Summer Sneakers

Every time I look down at my feet when I’m wearing my “new” black Converse sneakers my thirteen-year-old granddaughter gave me when she outgrew them, I have to laugh.  I look like I’m wearing clown shoes, but I don’t care.  They make me happy, almost as happy as the new pair of white Keds I would get each summer.  Remember getting new white sneakers?  The ones that made you run faster and jump higher.  The ones you had to keep away from your brother so he wouldn’t stomp on them.  The ones you got the first day of summer vacation and had to make last until the first snowfall or until your toe poked a hole in the top edge, whichever came first.  The ones that all your friends noticed because their eyes were focused on the here and now and the only future was “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow because I want to go to the beach.”  I mean those white sneakers.

I remember a white-sneakered summer in the small coastal Connecticut town where I grew up.   My mother took me to the dry goods store in the center of town.  We walked up the steps to the second floor, me tingling with anticipation, my mother clutching her red pocketbook.  It was the first day of summer vacation and I knew exactly what I wanted, walking right past the Buster Brown oxfords with the little dog Tighe smiling up from his place on the inside of the heel, and marching to the display on the back wall.  I could have chosen the red ones or the navy blue, but only the clean, bright white Keds would do.

After Mother bought them, I was obsessed with avoiding every puddle, every patch of dirt, every freshly mown lawn that might yield grass stains, even developing a stiff-footed, awkward way of walking by leaning back on my heels to avoid making creases, and generally drove myself crazy for a week in order to keep those Keds in pristine condition.  Then one day my brother asked me if I wanted to go with him to pick berries to surprise our mother in the hopes she’d make us a pie.  And in my exuberance to spend time with my brother, whom I adored, all thought about my sneakers flew out of my head.

I grabbed a bucket and ran to keep up with him.  We cut through the back of a neighbor’s yard, walked along a path through the woods, and came to the edge of a clearing lined with mulberry trees sagging with the weight of their abundant crop.   We picked two bucketfuls in no time, but as we headed back, I glanced at my feet and remembered too late that I hadn’t changed my shoes.  My once white sneakers were infused with blood red juice stains.  My brother was stunned when I started bawling.  When the source of my distress turned out to be my mortification at the destruction of my shoes, he was even more perplexed.  If you saw how my brother dressed, you’d understand how little fashion mattered to him.  But, sensing that this was a girl thing, he put his arm around my shoulders.

I trudged home, dreading the inevitable tongue-lashing I was sure to get.  Even my brother’s arm around my shoulders didn’t help to assuage my melancholy.  As we approached the house, I saw my mother standing in the front yard, arms akimbo, wearing her favorite red apron with the white rickrack. My brother was the first to speak as he lifted the bucket high for her to see.  “Hey, Mom, Susan and I picked these berries for you so you could make a pie,” he said.  Then he added, “You’re the best pie baker in the world!”   I held my bucket up for inspection, and my mom said, “My, oh my, those berries look good!”  And then she looked at my feet.  I hung my head and waited for it to come.  My mother put her hand under my chin and tilted my face towards her smile and said, “Let’s go in the kitchen and wash these berries, and you can help me make the pie crust.”   Then she ushered me inside with a gentle swat.

When I woke up the next morning, at the foot of my bed were my sneakers.  Yes, there is something about new white sneakers with pale puce splotches, smelling strongly of bleach.  And that was the best mulberry pie ever!

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About Coming East

I am a writer, wife, mother, and grandmother who thinks you're never too old until you're dead. My inspiration is Grandma Moses who became a successful artist in her late 70's. If I don't do something pretty soon, though, I'll have to find someone older for inspiration.
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42 Responses to Summer Sneakers

  1. Robin says:

    This brings back a lot of memories. It’s a really well written post. 🙂

    I was the opposite of you when I had white sneakers. I didn’t like the bright, white, pristine appearance so I would go outside and attempt to “age” my sneakers. I jumped in puddles, ran around in the grass, and did everything I could to make them look old and worn. Seems silly now.

  2. May says:

    Just reading before drifting off to sleep. Ah….Keds, Buster Brown, dry goods store and pocketbook! All things of my childhood. All sweet memories. You’ve given me such goodness as I drift off. I will surely have sweet dreams tonight! Thank you for a lovely post!

  3. E.C. says:

    Great post. I like this story. Your brother must be a great fellow. You two sure have had some dandy of adventures. Your Mother sounds like a lovely and kind soul. She reminds me of my Mom. 🙂

  4. mairedubhtx says:

    It takes me back to summers when I got new sneakers. It was only when I was in high school that I has allowed to get white Keds. I had to settle for navy or red until then. My mother was very strick. But white Keds were a fantasy I dreamed of for many years.

    • comingeast says:

      I’m sure your mother just didn’t want to worry about how those white Keds would look after a few days of rambunctious playing! At least you were able to have them in high school. Did they mean as much to you then? Thank for your comment.

