Thursday, February 16, 2017

Sparkles of Hope

Some things are just meant to be.  That was the unshakable feeling I had about my sparkly Smurfette sandals.  They came to me in an unexpected way, against all odds. 

The day they dropped themselves into my life was a reasonably ordinary day in the life of a pair of jungle girls.  Our mother was pillaging through the old, army green duffel bags we kept under the house, looking for a few new items to add to our wardrobe.  During our visits to Michigan, she would stock up on clothing for my older sister Sarah and me to wear during our time in the jungle.  Our baby sister Minni didn't have a stockpile of clothes in these duffel bags yet, all she wore at the time was a diaper, sometimes a little sleeping gown, sometimes nothing at all.  Everything in the duffel bags was usually kept dry and safe for future use beneath a tarp, under our stilted house.  

Sarah and I had 4 or 5 outfits each, that we wore over and over, week in, week out.  Being active little girls living in the jungle, our clothes took quite a beating.  Between climbing every tree we could find, the constant presence of mildew, soot from the fire we used for cooking and scrubbing them on river rocks to keep them clean, our clothes were destined to fall apart, meeting their journey's end as kitchen or bath rags.  In the past few weeks leading up to this particular day, two major clothing casualties had occurred.  First, my sister snagged her pink shorts on a tree, causing a huge hole on one side.  Then, my favorite gray dress with the tiny flowers ripped and, after being mended so many times that the fabric became thin in spots, was beyond repair.  Sarah and I watched with great anticipation as my mother searched through the duffel bags. 

The days of clothing replacement were always bittersweet.  With so few outfits to choose from, we grew quite attached to what we had.  Each one had its own feeling, its own spirit.  I was sad to give up my grey dress, it was perfect for twirling.  I knew Sarah felt the same about her pink shorts, they fit her perfectly, hugging her long legs with a very complimentary pink color.  But replacing the clothes was exciting as well because since we didn't get to shop for new clothes in the jungle of Belize, this was as close as we got retail therapy.  The idea of something new, or at least new to us (most of the items in the duffel bags were hand-me-downs from family and friends) was very intriguing.  After several minutes of digging through the bags, our mother finally pulled out a light pink top and a pair of blue shorts for me.  The shorts were a bit long, and the top had a tendency to slip off one shoulder. This new outfit certainly lacked the fun whimsical quality of my grey dress, but I knew the shorts would be ideal for climbing trees. My mother continued digging, pulling out a wrinkled pair of white shorts with rainbow piping for Sarah.  She also found out a yellow tank top.  They both fit perfectly, and Sarah was satisfied.  She definitely got the better end of the deal, as my slightly over-sized clothes seemed flat and dull in comparison to her fanciful new outfit.  I let out a sigh of disappointment, and yanked the neck of my shirt back in place.  However, a surprise awaited me; my mother pulled out a pair of sparking pink sandals from the duffel and set them on the floor. 

"I forgot I packed these.”

"My Smurfette sandals!" Sarah said with excitement and confusion. 

That is exactly what they were, the wonderful Smurfette sandals Sarah had worn during our last summer in Michigan, over two years ago.  I could still picture her, prancing around on the perfectly manicured lawns of Farragut Court in those sparkly shoes. She was a true vision.

"These are too small for you, honey," my mother said.  "You were out growing them last time we were in Michigan."

Sarah was already busily trying to cram her foot into one of the sandals.  There was no denying that they were way too small.  Her foot barely fit between the delicate side straps, and her toes and heel were hanging over the edges of the shoe.

"Try them on, Rosie," my mother said as she tossed one of the sandals towards me.

I slipped the sandal on my foot, and buckled it as tight as it would go.  The shoes were a bit big, and already had quite a few miles on them, but I felt like Cinderella.  I knew then and there these shoes were exceptional.  My mother examined how the sandals fit, and told me I could wear them with socks until I grew into them.  I scrambled to find a pair of socks, strapped on both sandals and trotted outside.  I couldn't believe my luck.  My mother could have left these shoes behind in Michigan, it would have made sense, they were too small for Sarah and too big for me.  If my mother had found these shoes in the duffel earlier, Sarah may have been able to squeeze her foot into them, and she would have been able to claim them as her own once again. But as luck would have it, those events did not happen, the shoes made their way to Belize, and remained hidden for two years -- it was simply meant to be.

In the depths of the rain forest, during a time when money and food were in short supply for our family, these sandals made me feel like a posh American girl.  They reminded me of a different time in my life, when food and friends were plentiful.  There I was, a little jungle girl wearing socks and sparkly sandals everywhere I could.  When I saw those sandals on my feet, I felt hopeful for my future, they were a symbol of strength to get through the hard and trying times.  When hunger came, or my father's yelling, or my mother's crying, the sandals and their sparkles were my armor. When they were on my feet, I knew the dark clouds would pass.

Eventually after many months, the jungle began to lay claim on my precious sandals.  The straps on the side began to break, and even though my mother tried to glue them, I knew they were beyond repair.  I had worn them all over, to explore the rough jungle terrain, to climb trees, and to play in mud. One morning, I put them by my bed.  I couldn't wear them anymore, but I could still look at them, and seeing them sparkle in the sun kept me hopeful.  Just seeing them next to my pillow gave me a sense that somewhere, somehow in my future, I would have another pair of Smurfette sandals.  With a spark of promise in my heart, I tucked them under my pillow for safe keeping, and ran outside, with my bare feet, to romp and play with my big sister.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! So much emotion wrapped in your story.
    I get it...the potential of promise in those pink smurfette sandals. The dichotomy of living in the representstion of two worlds so vastly different. Each holding their place, with different realities rules celebrations, joy and pain.
    Teo worlds merging snd yet remsining didtinctly different by the mind, heart and celebration of what the green duffle bag yielded...when least expected.
    Rich metaphors...thank you for sharing