They were poor. Deep-fried poor. So destitute, they didn’t have running water. And according to my sources, they cooked meals over an oil drum. The kids had hardly any meat on their bones.
They say the pastor visited their house with money. The father refused the money, claiming things were looking up. But this was a Depression. There was no up.
The pastor left a check anyway. And I understand he cashed it before lunchtime.
The first thing school kids noticed were her new shoes. Red leather ones, she loved red. I don’t know what it is about shoes and poverty. They’re the first things to go when times get rough; first things you buy when you can.
The oldest girl walked with a bounce in her step, down the school hallways. She was a nice-looking girl, who rarely spoke. Nobody paid her any mind. Too bad. She had an angel-face. I suppose ratty clothes are hard for junior-high brats to look past.
It was during field class—when kids changed into white T-shirts and white shorts and exercised outside. She left her new bright-colored shoes in her locker.
When class was over, her shoes were gone.
They say she cried in front of everyone. A few kids laughed at her. The gym teacher’s blood pressure sky-rockted into the red-zone. Teachers held a school-wide search. They combed through every bag, locker, and trashcan.
She did a good job not showing sadness that day, but I understand she was sick-to-her-stomach blue. It wasn’t about the shoes, but about someone disliking her enough to steal them. About being so poor that footwear meant so much in the first place.
The next morning, before class, teachers ushered all students into the gymnasium. Theirs wasn’t a big school, the lot of kids only took up the first row of bleachers.
Then, all five middle-school teachers formed a line in the auditorium without saying a word. Even the janitor stood with them.
The principal, said something like, “When one of us suffers, we all do.” Then he quoted a Bible verse to drive his point home.
After that, one by one, the teachers took off their shoes and pitched them in the garbage can. The girl’s face turned red. As it happened, it was the exact same shade as the new shoes her teachers bought her.
All three pairs.
Truth be told, when I first heard this story, I didn’t know what to think.
But then, I’d always known there was a reason granny liked red shoes so much.