“Can’t we go any faster?” I asked anxiously as we rode along the graveled highway in our newly purchased secondhand pickup.
Mama smiled. “Why the big hurry?” she teased as if she didn’t know.
“I can hardly wait to buy the shoes,” I answered. I was so excited, for it had been nearly a year since I was 11 1/4 and had been taken to the store to buy new shoes. I had thought lately that they would never wear out, and I knew they wouldn’t be replaced until they did. But at last Mama had spoken the long-awaited words.
“I think it’s time to buy you another pair of shoes,” she said. “There is certainly no more wear in those.”
The town with the big country store was four long miles away, and it seemed like forever before we finally arrived.
As soon as we were parked, I jumped out of the pickup and ran into the building. I hurried past the canned goods, down through the hardwares, and wasn’t quite to the shoe department when suddenly I saw them. There on a middle shelf that was tilted up a little was a pair of bright red shoes sitting on a silver stand. I stopped short and caught my breath in awe at the beauty of their color and the daintiness of their sandal-type straps. Printed on a cardboard in the background were the words, “Newest 1940 Fashion in Footwear.” For a long time I stood and looked.
Mama came up behind me, and I led her directly to the shelf.
“May I have these?” I asked hopefully. Mama studied the shoes for a long moment.
“They aren’t very practical,” she said finally, “and you know they will have to last a long time. I think we should buy something more sturdy.”
“I’ll be ever so careful with them,” I coaxed. “Please.”
The clerk came up and measured my foot.
“The red shoes are a half size too small,” she said, “and it is the only pair we have left. However,” she added when she saw the disappointed look on my face, “sometimes sandal-type slippers run a little larger than the average shoe. Would you like to try them on and see?”
Mama reasoned with me, telling me my feet needed room to grow even if the shoes did fit now.
“But maybe there is a little extra room,” I said. “May I at least try them on and see?” I put my whole being into the pleading expression of my eyes.
“Well,” Mama puckered her forehead into a sort of deep-thought furrow for a moment before she answered, “all right.” I had the feeling that she sensed how important this was to me.
The shoes, with a built-in toe and heel, felt tight, but nevertheless I succeeded without too much effort in getting them both on, and I stood and looked down in admiration.
“May I have them?” I asked, feeling, without doubt, that I could stretch the tiny straps in a short period of time to fit comfortably.
The shoes didn’t look too small, but Mama seemed certain that there wasn’t enough room for my feet to grow.
“They will be getting more of this style in next summer,” she said. “Perhaps it would be better to wait and buy a pair then.”
My hopes declined. I was sure there would never be another pair of shoes as beautiful as these, but I said nothing. Mama focused her forehead into another deep-thought wrinkle as she walked over and picked up a pair of brown oxfords in the size I needed.
“Why don’t you try these on,” she said, “then you can make the decision yourself.”
I was elated. Even though I had made decisions before, I had never made one as important as this. I felt that Mama considered me sort of an adult, and I knew that she understood about 12-year-olds and growing up.
As I slipped one of the brown shoes on and tied the lace, it felt good in comparison to the red one on my other foot. I pondered silently as I tried to decide fairly, considering the good and bad points of each pair of shoes. The oxfords would last longer, and they were more comfortable, but they were so brown and plain, sort of ordinary looking really, and besides, they were the kind I had always worn. The red shoes were beautiful, and I wanted something different. If I was careful, they could last a long time. Admittedly, they did squeeze, but I could suffer for a day or two if need be, for I was very sure that I could stretch them in that length of time. Yes, I would take the red ones.
Mama didn’t say anything as she paid the clerk. After all, she had told me the decision was mine.
I strutted toward the door and was so preoccupied with how much older the shoes made me look that I knocked over a small display of cooking utensils and bumped into the candy counter on my way out. I was so happy over my purchase that I didn’t ask Mama what she had in the other package she was carrying when she got in the pickup.
The next two days I wore the pretty shoes in misery. Then a blister appeared on each of my big toes, and the misery turned to agony. Furthermore, I was becoming discouraged, for the tiny straps weren’t stretching at all as I had felt so sure they would.
If Mama saw me wrap small white strips of cloth around my toes to protect the blisters, she made no mention of it. I went outdoors as often as I could and slipped the shoes off. The cool air felt good on my hot feet, and each time I stayed out as long as I dared.
Slowly, out of desperation and pain, I became more brave, and the shoes lay forgotten on the floor of my closet as I went barefoot both inside the house and out. Mama, I am very sure, was aware of my bare feet, but as she didn’t question me, I hoped she supposed that I was trying to be careful of the shoes and make them last as long as the brown ones would have.
With Sunday came the sudden realization that I couldn’t possibly go barefoot to church. I put off the dreaded task of wearing the shoes until the last minute, and it wasn’t until everyone was ready to go that I carefully started the insertion of my foot into one of the slippers. As it entered the enclosure at the end of the shoe, my big toe rebelled hotly, and I pulled it quickly out. Several times I tried to put on the shoe, but each time my foot resented the tight squeeze and throbbed the resentment painfully.
Finally, I could stand it no longer. With tears close to my eyes and the red shoes held firmly in my hands, I went to Mama. My lip quivered, but I was determined not to cry. After all, I was 13 years old, in ten months, that is. I stood for a minute trying to gain my composure and to think of something sort of, well, mature to say.
“They pinch and they hurt,” I blurted out honestly.
Her answer came as such a surprise that all I could do was stand with my mouth open saying nothing.
“We do not always make the right decisions,” Mama said as she went to a drawer and took out a package containing the brown shoes. As she handed them to me she added softly, “And sometimes it takes a pinch of hurt to help us be more wise the next time we have something important to decide.”