Monday, October 26, 2009

Toes as an aide-mémoire

Because my father has always had toe fungus – affectionately referred to as Lehner Toe Crud by all his children, before we were acquainted the finer points of onychomycosis – and also because his mother grew her toenails to rather exceptional lengths (How long? In India, she would have been venerated as a sadhu.) and also because my son once dropped a pool table on his big toe (hallex) and smashed it beyond recognition, but then miraculously recovered, I am interested in toes. Also, I obsess about my toes.

I look at my toes and what do I see? Stubby toes. And why is that? Because once, 30 odd years ago, a woman told me I had short stubby toes – in contrast with her long elegant toes – and I have never gotten over it.
Memory is elastic. Just in the minutes of writing the above about toes, I have recalled all sorts of things about the woman who said that.
Her name was Dorothy. I was a grad student at Brown & she was an older student in a creative writing class taught by my friend BH. That had to be our second year at Brown, because I remember that BH and his first wife came to my wedding, which occurred between my first and second year. Anyway, Dorothy was in her late 30’s and had children in high school, which at the time seemed incredibly older and more experienced. I have some weird memory (possibly elastic) of her jealous husband doing something wicked with a burning cigarette, but that may be transposed from a non-personal memory of Buddy Cianci (former mayor of Providence, admitted rapist, later imprisoned, later re-elected) who caused his estranged wife’s boyfriend to be burned with cigarettes.(And that's in the record.)
But back to the memories I am certain of. BH and Dorothy fell madly in love. She left her husband. He left his wife. They married. As I recall, Dorothy was tall, blonde, statuesque and – need I add? – had long thin feet and toes.
The occasion of the unfortunate reference to my shorter toes occurred after our graduation from Brown, and before my daughter was born. It took place in the kitchen of the house we were staying in, which is now my x-husband’s summer house. Back then the house still belonged to his parents, though they no longer stayed there, and every cabinet and drawer still contained the random and ancient assortment of kitchen and tableware his mother had gathered or found or inherited.
It pains me how well I remember everything there: the anchor motif bowls with blue rims in the narrow cabinet to the left of the sink; the cans of S.S. Pierce soups originally from my mother-in-law’s late mother’s house; the enormous black speckled pot for executing and boiling lobsters; the yellowed plastic placemats featuring nautical maps of local harbors.
I don’t remember anything else about Dorothy, I am sorry to say. I don’t recall whether we saw them any other time between the time of the toe comment in the kitchen and the last time.

The last time we saw them they were visiting us in our first house in Hastings, by which time I had two children. At some point while watching a football game (and because it was football I feel confident I was not in the room) my ex-husband and BH got into an argument that either ended or began with BH castigating my ex for having tried to seduce his Dorothy. It was a serious fight, and that was the end of the friendship. Which saddened me, because BH and I had many good times in graduate school. And I probably didn’t realize how scarred I would still be, decades later, by the stubby toe remark.

Had my ex in fact put the moves on this older, other woman who scorned my toes? He certainly denied it at the time, and I wanted to believe him; I feel certain that I will never know for sure one way or the other.

I would like to be able to write that having dredged up this pathetic toe story I could at least call on the patron saint of toes to reconcile me to my toes, if not to actually elongate them. But there is no patron saint of toes. This seems remarkably remiss, given that there are patron saints for kidney stones, hemorrhoids, and hangovers (Alban of Mainz, Fiacre, and Bibiana), not to mention breasts, ear, teeth and many other body parts.

Not that this has anything to do with toes or friendships gone awry, but I do want to mention two saints whose feasts are celebrated today, in honor of Marilyn Johnson, who not only gave a brilliant and hilarious introduction at yesterday’s reading (at the HVWC) but also was kind enough to ask a question about hagiography which allowed me to go on at some length about cephalophores and the beautiful prose inside the covers of Butler’s Lives of the Saints, subjects upon which I love to expatiate but which I am rarely asked about. I wonder why.
So here they are, in brief:
The infant Blessed Damian of Finario was stolen from his rocking cradle by the local lunatic. His parents searched everywhere in vain and then were led to the hiding spot by a miraculous beam of light. Not surprisingly, the rest of Damien’s life was relatively uneventful.
Blessed Bonaventura did some strange things when he was alive (mostly having to do with immaculate conception) but the strangest thing he did occurred when he was dead. Long after he’d been in his casket, the local bishop ordered the corpse to give up his arm as a sign of his obedience after death. Bonaventura raised his right arm and the surgeon drew blood.

*So that you may draw your own conclusions, above is a photo of my toes this past summer at Cuttyhunk. Or possibly the previous summer when the sun was shining.


ladylulu said...

Although we may not have one other physical feature in common, we have comparable toes. I am quite pleased with my toes, especially in strappy Ferragamos or Delmans. I think long toes are creepy, not "elegant."

Rebecca Rice said...

Your wonderfully evocative memoir on toes has conjured up a strange memory of my own: one of my aunt's nicknames for my mother when they were girls was 'goggletoes' or sometimes just 'toes.' This nickname was used long into adulthood. Why, I have no idea, and both are dead so I cannot ask either of them to elucidate.

But it occurs to me that Dorothy was jealous of your toes, as she was of you...I say you have lovely toes and it's time to celebrate them!