Red Running Shoes

A coolness rose from the morning dew as August ran out of days.  School at Poplar Valley, Alberta, would begin in one week.

“Mom, when are we going to town?” Patience challenged every part of my seven year old life.  At times I even frustrated my siblings, but everything interesting took endless time to happen.  I agonizingly waited for everything and everyone.  “Can we go today?”

When I heard an exasperated sister or brother say, “Mom, tell Amy to quit asking questions,”  I knew it was time to practice the illusion of being patient.  In this case, it lasted until I suddenly realized that our gigantic parcel could be picked up by the wrong family.

The Queen Mother as Queen Elizabeth

The Eaton’s catalog order for school clothing required decision-making as sophisticated as determining what the Queen of England wore for her photos in Life Magazine.  As beautiful as the gowns were that she wore, my preference towards perfection was a pair of red running shoes.   The red canvas design atop brilliant white soles with spotless white laces obliterated all other selections on the childrens’ shoes page.

The fear of someone else picking up our parcel pushed me to my limit.  “Mom, what if the stuff we ordered doesn’t fit?  We need time to fix them.  Let’s go today.”

“We ordered large so you can grow into the clothes,” Mom said.  Size had no bearing on the glory of having an article of clothing that no other person had worn.  New clothing offered a position of superiority.  We didn’t talk about it, but anyone wearing new clothes automatically felt “better than”.

As Mom and I drove the dirt road to the highway, a wider dirt road, I asked her, “Will there be anyone else in my grade this year?”  I was hoping to share grade three with at least one other person.  She said, “I don’t think so.  There’s a boy from the Brockenham* family your age, but he’ll be in grade one.”

“What’s his name?” I asked.  I had noticed the Brockenham kids in my countryside wanderings.  They never wore anything new.  They usually looked dirty and sad.  Because they clung to each other, it was hard to talk to any of them.  Having overheard my mom and dad one evening, I learned that they were poor.  The father habitually drank alcohol, worked little and frightened everyone in his family.  In an uncouth attempt to ask one of the Brockenham girls about it at a gathering, she promptly told me to mind my own business.

At one of the gatherings, I remembered someone shouting at an ‘Andy’ and seeing a lively and wiry boy race circles around the family, a streak of humanity kicking up dust.  On his way by, he paused and greeted me with a full faced grin before disappearing into the folds of his beckoning family.

As she drove, Mom answered, “His real name is Andrew*, but he likes people to call him Andy.”

Mom and I returned home with the precious parcel from Eaton’s.  As soon as the stuffed box was placed on the kitchen floor, its contents were doled out.  Even my brother and sister showed non-grown-up  signs of delight.  I marveled over each article of over-sized merchandise.

My Very Own Brand New Red Runners

The cream of the crop were sitting at the bottom of the box – my pair of red running shoes.  The smell of new canvass, the softness of the rubber soles, the abundant white laces and the flawlessly shined eyelets offered so much more than their picture in the catalog.

Putting all else aside, I kicked off my old shoes with the backs so worn that they were slip-ons.  I wove in the laces and pulled on each runner as though they were made of eggshell.  I looked down at the gemstones that punctuated my life and wanted school to begin the next day.  I would wear these forever.

“You have to save those for school.  Wear your old shoes for now,” Mom said.

“I’m just going to try them out.  I’m going outside, but I won’t get them dirty.”  Mom gave me one of her looks that meant I could only get away with a little bit of being outside.

Throughout the week, when family members were absorbed in their own activities, I would slip on my red runners and head outside.   Certain that I would be able to outperform anyone at the track meet in the spring, I ran, jumped, slid, and skipped my way through the rest of the week.

The first day of school meant I could finally fully dress in new clothing.  In our home, the tiny Teacherage that housed teachers and their families, I ate breakfast and watched a steady stream of kids enter the school yard.  Suddenly, I saw Andy.  Instead of clothes that were too big for him, like the rest of us usually wore, his slim body appeared to be squeezed into tight pants and an odd-looking shirt.

I ran outside fully prepared to show off my new red shoes.  Instantly, Andy raced up beside me bearing his silly grin.  I realized he was wearing a girl’s blouse with buttons ready to burst open.  “Hi Andy,” I said.  “See my new shoes?”

Andy looked down and actually stood still.  “Wow, ” he said quietly.  I looked to see what shoes he wore.  None.  He was barefoot and his feet were filthy.  Mom rang the school bell and we trundled into the schoolhouse.

My desk sat behind Andy, but in the next row.  Fortunately, as the lone person in grade three, I didn’t have to pay much attention to the morning’s lessons.  My attention would not stay away from Andy.  Deep inside, a strange new feeling replaced my excitement over my new clothes.  The feeling had everything to do with Andy’s bare feet and tight clothing.   I needed to talk to Mom.

