Dad bought back his shoes as I napped in the next room
By Anthony Buccino
I interrupted my sister as she tried to do homework. "Need to buy some shoes? You got to have shoes to go to school. It could be a long winter without a good pair of shoes. . ." She just chuckled from behind her thick school books.
On a scale of former Philippine dictators' wives, my family usually had just enough shoes to get by. In August, Mom took me to the shoe store where I got a pair of dress shoes and a pair of sneakers. If we were lucky, they lasted through the school year. By Christmas I always needed new socks.
My dad had a few pairs of shoes. They were a brown pair of dress shoes and a black pair of dress shoes. They went with his black suit or his brown suit. He might have bought them when Ike was president. After all, as a working stiff, there were few occasions during the year when he'd need dress shoes – usually a wedding or a funeral, or a pigeon flyers' banquet. He also had a good pair of work boots, and his old beat-up work shoes he could wear in a pinch.
Mom had her everyday shoes. Then she had her dress shoes. Of these, she had more than Dad mostly because her shoes usually had to match a dress and she wasn't the kind to wear either a brown dress or a black dress. She also kept a pair of black Cinderella slippers for when she washed the kitchen floor on Friday. She must have had those old floor-washing Cinderella shoes for 30 years that I can remember, and they were old for as long ago as I could remember.
One night while my sister baby-sat for me, I trotted between my parents' bedroom and our living room. With each trip I carried as many shoes as I could find from under their bed. Back and forth, I lugged the shoes and ran back, while my sister silently did her school work and kept me out of trouble.
When I was certain there were no shoes left under their bed, I brought out my own shoes, then my sister's. I lined them up along the floor in front of our couch. The clean shoes I put across the cushions. I buffed the rest and put them on display around the coffee table.
By the way, that was the same coffee table that we had for years, but it wasn't until after my sister was married and had kids of her own that I learned that the coffee table had once been glass covered. My older sister hit it with something and smashed the glass. And all those years I never even knew that the coffee table once had a glass top.
I interrupted my sister as she tried to do her homework. "Need to buy some shoes? You got to have shoes to go to school. It could be a long winter without a good pair of shoes. . ."
She just chuckled from behind her thick school books. No sale. I couldn't even get her to buy her own shoes. But I played shoe salesman and she humored me by letting me make as big a mess as I wanted. Before it was all over, I had every shoe in the house gathered neatly – and sort of – polished in our living room.
I slipped my small feet into my dad's big boots and clomped around the room dragging the huge heavy boots with all my strength. I put on his heavy winter coat and it covered me completely and dragged along on the floor behind me.
As the sandman approached, my sister offered to help me return the shoes to their rightful places under the beds. She took her penny loafers and white gym sneakers and put them away.
Reluctantly, I took my PF Flyers and polished Buster Browns and put them in their place. But I asked her to leave out our folks' shoes. She carried Mom's shoes to the bedroom, but left Dad's shoes in deference to my wish. Then, finally, I went off to sleep, and my sister on to finish her homework.
" 'Dennis the Menace' was no problem. He just played shoe store all night. He asked to leave Dad's shoes out so Dad could see how polished they were."
"He polished shoes in the living room? You let him polish shoes in the living room?"
"No, Ma, he just pretended to polish. But he used a rag on Dad's shoes. So 'Dennis' wanted Daddy to see them.
When I was old enough to wear my own big yellow high-top work boots, they had become fashionable for whether or not you actually needed them for whatever work you did. My generation actually wore the Li'l Abner shoes to school along with work pants we bought at W. T. Grants. It was the look. I suppose that we would look like we were about to go to work or having just come back from work, we would rest. A lot.
The next morning Dad came through the living room, "I have to buy back my shoes, I guess," he chuckled to Mom. He sat and pulled the work shoes over his work socks and zipped up his heavy coat and went to work – all while I slept.
In the ensuing 30-plus years, the shoes I've filled were mostly my own filled with the talents of the trade. Fortunately, this trade allows looking at things in the past that we may have missed the first time through. And time allows the observation that it was never how many shoes anyone ever had – whether a pompous dictator's wife or common carpenter – but what he used to fill them. I know my dad filled his shoes just fine every day he walked the earth.
First published August 14, 1997, by Worrall Community Newspapers.
Adapted from Rambling Round - Inside and Outside at the Same Time
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Buccino's Work Has Appeared
New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards. The Pushcart Prize-nominated writer has been called ' “New Jersey’s ‘Garrison Keillor” or something to that effect.’
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