I was born with what the doctor called ‘flat feet.’
What are ‘flat feet’ you might ask? Well, they are feet that never formed a support arch. The soles of flat feet do not show the characteristic indentation in footprints that most people have. All parts of the sole of the ‘flat’ foot touches the ground at the same time.
The doctor told my mother that I would get sore feet as I grew older and that I would not be able to run like other children.
There was no prescription for my ‘flat feet’. It was simply a genetic aberration. The only advice was to get strong and supportive shoes to wear to school, but to not wear shoes at all whenever that was possible, because apparently a bare foot works harder and can develop what is called a ‘false arch’ if the muscles are worked hard.
If you look at my feet today, I have an arch. I didn’t have one as a child. Instead, I spent most of my childhood barefoot when I wasn’t at school.
The bad thing about a ‘false arch’ is that it doesn’t do what an arch you are born with does for your foot. That is, it doesn’t support the foot properly. So people with ‘flat feet’ and ‘false arches’ get sore and tired feet as often as those with just ‘flat feet’.
The doctor was wrong about one thing, though. Having ‘flat feet’ never stopped me running. Hell, having ‘flat feet’ never stopped me walking extremely long distances, either. I loved doing both.
I had strong legs. They would drag my ‘flat feet’ along with them anywhere they wanted to go.
I became an athlete with my ‘flat feet.’ I ran and won races at school regularly. I joined an amateur athletics club in my pre-teens and was as good as some girls who were my peers in the same club, who actually went on to become Olympic athletes in later life. I won many races in inter-club sports events on weekends. I gathered lots of ribbons. When I left athletics behind in my teens, it wasn’t my ‘flat feet’ that stopped me. It was ineffectively diagnosed and untreated asthma. At the end of each race, I had no breath left. That frightened me, so I stopped going, and my mother just accepted that I stopped. No questions asked.
That was just the days I lived in, as a child. People were not as intense about things as they are today. So long as there was no obvious emergency, my mother didn’t bother too much.
She did have to bother when I adventured on demolition lots in my bare feet. I had a preference for balancing on planks of stacked wood, only the planks had rusty nails still in them and those rusty nails would end up in my feet almost every time… After that, the pain would get bad within hours, so she had to take notice and get me to the doctor.
I never really learned to stay away from planks with rusty nails, and tetanus shots were a feature of my childhood. You didn’t get tetanus shots automatically in those days – no preventative medicine like today. You got tetanus shots after you had already begun to feel the effects of infection.
My mother did warn me not to go back to the demolition lots once. So I started balancing myself on our neighbor’s low brick fence. I pretended it was a tight rope. I imagined I was sure-footed, like a mountain goat. I thought I could do anything with my body that I wanted to. I stopped balancing on our neighbor’s brick fence when I slipped and fell with one leg down either side of it. Bricks bashing the sensitive area between my legs were a very powerful teacher, much better than rusty nails…
I was always walking and running, jumping and climbing as a kid. Nothing kept me down. I was up at the crack of dawn, listening to the bird song, and couldn’t wait to go outside to see what the world was up to.
When we lived with my Nanna in my earlier years, I would take long walks with my sister and cousins through the suburban city streets on weekends and holidays. Sometimes, we would walk all the way from inner city Brunswick into the center of Melbourne – a long way for little legs and feet, (and just as long for adults), but this is what we did, then. There were trams we could have caught, but trams cost money and we didn’t have much of that, so we walked. (It was the days before I owned a bicycle).
Sometimes, we would walk all the way to the city zoo, (the entry fee was much cheaper back then), spend all day walking around looking at the interesting animals, and then walk back home. (The city zoo was near the center of Melbourne, too).
Sometimes, we would walk to Merri creek down near the brickworks with their smoking chimney stacks (stopping a while to talk to the brick-makers and watch them making bricks), and try to see where the water went to (we never found out where it went to because it went too far even for us, and muddy creek banks were much harder to traverse than city kerbs).
Sometimes, we walked to the formal park that was blocks away from my Nanna’s house and played ‘chasey’ and ‘hide and seek’ for hours behind the huge clipped hedges that bordered the dense green lawns. (We had to be quiet whenever we saw the gardener because he didn’t like us playing behind his hedges).
All these areas were a long way from my Nanna’s house. We had wonderful exploratory adventures, but mostly along roads full of traffic that had very few trees and lots of pavement.
Even when we explored just the streets local to the one in which my Nanna lived, there was lots to see. In an environment so devoid of other greenery, the front yards of people’s homes were fascinating. We sometimes picked the flowers hanging through the fences, to take home to our Nanna. A lady caught us doing that, once, and asked us why we wanted her flowers. When we told her they were for our Nanna, she got some secateurs and cut off some very beautiful roses for us to take home.
On hot days, then, we were not as organized as kids today may be on such outings. We did not take snacks or water bottles. If we got thirsty, we would knock on someone’s door and ask for a glass of water. If we were lucky, the house-holder would give us a biscuit or a sandwich, too.
We lived in an era of relative innocence, when even city people were friendlier and had more integrity. While I know today that kids sometimes went missing or had bad things happen to them, then, we didn’t know that at the time. Nor did our family. Going on these little adventures were just part of ‘growing up’.
At the end of the day, we would arrive back home in time for dinner, exhausted, but my ‘flat feet’ did not feel pain much then. My legs would ache, though. My mother said I was suffering from ‘growing pains.’
On Saturdays, my mother would slip us a half-penny and my sister and I would walk all the way up to Sydney road from Nanna’s house, to go see the matinee movies at the cinema. After dinner on many nights in summer, the whole family would go for the long walk to Sydney road, blocks away from Nanna’s house, to walk past the closed shop windows and nod and talk to the neighbors as they promenaded with their families on the same street.
Even after we no longer lived at Nanna’s house, whenever we returned to stay there during holidays, my cousins would join us for walks in the streets. Sometimes, we’d go into blocks of flats and knock on all the doors and run away. It was such fun to make people come to their doors, only to find no one there, or to hear people say, “It’s just those bloody kids!”
I never lost my love for walking. After I married, we, too, would often walk into the town center after dinner, taking along dogs and children.
Many of the holidays we went on after I had a family of my own involved hiking in the country, exploring whatever paths, trails, caves, hills and mountains there were to see. We climbed paths in the Grampian mountains with our young family, once, and reached an outlook over distant valleys at a point where a stony spire called ‘The Needle’ sat. I was standing with my children taking in the view, (and too scared to go too close to the edge), when my husband spontaneously decided it would be the perfect thrill to jump out onto ‘The Needle’.
This was a spire hundreds of feet in height. It barely had a flat area at its top of six feet. He jumped across the eight feet gap to that flat top before I knew what was happening. I’m sure I heard an audible gasp from all the other hikers taking in the scenery, there.
I watched him get up from the crouch of his landing. It was hard for him to even turn. The space surrounding the spire was breezy. All I could think of was am I going to become a widow? (Actually, I voiced that, since my children had seen him jump there, too). I joked, deadpan, “That’s right, make me a widow in front of my children…”
The kids thought it was a joke. It wasn’t. My husband knew it, too, once he was out there. While he’d landed well, when he was actually on that dizzy tip he realized that he did not have the room for a run up to jump back that he had on the jump out. Eight feet of air over a possible many hundred feet fall is not so exciting when you may actually miss a landing. (I wish he had thought about that on his way out).
Luckily, his feet did make it back to the safe side of the gap. We returned down the mountain but I was a bit moody by then, so I didn’t take it well when he continued playing around in front of the children, walking right at the edge of the narrow track where the hill rolled away in a severely steep drop. I did not think it was a very good example for a father to give, and that was reinforced when he balanced on a log embedded in the edge and the log slipped out and fell down the drop, nearly taking him with it. Once again, his feet found sure ground, just in time.
My ‘flat feet’ didn’t really become a problem until I was in my mid-twenties. Then, I had to get special insoles for my shoes because it felt like I was walking on the bones of my feet all the time. The inflammation and swelling in my feet was almost unbearable. I really developed a sympathy for the poor little mermaid I read about in stories as a child, who swapped her tail for legs and feet, only to be cursed with every step feeling like she was walking on knives. I knew what that was like.
I’m not a person who ever lets such things keep me down for long. I don’t believe in molly-coddling myself, (although I will take ‘time out’ and a rest when I need it). That possibly came from my Nanna, who also had many health problems to deal with throughout her life. Nothing ever stopped her for long, either. People were always telling her to slow down and take a rest. Her reply was, “I’ll get plenty of rest when I die.”
So I took up acting and dancing on stage. I was good at the acting, not so good at dancing on stage. Stages can be slippery, sometimes, especially when you’re in high heels and climbing up and down steps. I slipped badly on stage, once, and had my ankle bound for months. It took nearly a year to fully recover from that very bad sprain. I stopped doing musicals and concentrated on comedies and dramas after that. (Sometimes, when you refuse to recognize your limitations, life has a way of making you face them).
I also loved to dance at parties with my husband. I could dance for hours and hours without ever having one alcoholic drink to ‘warm me up,’ because I just loved to dance. At the end of these activities, though, my feet really felt it. By the end of a night of dancing, I was hobbling on my way to bed. I was lucky to have a husband who enjoyed giving me foot massages. By golly, he is the most superb foot massager I have ever known. He can keep on massaging my feet through hours of movies on television. He sometimes falls asleep while he his massaging, he just goes on so long, and the funny thing is that he wakes up and keeps on massaging as if he never stopped. I call him my maintenance man. I’m lucky to have him.
If I ever feel that my feet are getting really bad, though, I think about what my son has to put up with. He became disabled in a traffic accident when he was only thirteen. The outcome was that he still has partial paralysis in his body, today.
Have you ever had your foot ‘go to sleep’ on you? Have you ever tried to walk on a foot that has ‘gone to sleep?’ My son does that every day. One of his legs is in a constant state of partial paralysis. He can’t walk at all without that ‘sleeping’ foot hitting the ground with a heavy thud. Instead of walking, he hobbles, swinging his leg along because he can’t feel it properly. He does that all day long. (I don’t know how he does it!)
Yet he has inherited my love of walking. He takes his little dog for hours of walks each day. Sometimes, he does complain that he has pain in his feet and legs from walking (when he feels pain, you know it’s bad), but it doesn’t stop him going out again. He just enjoys the movement, and he enjoys being alive.
There are many different kinds of pain to deal with in life. We can either let them seize us up and make us afraid to do anything again for fear of that pain, or we can move through the pain, deal with it, accept it as par for the course, and never let it keep us down.
My son and I choose the latter.
(Albeit, for me, with a little help from my hubby…)