I was nine and I have to admit the odd years of counting birthdays always seemed to bring me trouble. It might explain why after the age of 50 I decided not to even count them, just jump forward to the next even number. Magical thinking I know but if I skip counting the odd year maybe nothing would go wrong.
I digress, I was nine and sitting on the bed in the back bedroom, at my Grandparents house in Shamokin. I could smell the tar coming from the coal mine up on the hill. A giant maple tree shaded the tiny back yard and my window. I loved that back room. I had a big, to me, iron double bed, a soft worn pink, turquoise, soft blue Dresden Plate quilt on the bed.
Since my Grandmother wasn't particularly happy that I was staying with them she didn't make any effort to wake me up early. She was content to let me be hoping that I would entertain myself as far away from her as possible.
Really, there is no bitterness here just the facts. Looking back on her behavior and understanding why and what might have caused it, I understand. She resented my mother, she resented me and she most of all resented keeping a family secret.
I've said it before secrets do NOBODY any good. They have a life of their own and they just get uglier and uglier with time.
Now, I don't think it's much of a secret and there isn't anybody alive to tell me if what I think is true is true. I don't think my grandmother was my grandmother. I think her sister, my aunt was. But mistakes were made, families felt they needed to protect their names, in small towns and a young girl in awe of her older sister, newly married took on the paper responsibility to say the unwed sister's child was her own.
I'm sure at the time nobody thought it was a big deal. The child would be raised by my great grandmother, the biological mother would go on to have a career that would support the entire family and the young sister would have her own family.
Unfortunately, nobody truly thinks these things through......the long term effect of a little white lie.
My great grandmother did raise my mother and my mother called her Mama and her grandfather Papa. She called the sister, Mother and her husband, Daddy. She never lived with them and what amazes me NEVER QUESTIONED the whole thing. NEVER.
My great aunt, the biological mother stayed close to her daughter. When my mother married she came down from her long time job to get another job and live in the apartment across the hall from us. She was always in our lives but just not being called, mother or grandmother.
It would seem that it all worked out, except, it left my GRANDMOTHER, very bitter. She no longer really wanted to play this role. She had her "own" grandchildren now. But a secret is a secret and some people feel some things should be kept to the grave.
So, my parents, in times of trouble, in their marriage, drove me up to my grandparents house and parked me there until they sorted themselves out.
I accepted my grandmother's coldness like all children accept adults behavior. It just was. And, like most children I ignored it and lived in my on little world.
As I lay in the wonderful big bed I would glance over at the closet door. My suitcase was on a stool. I was told that the closet was off bounds. If I had anything to hang I could fold it up and put it in the bottom drawer with the rest of my clothes. My extra pair of shoes sat under the stool. They would never have a home in that closet.
I was an only child. Most only children are quite content to entertain themselves. They are used to it. I was an easy going kid. I followed directions. I didn't cause problems. I obeyed adults.
I also had a healthy curiosity about something I was told NOT to open, look in or do. Like a siren that closet called to me.
It had a round metal doorknob and squeaky hinges. I waited until my grandmother was downstairs in the kitchen making breakfast before I opened the closet door. Sitting on the floor, all by themselves were a pair of BLUE, Moccasin shoes, with a beaded top and fringe. I don't know what else was in the closet my eyes never left those shoes. I knew they belonged to my now married Aunt Nancy. I suspect she just kept them here as an extra pair or back up shoes.
And that my friends is the trouble with doing something you aren't supposed to do because you can't go back to the UNKNOWING. You can't forget.
I had fallen in love with those shoes.
I wore sturdy, shoes that tied. Brown and white oxfords. My other pair were white tennis shoes. PERIOD My mother didn't believe in "Sunday shoes" because we didn't go anywhere on Sunday. She didn't believe in shoes that didn't buckle or tie because you tended to walk sloppily in them. Meaning, I suppose that you scuffed your feet instead of walking properly.
I never saw a pair of shoes so pretty, so soft and with tiny little beads on them.
No matter what I did that day, sitting on the drugstore floor reading comic books while my "grandmother" gossipped with the clerk, at the soda counter, a woman from her church, those shoes occupied my mind.
Later that night, having left the closet door closed but not latched I waited until everyone was in bed and I quietly opened the closet door, sat on the floor and tried on the shoes.
Amazingly, they fit. At nine, my feet were the same size as my adult aunt. By twelve they had grown twice as big. But, for that moment I just sat on the floor, legs outstretch, in the closet with those gorgeous blue shoes on my feet. Somehow, in my mind if I didn't actually put my feet on the ground I wasn't wearing them. I couldn't hurt them.
Now, you know there isn't going to be a happy ending here, right? You know that children seldom get away with anything. If I had just taken the shoes off and put them back exactly the way I found them and left the closet alone for the next two weeks I would have been home free.
Those beads fascinated me. Over the first week I stroked the shoes, tried them on, didn't stand up in them but lusted after them. I played with the tiny beads and then it happened.
One of the beads came loose, the entire row of beads tumbled to the closet floor. HORROR OR HORRORS......only one thing to do...........pick up the beads and hide them. Cut off the thread. Need scissors..........don't have any, ok, just rip it off.
Panic leads the guilty to do things they shouldn't and make mistakes. Ripping the string just loosened the rest of the beads. This was not going well.
Not being the most clever child I simply picked up all the beads, closed the closet door and put the beads in the top drawer of the dresser.
I was nine.
When Saturday came and it was wash day and we stripped my bed and Grandma went to the top dresser drawer to get out clean sheets my world crashed.
She gasped, gathered up the pile of beads, held out her hand with them in my direction. No words were spoken. I got up off the bed, opened the closet door, head down and waited. I already knew, in my heart that my grandmother didn't like me. Now as I listened to how naughty I was, how naughty my mother was and probably how naughty the entire world was I accepted the harangue.
The shoes were removed from the closet. I was given "the look" which having received enough times over my summer visits I managed to prefect, and to use on my own children.
I never saw those blue moccasins again.
Which is why when I saw a pair of moccasins, in the shoe store the other day, I bought them.
And, yes they are not blue they brown but they have pretty beads on them and I am feeling like I am nine again wearing them.