TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan – In 1944, the pinnacle of fashion for a 10-year-old girl growing up in Escanaba was in the pages of the Sears and Roebuck catalog.
Pretty much everything a home needed was also there and available by mail order.
Garden swing sets, cast iron stoves, lounge furniture and even live chickens.
Mary Smith, who turned 90 in March, recalled being interested in just one item – cheerleader boots, in white leather, with tassels.
“Everyone had it,” Smith said during a recent interview at a Michigan senior living facility, where she moved about a year after her husband, Jim, died in 2018.
From time to time, Smith said she would think of those boots.
“The boots were what every girl I knew got for Christmas, but my mom told me no,” Smith said. “That they didn’t fit my feet, that my feet were too narrow.”
Shoes were rationed during World War II and Smith remembers a practical pair of brown shoes with black laces that his parents chose instead.
Fixable, yes, but also boring because all stray as far from the inherent glamor of white mid-calf boots with fringed tassels as a shoe could get.
Smith said she’s wanted a pair ever since — a wish her eldest daughter, Kim Volk, granted in March, at Smith’s 90th birthday party.
“My mom was always pretty independent and fun and cool,” Volk said. “We have always been quite close. We don’t agree on everything, but I could well imagine him wanting those boots.
In the 1990s, Volk was traveling in North Carolina and visited a gift shop near Asheville. There, along with the table linens, the good china, and the trinkets, was a pair of white cheerleader boots.
Kim almost bought them then, didn’t, and later said she regretted it.
“When my mom turned 90, I was like, OK, we have the internet,” Volk said. “We have Google.”
Volk found the boots in January on an Indiana-based cheerleading supplies website for $70 with free shipping.
His mother’s 90th birthday party was scheduled for mid-March, which meant Volk had a secret to keep for nearly three months.
The excitement was too much.
“I told the garden club, my siblings, my nieces and nephews, I told everyone, but somehow we all got a surprise. for my mother,” she said.
Smith has four children: Two sons – Jim Smith who lives in Michigan with his wife, Denise Smith, and Steve Smith, who lives in Washington State with his wife, Fran Smith; and two daughters – Kathleen Doyle, from Washington State, and Volk who lives in Michigan with her husband, John Volk.
The family held a birthday party for Smith as planned, in March, where she opened her present and was taken completely by surprise.
“They were there and really, I could hardly believe it,” Smith said.
Restaurant manager Mario Ingrao recalled the event and said staff enjoyed Smith and his family so much they took pictures.
Smith and Volk agreed that the boots were something of a symbol of their relationship, which is close but with a large dose of independence.
Smith remembers only telling his daughter about the boots once or twice, but must have done so emotionally, because Volk remembered them.
And cared about her mother enough to give her something she always wanted.
“No matter what she does, it always turns out great,” Smith said of Volk. “She’s caring, not just with me but with everyone.”
Volk said she learned a lot from her mother.
Both women had long careers in the dental field and Volk said her mother’s management style – “people matter” – informed her own decision-making and influenced her later in life.
“My sister said to me not too long ago, ‘You’re like a mommy clone,'” Volk recalled. “And I said, ‘You know what? It is a compliment!'”
Smith has only worn the boots once so far.
On a subtle walk to reception and back. It wasn’t important to be seen wearing them, she said. Just know that she has her own pair.