Shiny Red Shoes

Shiny Red Shoes

From Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul

Shiny Red Shoes

Blessings ever wait on virtuous deeds, and though late, a sure reward succeeds.

William Congreve

Caring for my tiny granddaughter for days, weeks and then months at a time was one thing. But permanently? I was bone weary with rearing kids alone, and now I had my father as well.

I felt I had no choice, yet I worried, could I do this?

Two-year-old April quickly settled into our little single-mom household and began to thrive. Already she was her great-grandpa’s “little buddy.” He had recently moved from a cane to a wheelchair, which he and April called “Buggy.”

April dressed each morning at one end of the large house and skipped down the hall (April seldom walked) and into our game room, which I had bartered for use as a Montessori school. There, under the tutelage of a wellrespected headmistress, she received the one-on-one nurturing that I’d given my other children and reliable child care so I could keep my corporate job a few miles away.

As Daddy grew weaker, affluent family members promised to pay my salary if I would quit my job to care for him. So I gave up the career for which I had worked so hard, sold the country home and the horses, and moved nearer to family, to a pleasant suburban neighborhood with a good elementary school nearby.

Before long, the promised financial help suddenly stopped with brutal finality. Yet I felt certain that God had called me to care for both father and grandchild, and he would show me the way.

We cut out all unnecessary expenditures, and my one teen still at home went to work part-time. I began a series of odd jobs that would take me from home only a few short hours at a time . . . window washing, cleaning houses and sewing.

When April was five, her favorite treat was a shopping trip to anywhere. I had squirreled away sixty-five dollars to spend on Christmas, including our traditional turkey and trimmings and token gifts for a few close family. “Honey,” I told her, “we’ll do most of our shopping at the church bazaar, then on Christmas Eve when things are on sale, we’ll go to the mall, and buy anything you want that costs under twenty dollars.”

That day the sky was full of rain clouds, and the parking lot was crowded. I tucked my checkbook, a snack and rain cape into a small backpack and started across the huge parking lot, little beribboned doggy-ears bouncing beside me. We heard the Salvation Army bell clanging noisily long before we approached the store’s entrance. April tugged at my fingers, “Munner! I want to give some money to the needy children!”

A knot formed in the pit of my stomach.

If I had completed the paperwork lying on my desk at home, part of the money pitched into that little black pot would have been offered to us. I felt in my pocket. Lord, like the widow’s mite, please honor whatever we can offer.

With great ceremony, I dropped a nickel and two pennies into the little outstretched hand. The coins rattled in the pot, and April clapped her hands, her eyes sparkling. The soldier rang his bell, smiling, “Thank you! Merry Christmas!”

Inside, we made our way through the noisy crowd, and April suddenly stopped, tugging me to lean down, “Munner, I want some shiny red Mary Janes!”

Red patent shoes? On Christmas Eve? If there were a pair of red shoes anywhere in the city this time of year, they would be expensive.

We giggled a lot that day, searching. I pleaded for a trip down toy aisles; she adamantly pleaded, “I want Mary Janes . . . ,” then stooping to point, “with a shiny buckle right here!

Between shoe stores and the inevitable, “Sorry, no red shoes . . . ,” I guided her through every toy section in the mall, to no avail.

We said it together, “I’m hungry!” as we arrived at the fast food island, laughing and racing for an empty table. My backpack produced cheese, some crackers, her lunch Thermos filled with milk and two straws. She nibbled at the cheese and nibbled carrot curls off five slim fingers where she had carefully placed them like golden rings.

Meal completed and my energy waning, I wished she would choose something so we could go home. “Wouldn’t you like this lovely doll?” Thoughtfully, she considered, her eyes downcast. Then, “. . . A buckle right here!”

The Shoe Box was the last store in the mall with possibility. I had once thought little of paying forty-five dollars for a pair of Buster Brown shoes in this very same store. I hoped yet feared we’d find the red slippers here.

We did.

The shiny red Mary Janes fit perfectly and April marched up and down, up and down, before the mirrors. I dreaded asking the price. The clerk looked at the end of the box. “Just $34.98.”

I’ve been told my face always betrays my emotions. April’s eyes met mine as the disappointment rose, with tears not far behind. “But wait,” said the clerk quickly. “Let me check with my manager.”

“I want to wear them home!” April bent down and touched the buckle, satisfied.

Silently, I prayed.

After an agonizing wait, the clerk returned. “Since these are the last pair, how about half price?”

My tired feet and my heart were swollen with weary joy and gratitude to a benevolent God, and a compassionate clerk and manager. April skippity-hopped the red shoes all the way to the exit, where rain came down in torrents.

With britches rolled well above my tennis shoes, I drew up the straps on my little backpack as far as they would go, then strapped it on April’s back. Next, I snapped and tied the rain-cape and hood securely about her neck and hoisted her to my shoulders. We proceeded like a hunkering giant into the downpour, waving to the missionary still ringing, ringing his bell, wishing all a Merry Christmas. With my grandchild squealing above me, I held tightly to her small knees. With shiny red slippers bouncing against my grateful chest, I knew.

Yes, I could do this.

I would not be alone.

Bettye Martin-McRae

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