I must have been about twelve when "all the girls at school" were wearing either black or white corduroy Keds on their feet. (I think they went along with the stretchy-black-stirrup-pants fad.) I really wanted a black pair. I convinced my mom that I needed them, and she gave me the money and let me go, by myself, to get them.
When I got to Hudson's Shoe Store, I stopped and looked in the display window. There were the corduroy Keds, all lined up, in a rainbow of colors - black, white, blue, red, purple, yellow, green, pink. I went inside, and the store clerk approached right away. "How can I help you, missy?" he asked. I was standing near the display window, so I gestured at the Keds display and said, "I would like to buy a pair of those, please."
I expected the clerk to respond with, "Which color?" But he didn't. He had me sit down so he could measure my feet. Then he hopped up, dashed into the back room, and came out with a Keds box. He sat down in front of me on the stool, opened the box and pulled out a pair of bright PURPLE corduroy shoes. "Oh, no!" I thought, "I was pointing at the Keds, but he thought I was pointing at the purple Keds !"
Now, here's where you'll be asking yourself, "Why didn't she just stop him and say, 'I want black ones.'?" But if you are asking that, you obviously didn’t know me back then. I was probably the world's worst pushover. My line of thinking, at that moment, went like this, "I must not have been clear when I told him what I wanted. It would be rude of me, now, to tell him that he brought out the wrong shoes. And, that would mean he'd have to go back and search the shelves in the back room again. No . . . I'm just stuck with them." (Pitiful, I know!)
So I just sat there as the clerk pulled the tissue paper out of both shoes, laced them up, put them on my feet, tied them, and then, with a swift pat to the side of one of my feet said, "There you go, little miss. How do they feel?"
Now, without the swift pat and the "There you go, little miss," I might have found the courage to tell him, at this point, that I wanted black. Instead, I just answered "fine" in a wee small voice.
With that, the clerk picked up my old shoes, put them in a bag along with the Keds box, and went to the cash register to take my money, which I dutifully handed over. Then I walked back home, holding back a wall of tears all the way. I hated those purple shoes!
When I got home, I couldn't hold the flood back any longer. I told my mom the story, punctuated with sobs. She looked down at my purple feet, and said, "Well, you bought them. You'll have to wear them."
I'd love to tell you that that experience, and those wise words from my mom, gave me the impetus to stand up for myself from that day forward (which I know is what my mom was hoping). But the truth is that it took me many, many more years (and in-the-field instruction from a friend named Gloria) to learn that lesson. If I learned anything from the purple shoe episode, it was, sadly, only to be much more precise when pointing out something I wanted to buy.