Recess worsened my sadness when I saw that none of the other boys would even talk to Andy.   At lunch time, before I ran down to the teacherage to eat, I saw the Brockenham kids in a huddle sharing a few molasses sandwiches.

When I arrived at the teacherage, I quickly told mom about their lunches.  She told me she had noticed, too, and had a plan.  The huge, round, black furnace that sat at the back of the one-room schoolhouse was kept lit and well-stoked throughout our colder temperatures.  Mom had a massive black, cast-iron pot that she would fill with water and put on the top of that furnace.   About 11:00 a.m., she would have one of the boys get up on a desk and pour in packages of dried chicken noodle soup.  It would be ready by lunchtime.  We would all eat soup with our sandwiches.

“Maybe we could trade and share sandwiches so that the Brockenhams can have something besides molasses.  We could pretend we like molasses sandwiches,”  I suggested.

“We could do that,” Mom said.

I gobbled my lunch and ran outside to play during the remaining minutes of lunch hour.  Again, Andy raced up to me and asked me what I was going to do.  I could see that he was longing to be with someone other than his brothers and sisters.  Having twelve brothers and sisters would make anyone to want to have other friends, I thought as he grinned at me.

“Come with me, Andy,” I said and motioned him to follow me to the teacherage.  I decided Andy could have my old shoes.

I pointed to a bench outside the house, “Wait here.”  I went inside to fetch the old, brown shoes with the heels worn down.  There was nothing wrong with them, except I had outgrown them.  If they fit Andy, we could pull those heels back up.

Carrying them outside, I thought I may as well give him a pair of socks to go with them.  Worried about the time, I decided I’d just give him the socks I had on.  I plopped down on the bench beside Andy and said, “I’m going to give you a pair of shoes, Andy.  But you need to have socks to wear with them.”  I untied the red shoes and slipped them off so I could give him my socks.

Andy picked up the red sneakers and stared at me.  His eyes filled with tears.  “Yer givin’ me these?”

My heart fell the equivalent of the height of the schoolhouse.

I handed him my socks and with all the strength it takes to tell the biggest lie in the world, I said, “Yes.”

I hardly remember putting on the old brown shoes and walking up the hill to the school house.  I heard the school bell ringing and when I walked past my mother, she asked quietly, “Where are your new shoes?”

Before I could say a word, Andy raced up to the steps of the school, ran three circles backwards and did jumping jacks waiting for me to get out of the way.

“See you after school,” my mom, the Teacher, said.  She had that mother look…the one that said she was proud.

(* These are not the true names)

43 thoughts on “Red Running Shoes

  1. That was beautiful Amy. You were wise, even at the age of 7. I’ve know many children like ‘Andy’ in my life — I hope your gift made a true difference in his life.

    • As an old soul, I’ve always been intrigued by life and the people in it. Sometimes that means wisdom, I hope. Only trouble, Kath, it means that I’ve been so curious that at times I nearly imploded having to wait for an answer. Internet has been a total God-send for me!!

  2. That was sheer delight, Amy. How could you have
    done anything else? Now seeing red shoes you
    are blessed with a warm feeling instead of the
    coldness of regret and reproach.

    Wonderfully vivid atmosphere.

    One of my main scool memories (besides peeing a rust velveteen dress at my desk because I was too shy to ask to leave) was of a kid
    having a sandwich of those gross waxy chocolate
    sprinkles for cup cakes. We were pretty young but in a way I hope he made his own lunch.
    It was always a good feelng befriending an outcast kid.
    Those shoes are still around and still cool. I think you should order a pair from Eatons or Ebay.
    It was in an Eatons where my parents met. They were both working there.
    I sure like what I hear of your mother.

    • Hey here’s another of my Soul Journer sisters. Great to receive your comment, Della. I can see you being that shy about asking to leave your desk. I probably would have been the kid noticing your discomfort and getting frantic for you! “Teacher! Della has to pee!” I hated being so tuned in; felt like a curse. Maybe it still is~!

      Sprinkles?? Gads, at least molasses had some redeeming goodness…
      Maybe your mom or dad helped pack some of our catalog orders!! They were in Ontario weren’t they?
      Yah, mom was really something – except when I was in my teens. You know…that’s when parents are creepy and over the moon. 🙂

  3. So sweet!

    I often try to do the “right thing,” but at age 7 I would have found it near impossible to part with my “new red shoes.”

    What’s that song about Angels wearing Red Shoes? Obviously you’re the inspiration.

    Aah, here ya go:
    (Angels Wanna Wear) My Red Shoes

    • I think my ‘goodness’ was total shock, Nancy. I remember watching him at recess…talk about seeing a little colt bucking and sidewinding.

      I heard this Elvis Costello video was taped for Cin. 🙂 He caught sight of her when she was visiting Germany.

