I wanted those shoes more than anything I had ever wanted. Not just because everyone who was anyone at school had a pair, either. My tenth birthday was coming up and all I wanted was a pair of cool shoes. Was that asking too much? But Mom said she wasn't going to spend that kind of money for a pair of “sneakers.” It wasn’t that Mom was cheap. After all, she wanted to buy me a new bicycle. I didn’t really want a new bicycle, and I was tired of hearing about how I needed to exercise and “get into condition.” Why didn’t they just come right out and say I was fat? Anyway, I could get just as much exercise out of a pair of good shoes as I could a bicycle.
I figured that if Mom really understood how I felt about the shoes, she’d buy them. Simply telling her didn’t work, so I had a plan. If I didn’t talk to her...except when I had to answer a question...she’d see how important those shoes were to me. It might have worked, too, except Dad had hollered at me for “sulking” over a stupid pair of shoes. Now I was doing dishes while Mom was in the other room sewing.
She’d been working on something for three days now. Every night she came home from work and fixed supper. As soon as supper was over and the dishes were done, she’d shut herself in her room and sew. She was probably making sure I didn’t have a chance to talk to her about the shoes again.
I ran my finger around the bubbles in the sink and lifted a handful of foam to my lips. I blew the bubbles off my hand and watched them sag over the edge of the sink. There had to be some way I could earn money.
The next night I was stretched out on the floor watching cartoons on TV when Mom came home. Dad was taking notes on something he was reading - which looked enough like schoolwork to make my stomach uneasy.
Mom smiled at us, but her face looked pale. She sank into the recliner and pushed it back, letting loose with a long sigh. “Oh, it feels so good to put my feet up for a little bit!”
Dad glanced up from his work and gave me one of those “where’s your homework” looks. He carefully put his paperwork aside.
“We’ll fix supper,” he said, motioning to me to follow him into the kitchen. “You just rest awhile.”
Mom started to get up. “But your work....”
Dad laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. “It’ll wait.”
As I sat up, Mom’s shoe was right there in my face. That was when I noticed the big crack across the bottom. “Your shoe has a hole in it,” I told her.
Her face turned red, and I was sorry I mentioned it. She smiled. “It will last another month. The top still looks good and no one ever sees the bottom.”
Dad gave me a stern look, so I shrugged and followed him into the kitchen. He handed me a knife and a head of lettuce. “Chop that up, and watch what you’re doing.”
I grabbed the knife eagerly and positioned the head of lettuce on the cutting board the way I’d seen Mom do a gazillion times. Dad eyed me doubtfully for a few minutes until he decided I wasn’t going to cut my head off. Then he took some hamburger meat out of the refrigerator and started forming patties out of it with his hands.
“Dad,” I said. “Do you have anything I could do to earn money?”
He glanced up at me over his glasses and snorted. “Sure. It’s the money I don’t have.”
I made a face. “You have more money than I do.”
He nodded and slapped a patty into the hot skillet. “And more bills.”
I didn’t say anything about the fifty-dollar bill I’d seen him give Mom to buy groceries this week. I could do a lot with that much money. Just two of those and I could buy those shoes. I thought about the crack in Mom’s shoe. Why didn’t she just buy some new ones?
Dad interrupted my thoughts. “I have a business meeting in Kansas City next week. I’ll be gone all week, and I expect you to help your mother while I’m gone.”
“Do you have to go?” If he was going to be gone for a week, I could kiss those shoes goodbye.
“It’s an important meeting. Maybe I’ll get a better job.”
I stared at him. “Are we going to move again?”
He gave me a funny look and then shook his head. “No, but maybe I can get you that new bicycle.”
“And the shoes?” I asked hopefully.
He shook his head. “Spending a hundred dollars for a pair of shoes you’ll grow out of in a few months just isn’t spending your money wisely.”
I hacked at the head of lettuce. It wasn’t fair. All my friends had a pair of those shoes. Every last one of them, and their parents thought it was wise. Why couldn’t I have what I wanted for my birthday present, instead of a stupid bicycle?
The only sound in the kitchen was the sizzling of the hamburger in the frying pan and the sound of my knife hitting the wooden block. I glanced up to find Dad watching me.
“It won’t do any good to pout,” he said sternly. “The answer is still no.”
Two days later, as Dad was packing his suitcase, Mom walked in carrying a new suit for him. Dad frowned. “You didn’t have to buy that. I could wear what I have on.”
Mom smiled all proud like. “I made it myself.”
Dad took the suit from her hands and held it up to examine. “Looks store bought,” he said. And then he gave Mom one of those smiles that made his eyes sparkle. “Only better. I’ll think of you every time I wear it.”
Dad left the house, and I followed Mom into the kitchen. I sure hoped she didn’t try to make my shoes. I slid into a chair at the table and rested my chin on my hands.
“Mom, how come you don’t buy some new shoes?”
Mom turned from the stove. “Well honey, we simply don’t have the money right now.”
I frowned. “But Dad has the money for a bicycle, and he gives you money every week. You bought the material for Dad’s suit. If he knew how much you needed shoes, he’d give you the money to buy some...as long as they didn’t cost too much.”
I could tell Mom wanted to laugh. I could see it in her eyes, but she didn’t. Instead, she sat down at the table opposite me. “Well, you’re old enough we can share a little secret.”
I was all ears.
“I’ve been on a diet for the last couple of weeks, and I simply skipped lunch. I saved enough to buy the material for his suit.”
I stared at her. Mom on a diet? Since when? And what for? She was already too thin. And then it hit me. “You didn’t eat lunch because you wanted to save the money for the suit. But if Dad knew….”
“Oh, but he must never know,” she interrupted anxiously. “Don’t you see? It would make him feel bad.”
I saw Mom a lot differently after that day. I never did get those shoes, but I did get a bicycle. And with the money Grandma sent me for my birthday, I bought Mom a new pair of shoes. She thought Dad gave me the money, and I never told her different. Dad and I shared that little secret.
It all set me to thinking. If a person does something for you, but never tells anyone, then no one knows they did it. I wonder how many people are doing things for other people every day, only no one knows.
This story can be purchased in the collection of short youth stories "YOUTH YARNS."