THE SHOES

Anne is six years older than me. Growing up, we were very poor, and my mother worked evenings at a factory in a small midwestern town. Not seeing my mother much, Anne took over much of the maternal support, and she was awarded the authority to give me and my younger sister permission to do things. Actually, going to Anne was much better than going to a parent as she could award permission, but never had an urge to punish us when we broke the rules. Therefore, we were a bit more willing to confess our activities to Anne and sometimes benefited from her sisterly advice. During those turbulent teenage years, Anne was always there for me, not only as a big sister, but as a mother and my best friend.
When I was seventeen and had no money, I thought my only chance of going to college was if I could win a scholarship. I had an important interview for such an award. Anne at that time was struggling, surviving on a part-time job as she put herself through the local community college after serving in the army.  I told her of my interview, that General Motors was sending me a bus ticket, and I would get to visit the city for my scholarship interview.  It would be the first time I ever saw a city. I was excited about the adventure and asked her advice on what to wear. I showed her my best outfit and how I planned to be careful how I sat so that the hole in the bottom of my shoe would not be seen, but I wasn’t sure what I would do if it rained. I showed her how I would stand with my arm slightly in front of me to hide the blemish from my factory-second pants from the farmers’ market.  My best blouse was a find at a yard sale, slightly faded but still pretty.

Anne suggested that we go shopping, and we took the bus to the JCPenney store. She took me to the shoe department, and we found a beautiful pair of leather shoes on sale. She told me to try them on, but I thought it was just for fun as neither of us had ever owned anything that expensive before. Sometimes we did go shopping together and tried on things just to see what they looked and felt like, but we never could afford to buy them. It was like playing dress-up. But this time was different. Anne handed me the boxed shoes and said, “Here, I’ll buy these for you.”

“But . . .” was all I could say.
“You deserve them,” she replied.  “This interview is important.  I want to see you get that scholarship.”

I was speechless as I knew this was a lot of money for her, and she would probably have to eat nothing but ramen noodles for at least a month.

I went to the interview and crossed my legs so that my beautiful new shoes shone with pride.  I won the scholarship and became an engineer. Although they were nice leather everyday shoes, I didn’t wear them much because they were so special. I hope Anne didn’t think I did not like them or something.  Now, after twenty years have passed, I still have that pair of shoes with me, and I just wear them on those little occasions when I need to feel special. It’s kind of like having magic ruby slippers when you’re homesick.

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