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  5. Unbeleivable Amy, the reminder of a true story which happened to me. I had, when we lived in southwest Calgary, a pair of boots that laced up to just below my shines. I enjoyed these boots during winter, great for stomping ice puddles and breaking the ice. Grandma had told me that she had a child in her school with out much in life, including shoes. This too touched me to the point that I gave them to grandma to give to this boy, I didn’t however tell her about the five dollars I took from my father (one of my good intention thiefts) and put it in the boots. I don’t recall anything more then that. May have been a member of this same family???

    • Good to hear from you, Larry! What a beautiful story. I never heard about that, but mom may have kept it private. Your situation would have been a different family. This story happened in about 1953 – long before you were old enough to wear boots. I bet that kid who got your boots thought he’d stepped into paradise.

  6. Heartfelt story Amy… I remember those days of waiting for the catalogue shopping package to arrrive… and the excitement of “new”…
    Did you ever see Andy in your adult life…
    Love your generosity back then and of course that is how I know you today! xo : )

    • The last time that I went back to that area (1995) to a huge school reunion, I did not even hear the family name. When we moved to town, as I went into grade four, I don’t remember Andy or his siblings coming to school in town. They must have moved out of the area. Thanks for commenting, Karen – I take generosity lessons from you. I have examples galore.

  7. This is so touching my friend. We must be soul-sisters. In 1986 I went to El Salvador to help nurse after they had a major earthquake. I had a pair of Nike’s with a lot of red trim. There was a girl who couldn’t keep her eyes off of them. Most of the kids were barefoot and most of the nursing I did involved debriding foot wounds and giving tetanus shots. Needless to say, I came back home without the red Nike’s/ :0)

    • Good for you, Victoria…I’m convinced it is those simple acts that cause our souls to grow boundlessly. And bravo for the help in El Salvador. I’ve wondered how helping souls can tolerate the sense of endless need. Likely, everyone just does what’s in front of them…you know the story about the star fish.

      Interesting about the foot wounds. In our earthquake preparedness at the Senior’s residence, we learned that the most wounds were to feet in a earthquake. It makes sense. So many people are not wearing sturdy shoes in their homes and especially at night. We had to nag the seniors to keep a decently sturdy pair of slippers by their beds.

  8. You were being Red Riding hood in those Red Running shoes, weren’t you..?? Even if you didn’t say so, I would know that this is a true story Amy! “The smell of new canvass..” we used to be exactly like that all summer long, waiting to wear our new stitched uniforms and our everything-new attire.. I remember the silliness that filled the lives of my sister and I growing up.. !
    Thanks, lovely story of a 7 year old!

    • Rachana, I don’t know if you saw in an earlier comment…the Universe has a sense of humour. I was tricked into that act of generosity! That was a bitter sweet pill for a 7 year old – old soul and all!

      I love all the interesting bloggers you expose me/us to – thanks for that. And even more, I love your spirit, your feisty spirit! I hope one of your kids write something about you one day and that I have the opportunity to read it!

      • These are not the true names.. 😉 Ha ha,
        Thanks Amy, I am glad you are getting around these awesome folks who have so much to offer.. I have a lot to credit to you too.. I have met most of the amazing Jingle talent through you and Jamie and of course Jingle too!

        • Man o’ woman! I thought I met you through them…isn’t this an interesting web we weave. It just doesn’t matter, does it. I have this innate belief that those who we are supposed to meet, we meet. I have such a strong, almost uncanny connection with you, Rachana. Amazing how that can come across even in writing bits and pieces to one another.

  9. Hi Amy .. all these stories .. & uplifting ones .. I’m sure I wasn’t like that as a kid – in fact I know – you’re making me want to rewind my life & give a bit of ‘givingness’ as a kid ..

    wonderful story .. red shoes will now always be different .. thank you – Hilary

    • I was alone so much in my first few years, Hilary. I used to go to mom and say, “Mom, what can I do?” Her answer was always the same, “Anything you like.” It would drive me bananas, but it was true. I did what I wanted – the freedom I had was phenomenal. So I spent a lot of time with animals and older people – they had the precious gift of time to give. So I observed a great deal, started reading at four, and created a world that I still believe can exist. It does exist. It’s under the rubbish called “should”, “must” and “have to”. 🙂

    • Thanks, Drama Mama, the fact that it brought tears to your eyes speaks volumes about your character! Sweet child? I was frequently told to stop asking questions. I think my curiosity left me open to experience a diverse set of feelings and experiences. I’ve always loved human nature. No wonder I love to write.

    • There were lots of those types of stories in the Prairies. Without having to utter a word, we simply helped one another. Like someone said in a movie I recently watched (poverty in the deep South), “The way we live around here, if ya have to ask for it, it probably means ya don’t need it. So if you figger someone needs sumthin – give it to them. They can’t ask.” I loved that line of reasoning. On the Canadian Prairies, life was often like that.

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