The Missing Shoes

By Iris Syndergaard

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    “Don’t scuff your new school shoes, Richy,” said Mother as the family left the meetinghouse. “Remember, they must last until spring.”

    Richy liked to walk home from Sunday School alone. He enjoyed strolling across the green meadow and by the majestic cottonwood trees that grew beside the river. The wide cottonwood leaves reminded him of flakes of gold in the autumn sunlight.

    Richy walked along the bank beside the whispering water, thinking how refreshing it would feel to his burning feet jammed inside the stiff leather shoes.

    However, Father had often told Richy not to go wading on the Sabbath. “It isn’t a day for pleasure. The Lord gave us this day to rest and to count our blessings,” he would say.

    Cold water on my hot feet would certainly be a blessing, Richy reasoned. But even as he sat down to remove his shoes and stockings, the boy was sure that his father would not approve of him cooling his feet in the water on the Sabbath.

    Still, he rolled up his trousers and put his socks inside the new shoes before placing them carefully beneath some willows in a thicket. Then he ran down to the riverbank and splashed into the water.

    Richy enjoyed the grainy feel of wet sand squishing between his toes and the push of chilly water against his ankles. But finally the lowering sun warned him that he had waded too long and would surely be late for dinner.

    Out of the river, Richy ran back to the meadow. The summery feel of green grass under his feet was a delight, but he knew that he had to put on his new shoes again and hurry home.

    “But where are my shoes?” Richy asked himself in panic. The willows all looked alike. He searched everywhere, but his shoes were nowhere to be found. Finally, he gave up and slowly started home, feeling more worried with every step. He decided that early the next morning he would carefully search for his new shoes in all the willows along the riverbank.

    When I get home, Richy thought, I’ll walk quietly through the kitchen and into my bedroom. If I put on my old shoes, Father might not notice.

    But later when the screen door slipped out of his hand and banged shut, the sound brought Richy’s parents into the kitchen.

    “Where have you been?” his mother asked. “We’ve been so worried about you.”

    His father started to talk but stopped when he looked down at Richy’s bare feet. “Young man, where are your shoes?” he demanded.

    Richy’s heart was pounding, but he just couldn’t tell his parents that he had carelessly lost the shoes, bought with money saved a few coins at a time in Mother’s cedar handkerchief box. Without stopping to think, he blurted out, “Some boy stole them.”

    Father looked upset. “You mean to tell me that a boy knocked you down and took your shoes?”

    “Oh, no,” Richy said quickly. “My feet were so hot that I took my shoes off while I rested under a tree. I guess I feel asleep. When I woke up the shoes were gone.”

    His father asked, “Do you have any idea who took them?”

    Richy felt a painful tightness in his chest. Never before had he told his parents a lie. But if I say I waded in the river and that I couldn’t find my shoes, he thought, Father will be furious with me for breaking the Sabbath, and Mother will be upset because I was careless.

    So Richy’s answer was, “No, I don’t know who it could be.”

    Mother was puzzled. “But who in this town would steal your new shoes?” she asked.

    “We must find out. We can’t afford another pair. Besides, whoever took them should be punished,” Father declared.

    “Well,” Mother said, “you must eat your dinner now. Afterward we’ll talk about what to do.”

    Richy was too upset to eat. “I’m not hungry,” he said. “I’ll just go in and put on my old shoes.”

    Because Richy had disobeyed his father, lost his shoes, and then lied about it, he experienced a feeling far more painful than the pinching new shoes had ever caused.

    Later, sitting quietly with his family before sacrament meeting began, Richy saw a new family from Denmark, looking lonely and shy, enter the meetinghouse. Richy thought, It must be very hard to come to a strange country. I’m sure life here is much different than it is in their homeland when they don’t know our language very well.

    His thoughts were interrupted when he heard his mother whisper to his father, “Look!”

    Richy looked too. A tall boy came down the aisle with his parents. He wore a brown shirt, trousers too short for his long legs, and Richy’s new shoes!

    Richy felt as though he were being held tightly by the throat because he couldn’t swallow. All through the meeting he kept his eyes lowered, too miserable to listen to the speakers.

    After the closing prayer, when everyone stood up to leave, Richy’s father said sternly, “Son, come with me.”

    Together they went to Bishop Feldon. “Bishop, I’m afraid a problem has come up,” Father said gravely. “We must ask you to speak to Brother Pedersen before he goes home. Richy’s shoes were stolen this morning and the Pedersen boy is wearing them.”

    Richy’s legs felt like quivering twigs as he followed his father and the bishop outside. They waited beside the steps where he looked up at the sky. He thought it should be a shimmering, cheerful blue, but it only looked empty. Crimson leaves on the trees were just leaves. Richy discovered that nothing in the world outside looked right when he felt so wrong inside.

    Richy glanced quickly at Lars and his family, who were stopped by Bishop Feldon. The tall boy smiled timidly as though he were saying, “I am very lonely in this strange country. Will you be my friend?”

    Richy tried to smile back, but he couldn’t. Instead, tears came to his eyes.

    “Richy,” his father said, “I want you to tell the bishop and Brother Pedersen and Lars about your shoes being stolen.”

    Richy took a deep breath. He had never felt so awful in his life. Finally he swallowed what seemed like a big lump in his throat and then in a steady voice he said, “My shoes weren’t stolen, Father. Lars just found them.”

    Surprised and confused, Father asked, “What do you mean, son? How could he just find them?”

    In a trembling voice Richy explained, “My feet hurt so I took off the shoes to wade in the river. I hid them in some willows. But I couldn’t remember where and Lars must have come along and found them.”

    Father sighed deeply. “Richy, you broke the Sabbath and that is a sorrow to me, but the lie you told has made other people worried and unhappy too.”

    Richy lowered his head. “I’m sorry, Father. I didn’t know a lie could make me feel so miserable and cause other people so much trouble.”

    His father nodded. “I guess you didn’t, however a lie always causes trouble.” Then he turned to Brother Pedersen and said, “I’m very sorry that this whole thing happened.” But the pain inside Richy grew worse as he saw the disappointment on Lars’ face when he realized that the sturdy shoes he was wearing so proudly must be given back to Richy.

    The older men continued to talk, but Lars walked over and sat down on the grass. He gestured for Richy to sit beside him. Sadly he unlaced the shoes, took them off, and held them out to Richy. Then Lars pointed to his right foot. His big toe stuck through a hole in his stocking.

    Lars began to laugh. The sound was so bright and happy that Richy laughed, too, and the hurt inside him melted a little.

    Father will punish me, he thought, and he should. To tell a lie is very bad and I will try never to do it again.

    Gradually the hurt inside Richy was lessened when he remembered that even though he had done wrong, he could be forgiven.

    Again Lars laughed, wiggling his big toe, and Richy laughed with him because the sky was blue again, the leaves were golden red in the sunlight, and he had a new friend.

    Illustrated by Don Seegmiller