February 18, 2014
Re: Entry 5
I often tell a tale of my childhood in Appalachia, which while no doubt wholly true, has softened—or has at least been burnished—through the years. It begins when I was nine years old, and had received just after Christmas, a pair of shoes that my older cousin had outgrown. In that pre-Nike era, every boy I knew wore either shoes that buttoned or zipped, or boots that tied. These were ankle-high side-zip brown shoes with a low heel. I have no idea how anyone ever played in things like that but we did. Anyway, about a month after this, the bottom of my right shoe developed a hole. Now I remember it was my right shoe because I always get a hole in my right shoe, even today. If you don’t get holes in your shoes, you are wasteful, have too many shoes, or don’t walk enough. That is what they have always told me, at least.
The snow was still on the ground, and every day for a couple of weeks before I left school, I would wad up some paper towels from the boys bathroom and stuff them in the bottom of my new, yet curiously deteriorating, cousin-donated shoe boot. All of these points are important later on. I arrived at home and was, as always, greeted at the door by the dog, a weird dachshund we lived with. I took off my shoes and walked across the floor. We had a dark red linoleum floor, sort of a brick pattern, though that fooled no one. My dad wasn’t home yet--he was a coal miner and I remember that time period as one where he was either on strike, just off a strike, or about to go on strike. Walking on through the kitchen, with every other step I left a wet right footprint on the dark floor. I got halfway into the other room when my mother stopped me, and, seeing the print, asked--wondering why my foot was wet? I said it wasn’t (I’m not sure why now, but I had just assumed I would be in trouble for the hole, and I spent most of my childhood lying about something even in the face of obvious evidence otherwise). She picked up my shoe, looked at it and, after proper inquiry, determined it had been that way for at least two weeks. “Why didn’t you say something?” “Well,” I recall saying, “Daddy was on strike, and it’s not that bad and I can wait until spring…” and so forth, stopping only because my mother was crying. I think of that to this day. It still tugs on my heartstrings.
To end this poignant scene-- and further cloud forever the prior vision of tugged heartstrings-- in walked my father. “Hey, he’s got a hole in his shoe,” my mother more accused than reported. My dad was immediately indignant. I had seen this often. Normally it wasn’t directed toward me as much as around me. I never took it personally, as I’ve inherited this trait and have to some degree, actually improved upon and perfected it. “Get in the car,” he said. To this day I can’t remember what shoes I wore in the Chevy.
Now recall how I got those shoes. We drove about seven miles to town to a Giant Shoe Mart, and before going in, he admonished me to not say a word. I can’t actually recall the words he used in this directive--I probably would not write them if I did-- but I assumed I was going to get new shoes. I was hoping for a low boot with laces, but since I had only just learned to tie my shoes (and tell time too, I know, both late of age) I thought that a bit of a stretch. We arrived inside the store and he began to tell the manager all about this low-grade product… what kind of store was he operating here?...did they just sell junk? All along that same track for some time until: “Oh, you want a receipt?—that’s how you’re going to play it?” (I use this same tone of voice to this day). At this point the guy caved in and said “Buddy, I don’t believe you bought those shoes here but if you can find the same pair on the rack I’ll exchange them”. Now I have to tell you that I was astonished at (and admiring of) his boldness, but figured at this point he would be discovered, he would be arrested and I would go to the Boys Home at Pruntytown (weird, isn't it, how some of you shudder still at that word?). Do you know those exact shoes, same size and all, were on the shelf? It took me a year to wear another hole in them. Going home, he actually made it sound like it was proper, that someone paid for them, and therefore they should have been compensated. Looking back he would have made a great lawyer.
Now please, don’t think I am justifying this; I only tell it because it happened, more or less along those lines, maybe with a little more flourish as I wrote it. If you are looking for a greater point here, I’m not sure you will find it. I still think of my father as a hero, I never really went through a phase when I did not. Once in college some professor asked us to write an essay on who we admired “All my heroes are coal miners," I said.