  5. Pingback: New shoes, red and pink and blue shoes | I choose how I will spend the rest of my life

  6. judithhb says:

    We didn’t have Keds or sneakers instead we had white plimsolls. Shiny white when new and we used liquid white polish to keep them clean. One time when mine were so bad, Mother scrubbed them and then they were grey all over. Oh and at school we had to have brown ones for PE so white plimsolls were dyed brown. Can you believe it?
    Lovely story and I bet the pie was the best ever.
    Judith 🙂

  7. Ahhhhh yes…those white sneakers. I always cringed every time I roller skated with them on top of my skates – worried that tightening the screws, on those old metal skates, would pull away the rubber sides. Sometimes it did. And didn’t they get just a bit stiffer each time they got bleached? But it was worth it to have them nice and white again. Such charming memories of childhood. I miss them. i also miss those “gentle swats of loving dismissal.” Thanks for starting my day with such a sweet story.

  8. wosushi says:

    So sweet! I grew up in Connecticut (well, until I was eight) and remember a wild berry patch down the street from our house that me and my brothers loved going to. Thanks for bringing that memory back!

  9. Awww! I love how as children we seem to be much more alert to things that we otherwise seem to lose interest in as we grow older. Sometimes we can rekindle it.

    Converse… clown shoes?! I’ll have to ask my friend who wears converse everyday if she thinks that they look like clown shoes. 😛

  10. Patti Ross says:

    Moms are like that, yeah, they are! Fun story! Have a berry fun summer!

  11. Love your stories. Did you get a comment from me, thismorning? I’ll resend it, if not.

    • comingeast says:

      Yes, I just read it. I’ve been out of pocket most of the week entertaining an out-of-town guest, but now I’ll be able to catch up on reading my comments and exploring the sites of my commentors, like you!

  12. Funny… I just got a pair of shoes that reminded me of my white Keds. They’re Tommy Hilfiger (I bought them on super-discounted sale at DSW- the only way I could buy Hilfiger) and they’re plaid and laceless, so they look nothing like my old, precious whites. But I don’t have to worry so much about getting them dirty… and they still have that great no-socks feel. Thanks for the extra reminder of the simple joys in life!

  13. Emily says:

    I don’t know why but this story made me cry thinking about Grandma. Thank you for letting me get to know her through your eyes.

    • comingeast says:

      It makes me cry, too, thinking about her. I still miss her so much and she’s been gone over seventeen years. I can hardly believe it. What a great mom she was!

  14. I had Keds too but love the Buster Brown oxfords you mentioned. I wasn’t a cheerleader but felt like one when I wore those shoes. I am a little younger than you but I remember Donna Reed but mostly June Cleaver. Loved the story.

    • comingeast says:

      My mother looked more like Donna Reed, but she was a little like June Cleaver, too. Hard to believe there really were mothers like that! When I was raising our three kids, I think I was far more frazzled than my mother ever was. It just seemed like it was such a simpler life in the fifties and early sixties. Thanks, Julie.

  15. huffygirl says:

    Wonderful story. I used to choose the red Keds and wondered why they didn’t make me run faster like the commercial said. I didn’t start choosing white ones until I was into my teens. I later discoverd that you could spruce them up with liquid white shoe polish. Don’t know if that would have taken care of the berrry stains, but it worked on ordinary dirt. Kids now just want the $200 Nikes- so much more to choose from, but not sure that it’s better.

    Enjoy your summer shoes CE!

    • comingeast says:

      Thanks, HG! Guess my black Converse are my summer sneakers now. And didn’t kids (not of my generation) make their white Keds kind of snazzy by decorating them with markers?

  16. Even some twenty-odd years later, when I grew up in a small coastal town in Connecticut, those white sneakers were still the herald of summer. Although for me, it was never so much the stains or rips that destroyed those shoes – it was my stubborn refusal to wear socks. Canvas simply does not air well.

    Lovely story. Thank you for taking me back.

    • comingeast says:

      What coastal town did you grow up in? Yes, those Keds could get quite stinky by the end of the summer!

      • I grew up in Milford. We’ve been in Oregon now for almost twenty years, but I still miss New England – especially in the fall.

      • comingeast says:

        Milford has such a nice town center now, and it’s very close to Stratford where my husband went to high school and his mother still lives. Hope you’ve been able to get back to New England during those nearly twenty years.

  17. Aw, I love it. Such a great reflection of a Mother’s grace.

    • comingeast says:

      I love that–a reflection of a mother’s grace. What a wonderful way of thinking of my mother. She was one of the most gentle spirits I know, with such a sweet faith and generous heart.

  18. How lovely…I love reading of times gone by…Your mother and brother sound wonderful.

    • comingeast says:

      My mother was a terrific mom. I called her my Donna Reed mom because I thought she looked like Donna Reed and acted like her on the Donna Reed show where Donna played the wife of a pediatrician. You have to be old like me and from the States to remember that show!

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