The Shoes on the Gate


(Adapted from an incident in George Little’s diary)

I remember that it was chilly that Saturday evening. I walked down the dirt path to the well to get another bucket of water for my bath. My bare feet were cold. I dropped the bucket down the well and listened for it to splash. All the while I was stamping my feet to try to get them warm. When the bucket was full, I hurried back to our sod house.

As I walked up the path, some of the water slopped out of the bucket onto my feet and made my teeth chatter. I wished then that I could have my own shoes, especially for Sundays, before winter came.

Most of the time I liked running around without shoes, and I didn’t mind too much going to school without them. But I sure didn’t want to go to church again until I had a pair of shoes, even old ones. I wanted to be all dressed up, at least the best I could.

When I came in with the bucket of water, Ma was fixing supper. It seemed like we always had the same thing for supper. We called it lumpydick. Ma made it by mixing flour and milk and an egg together. It doesn’t sound too good, but it tasted all right if you were hungry, and I was hungry that night.

Sometimes I wished we could have different things to eat, but Ma was a widow and we were pretty poor, so we couldn’t be too choosy. I guess nobody in Salt Lake Valley had very much. Things were pretty rough.

“Are we going to church tomorrow?” I asked as I poured the water into the wooden tub we used for baths.

Ma looked around at me and said, “George Little! Why of course we’re going! We always go.”

“But, Ma, I don’t have any shoes. I can’t go.”

Ma pressed her lips together like she does when she’s not quite sure what to say. Finally she said, “What makes you think of that now? You haven’t had shoes before, and you’ve never said anything.”

“It wasn’t so bad in the summer because lots of kids didn’t have shoes. But last Sunday when President Young was talking, I looked around and couldn’t see any bare feet except mine.”

“It’s not a crime to go barefoot. We don’t go to church to look at people’s feet. When the Lord wants you to have shoes, you’ll have them. Ever since your pa died, He’s taken care of us.”

“But, Ma—”

“George, we need more water for our baths.”

I knew I couldn’t argue with Ma. She didn’t seem to understand that a boy needed shoes when he went to church. But I knew, too, that even if she’d had money—which nobody did—there were hardly any shoes to buy in Salt Lake City.

When I’d filled up the old tub, I sat down and rested while Ma dished out the lumpydick. I was so hungry that it even smelled good. It seemed like I was hungry all the time anymore.

We knelt and had our family prayer. It was times like that that I wished Pa was around. Even though I couldn’t remember him, I thought it would be right nice to have my own Pa like the other kids. I was just a baby when he died. His wagon broke through the ice on the Mississippi when the Saints were leaving Nauvoo, and he fell into the river. Ma said he was all blue when the men pulled him out, and he got real sick and died a few weeks later.

“Why do we pray so much?” I asked Ma as we started eating our lumpydick. “We say family prayers in the morning and at night. We say our own prayers morning and night, and we pray a lot in between. That’s a lot of praying.”

“We have a lot to be thankful for, Son.”

“We do?” I asked, looking around at our one bed, two chairs and table, and the two boxes we used for a dresser and a cupboard. It seemed to me that we didn’t have much of anything. Ma had to wash people’s clothes and sew and clean, and I had to work for Brother Jeffers and Brother Simms. We didn’t get any money for it, either—just flour and sugar and stuff like that.

“We have a lot,” Ma said. “We have a house. We always manage to find something to eat. We have each other. We have the gospel, and we know that someday we’ll be with your pa. Doesn’t that sound like a lot?”

I nodded my head but kept eating my lumpydick and thinking about my bare feet.

“The Lord has blessed us, George, and when we need His help, all we have to do is ask Him in faith, just like the Prophet Joseph did. Heavenly Father wants to help us, but we have to ask.”

That gave me an idea. If the Lord wanted me to have shoes, then maybe He would help me get some.

“You mean we can ask the Lord for anything?

“Anything that’s right,” she said. “We do have to remember that it’s still up to the Lord and that sometimes His answer is no. We let His will be done.”

I knew Ma was telling the truth, because she doesn’t ever lie. Once she said that if we had enough faith, it would rain. And it rained the very next day. Another time I was very sick, and everybody thought I was going to die, but Ma asked Brother Abott and Brother Beecher to come and give me a blessing. I was better after a couple of hours.

Before I went to bed that night, I said a special prayer to Heavenly Father. I told Him about my bare feet and how I felt bad about going to church without shoes. I said I’d go anyway, even without shoes, but if He felt I should have some shoes, I’d sure appreciate it. When I finished my prayer, I felt good all over. It was just like Heavenly Father was telling me that somehow I’d have a pair of shoes for church the next day.

I woke up just as the sun was peeking over the mountains. I hurried and got dressed and started outside because I knew my new shoes would be there.

“Where are you off to?” Ma asked as I opened the door. “It’s Sunday, you know.”

“I’m just going out to get my shoes,” I called back as I ran down the path to the old wooden gate. Right on top of the gatepost were my shoes, just as I knew they’d be. They were brand-new, and they were just my size.

I was so excited that I could hardly stand still. I wanted to shout and run, but about all I could do was cry a little bit because I was so happy. I knelt down right there by the gate and said a little prayer and thanked Heavenly Father for sending me those shoes.

I didn’t understand how it happened or who Heavenly Father inspired to put the shoes there, but I put them on and ran into the house. “Look, Ma!” I shouted. “Look at my new shoes!”

Ma didn’t know what to say. She just stood there with her mouth open. Finally she asked, “Where did they come from?”

“They’re mine. They’re the ones I prayed for. They were on the gatepost, just waiting for me. You were right. The Lord does answer our prayers.”

Ma looked worried. “George, those are brand-new shoes. You can’t keep them. They belong to someone else.”

“Oh, no, Ma. They’re mine. Heavenly Father helped someone decide to give them to me. I know He did.”

“Take them off,” Ma said.

I knew it was no use to argue with her.

“We’ll take them to church with us and ask President Young to find the owner. I’m sure the owner will be anxious to have them back.”

President Young held the shoes up and asked the owner to come up and get them after the meeting, but nobody did. I would have gone, but Ma wouldn’t let me, even though I knew they were mine.

The next Sunday I went barefoot, and the next Sunday too. It had warmed up a bit, so I wasn’t cold, but I sure was anxious to get my shoes back. Before I went to church that third Sunday, I said a prayer and told Heavenly Father that if He wanted to give those shoes to someone who needed them more than I did, it was all right with me.

President Young held up the shoes after meeting again and asked the owner to claim them. But he still had them in his hand when he came over to Ma and me. “Well, Sister Little,” he said, “it doesn’t look like anyone’s going to claim these shoes. Do you think they’ll fit George?”

“Sure they will,” I said. “The Lord wouldn’t make it possible for me to get a pair of shoes and then have them too big or too little.”

“What’s this?” President Young asked with a twinkle in his eye.

I told him what I’d done—how I’d prayed and had just known that the Lord was going to help me and how I’d found my shoes on the gatepost.

President Young nodded his head, and his eyes got real smiley when he said, “And all this time we’ve been trying to give your shoes away?” I nodded my head. “No wonder no one claimed them. They were yours all along. Well, Sister Little, I think we’d better let George keep his shoes. After the Lord went to all that trouble, I don’t think He would want us giving George’s shoes to someone else.”

I smiled and sat down right there to put on my shoes, and as I pulled them on, I said another little prayer and thanked Heavenly Father for helping me get my shoes back.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Susanna Spann