The Shoes

The Shoes

From A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul

The Shoes

What do we live for if not to make life less difficult for each other?

George Eliot

During the 1930s, things were really rough in all the mining and manufacturing places everywhere. In my old hometown in western Pennsylvania, men by the thousands walked the streets looking for work. My older brothers were among these. Not that the family went hungry, mind you, but we didn’t eat much.

Since I was one of the younger boys in a large family, all my clothes were hand-me-downs. Long pants would be bobbed knee length, and the cutoff legs used to patch or reinforce the cut-down trousers. Shirts would be made over. But shoes—shoes were a different story. Shoes would be worn right down to the ground. They would be literally worn out, being cast aside only when the bare feet came through the leather.

I can remember that before getting the oxfords, I wore a pair of shoes with split sides and loose soles completely free at the front that made slapping sounds as I walked. I cut two bands off an old inner tube and slipped them over my toes to hold those shoe soles down.

I had a sister then. She and her husband had moved west and settled down in Colorado. When she could, she helped out by sending us their old clothes.

One day before Thanksgiving we received a box of such things from her. All of us gathered round it. Nestled in the corner were the shoes. I didn’t know what kind they were at the time. My mother didn’t either, come to think of it, nor did my dad, nor any of the boys. They all thought like I did, that those shoes were some my sister had grown tired of.

My mother looked down at my feet coming out through my old shoes, and then leaned over the box and brought out those gift shoes and held them out to me. I put my hands behind me, looked around the family circle, and began to cry softly to myself. It’s a wonder none of my brothers laughed at me or called me cry baby.

It’s still painful after 30 years to think about it. My mother took me aside and told me she was sorry, but there were no other shoes for me to wear and with winter coming on, I’d simply have to make use of them. My dad patted me but didn’t say anything. My favorite brother, Mike, roughed up my hair and told me everything would be all right.

Finally, when I was all alone, I put on my sister’s shoes. They were tan colored and had pointy toes and kind of high heels but they felt pretty good. I sat there staring through my tears at them, sobbing softly to myself.

Next day I got up and dressed for school, taking as much time as I could, and leaving to the very last those shoes. I felt my eyes filling up again but fought the tears back. I finally had to get to school, so I took the back way and didn’t run into anybody till I was in the school yard. There stood Timmy O’Toole, my only enemy, older and taller than me, and, like me, in Miss Miller’s class.

He took one look at my sister’s shoes, grabbed my arm, and began to yell, “Evan’s wearing girls’ shoes! Evan’s wearing girls’ shoes!” Oh, I could have pounded him soft but he was so much bigger and tougher than me! He wouldn’t let me go at first. He kept it up till he had a big ring of kids around us. I don’t know what I’d have done, but suddenly there was Ol’ Man Weber, the principal.

“Come in,” he said, “it’s time for the tardy bell.” I made a dash for the door and got into our room before Timmy could torment me any more.

I sat quietly with my eyes down and my feet pulled up under me, but even this didn’t stop him. He kept it up and kept it up. Every time he’d come by my desk, he’d do a little dance and call me Edna and make some silly crack about my sister’s shoes.

By midmorning we were talking about the winning of the West, and Miss Miller told us a lot about the pioneers out in Kansas and Colorado and Texas and other places. About this time Ol’ Man Weber came into our room and stood just inside the door, listening quietly.

I was like all the other boys before that morning. That is, I didn’t like Ol’ Man Weber much. He was supposed to be real mean. He had a bad temper. He favored girls.

He stood inside the door of our room. Now none of us knew, excepting maybe Miss Miller, that Ol’ Man Weber had once lived on an Oklahoma ranch. Miss Miller turned to him and asked if he would care to join the discussion, and much to our surprise he did. Only instead of telling the usual kind of thing, Ol’ Man Weber began talking about a cowboy’s life and about Indians, things like that. He even sang a couple of cowboy songs! He went on like that for 40 minutes.

It was nearing noon and about time for us to go home for lunch, when Ol’ Man Weber started up my aisle, still speaking. Suddenly he paused near my desk and went silent. I looked up into his face and realized that he was staring down under my desk, gazing at my sister’s shoes. I could feel my face getting red as I began to move my feet up under me. But before I could ease them up he whispered, “Cowboy oxfords!”

I said, “Sir?”

And again he said, “Cowboy oxfords!” And then in a pleased voice, as the other children strained to see what he was staring at and hear what he was saying, he exclaimed, “Why, Evan, where on earth did you get those cowboy oxfords?”

Well, soon everybody in the room was gathered as near to him and me as they could get, even Miss Miller. And everybody was saying, “Evan’s got a genuine pair of cowboy oxfords!” It was easily the happiest day of my life.

Since there wasn’t much time left anyway, Mr. Weber told Miss Miller it would be all right, provided Evan was agreeable, to let the boys and girls get a real good look at those cowboy oxfords. Well, everybody including Timmy O’Toole filed past my desk and peered at my beautiful shoes. I felt like a giant but knew from my mother that I should avoid pride, so I sat there trying not to be too bigheaded. Finally, it was lunch time.

I could hardly get outside, for everybody wanted to walk next to me. Then everybody wanted to try ’em on, my cowboy oxfords, I mean. I said I’d have to think it over. After all!

That afternoon I asked Mr. Weber what he thought about letting everybody try on my cowboy oxfords, and he thought and thought about it. Finally he said it would be all right to let the boys try them on but certainly not the girls. After all, girls aren’t ever to wear cowboy oxfords. It was funny that Mr. Weber thought about it the same way I did.

So I let all the boys in my room try them on, even Timmy O’Toole, though I made him go last. And he was the only one besides me that they fit. He wanted me to write my sister and see if she could find a pair for him. I didn’t ask her, though. I had the only pair of cowboy oxfords in town, and I really liked it that way.

Paul E. Mawhinney

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners