Shoes for Memories
By: G Wayne
© 02/14/11
It was a crisp January morning, and it was Saturday. I got up early just to enjoy more of my day off. With my thermos filled with hot coffee, I jumped into the car and headed out to--with no purpose, I just drove. The morning sun was bright in its cloudless blue sky as I motored off into my weekend adventure. It felt good to be on the move to no particular place with no worries about time. I passed the houses and the stores and a man dancing on the sidewalk while twirling a sign that advertised a tax preparation service. He was dressed like the Statue of Liberty, even his face was painted verdigris green. I was taken aback at how happy and eager the man appeared, preforming a task that seemed less desirable than: sitting on a hot stove, eating broken glass, treating stuffed-up sinuses with explosives, or shaving with a chainsaw, a Cuisnart, a jackhammer, or a bench grinder.

Driving on, I noticed a homemade cardboard sign attached to a lamppost. It was bordered with metallic fringe that sparkled brightly in the breeze. This sign selfishly stole my attention and announced in big, unevenly printed block letters, "YARD SALE TODAY". I was annoyed at this interruption of my almost perfect day and quickly decided to stop thinking about it.

I drove on, still caught in the novelty of a day with no responsibilities. My mind wandered from thought to thought as I drove, and that darn yard sale sign kept popping up. Then memories of the great deals I had found at yard sales in the past began to play in my mind. Before I was aware, that Siren had attached herself to my soul with the sweet, irresistible song of the sea nymphs. She beckoned beyond my control, to be dashed on the rocks of yard sale. I quickly found the next safe spot to make a U-turn and headed back while feeling the glow of the great expectation that was my new muse.

It was not hard to tell which house was having the sale, only one had the front lawn covered with blankets where things of all nature had been placed. Although it was still early, and yard sale primetime would not happen for a while, there were still plenty of other bargain hunters. We carefully ignored each other, adhering to the unspoken yard sale hunter's code.

I walked up the driveway, cautiously surveying the litter, searching for that one coveted prize. The thing that I did not know existed until the moment I saw it, something I could not live without. Of course, it must be purchased for far less than its true value. The cheaper the better is my motto, and I consider that my haggling skill is a force to be reckoned with.

In the garage there were makeshift tables made of planks on top of sawhorses. I quickly glanced over a collection of ceramic poodles and then commemorative plates set up on risers like a choir. Almost hidden behind them was an item that stood out in stark contrast. A pair of old shoes rested toward the back of the table. The leather was scuffed and cracked and they were very unremarkable outside of the large metal cleats mounted on their toes and heels. Next to the shoes was a pair of spats, once clean and white, now yellowed by the passage of time.

I began to fantasize who the person was that once wore those shoes. It looked as if they were made for a professional, and the yellowed spats suggested an era that had passed by long ago. My mind's eye could see a brightly lit stage. On it was a man tap-dancing to the sound of a full band. In one hand, he held a straw hat with a wide red band circling its crown and in the other, a straight, black tipped white cane. He wore a blue tinged, white seersucker suit with vertical red pinstripes that made those spats seem to glow in the dark. I could see his radiant smile beaming out over the audience as he proudly strutted across the stage.

I picked up one of the shoes to inspect it when a voice called out from beside me.

"See anything you like?"

Startled, I looked around to see an old man with wispy silver-gray hair smiling at me. His stooped posture and hollow cheeks betrayed a frailty brought on by old age and a hard life.

"These shoes sure look interesting," I said after regaining my composure.

"Oh yeah, what's so interesting about 'em?" he asked, his eyes boring into me.

"Well, it's not really the shoes or the spats, it's the story they tell."

The man seemed amused at my insight. "And what story might that be?" he asked, leading me along.

"These shoes and spats look to me as if they belonged to a professional dancer. Someone who performed on stage"

His visage began to noticeably change. The man's hollow eyes brightened and years melted away from his weathered face as he began to smile. He took the shoe from my hands, shaking slightly at the end of each movement. Holding the shoe as if it were a magic lamp, he seemed to find in it, a private gateway to the fond memories of a past world.

He nodded his head while running his thumb over the scratches and scuffs; it seemed that each one sparked a story of its own. He looked at me, but his eyes wistfully focused on a point in the distant past as he said:

"These are my shoes, at least they were. I haven't put then on for over forty-five years. Yep, it was the best part of my life--what's that idiot phrase that got so popular, "back in the day." Well back in the day for me was the end of a glorious era. It was when radio became popular and the audiences got smaller. Then TV came along and the only folks that showed up were street-people with nothing else to do and kids with fake IDs, cutting school to see the strippers. Ya know, I worked with the greatest vaudeville acts of all time. I got to dance with Gene Kelly and one time I was in a number that followed Burns and Allen. George Burns himself invited me to have dinner with him and Jack Benny. For months, I danced in a comedy sketch with Blaze Starr and the part where she rubbed up against me never got old."

"Really!" I said, not being able to convey the awe I was feeling. "That's quite a life."

"Yes, it was. Yes, it was. I experienced the good times and the bad, the highs and the lows. I held on and embraced that life no matter what it would bring. When times were tough, and dancing on the street corner for tips would barely afford me a hot meal; I was happy and still felt fortunate. To this day, I have no regrets."

There was a long pause after he finished speaking. I was full of emotion, but empty of words to comment on the vicarious look that he shared, into a world I could scarcely imagine.

"Thank you, I think I'll remember this for a long time," was all I could say.

"That's OK kid, my pleasure," he said and gathered up the other shoe and the spats. "I don't think I should be selling this stuff quite yet," he said, then turned and lumbered off, disappearing into the house.
Copyright © 2009 G. Wayne