” her mother responds.
This is a tumultuous time in the mother/daughter relationship.
Ultimately, shoes are a metaphor for life in “91/2 Narrow,” and in particular the combative but loving relationship between Morrisroe and her mom.
The shoe style women wore at a certain time said something about women at that time. A shoe style worn today says a lot about a woman.
Morrisroe also has also an abiding passion for handbags. But they do not work as a metaphor: My Life in Handbags?
Shoes certainly are a Morrisroe passion. Her kid sister, Nancy, 12 years Patricia’s junior, says she too loves shoes don’t all women but Patricia’s affinity for shoes trumps Nancy’s, she said.
Nancy, by the way, appears early in the book, a small child running wild on the floor at Jordan Marsh’s in Peabody while Patricia seeks a pair of must have ghillies.
Patricia’s mother reluctantly puts the taupe ghillies on her credit card.
Along with the tension in the book is humor and sadness.
Running gags include a common refrain from Morrisroe’s lovable grandfather, nicknamed Bumpa. Often when things get hectic and confusing,
he turns to a favorite saying: “Just take me out feet first.”