What’s the Buzz? Pa’s New Shoes, a Wandrin Stranger & a Memory of Kindness
Fri, 09/22/2023 - 10:00am
Pa’s New Shoes. Circa 1962
Pa never earned more than $500. a month in his whole life. He never had a credit card or owned a brand new car.
When he married Mama she had four daughters. He had sole custody of his two sons at a time when men simply did not get custody. They had two more kids later on, my brother and me. We never heard the words 'half-sister' or half anything. We were a whole family,
Pa never wanted ‘things” He wanted your time, to sit a spell, a laugh, a song, a dance by the record player but not the things others worried over. He never had much in the way of possessions or knew envy for those that did.
Mama was a solid woman from South Bristol, Maine. Unlike most girls back in the 40’s on a small, rural peninsula, she had gone off to secretarial school after high school. She learned to type and do office work. Her byword was “common sense.”
We lived in parsonages which meant there was no rent or utilities to pay. He was the Pastor of the only Protestant Church for miles in a 97% Catholic town in Rhode Island. We moved there when I was in the fourth grade.
Pa considered his $500.00 a month a wealth of riches to buy food and clothing. We never noticed if it wasn't and we never went without. It wasn't until many years later that I finally figured out that we were what is now disparagingly called 'poor'.
Mama confided in me one day that Father Busby's shoes were worn through and he was lining them with newspaper. She had been saving up to get him new shoes. She taught at our church kindergarten and made a little each week. It took months of careful savings but eventually she had enough for really good shoes.
We dressed up, Mama and me, and went on a trip to 'The Mall.' This was a special occasion. Mama and I thought ‘The Mall’ was the most glamourous place on earth. The store windows were full of beautiful, new clothes and the shoe store smelled like clean, newly tanned, leather. We picked out black leather dress shoes that gleamed softly in the fluorescent lights. Mama was so proud of those shoes. They were shiny new shoes like all the other Pastors wore.
Pa was tickled and saved them for "good" wearing them only for Church, calling on those in hospitals, or the homebound, and for weddings and funerals. He had those shoes for a whole month.
“Aunt Lena,” as we called the elderly maiden lady who lived just down Providence Street, had passed away. She had no family but she had a wish to be buried back at her home in Maine and not in Rhode Island. Looking back, I wonder how she got to West Warwick and what she did when she had a job and a lot of things that I never asked her as a child and will never know now.
Pa arranged for her to go home and he wore his new shoes on that special trip to Portland, Maine. He rode upfront with the Funeral Director and his assistant on the way North, with Aunt Lena in the back. The three men were the only ones there that cold January day, but the cemetery had managed to break ground so Aunt Lena was safely interred when they started home.
The trip was about four hours each way and Pa was tired out. On the way back he decided to stretch out in the back of the hearse and catch a nap. The two up front got hungry along about Kennebunkport and stopped at a roadside place to grab some food. They walked to the back of the big black hearse and opened the door wide. When Pa hopped out, they swore that you could hear the woman peering out the windows of the restaurant scream all the way across the parking lot.
Now , we don’t know how much those three embellished that story, of course, but it was favorite of Pa’s when he talked about how his rubbers specially bought to protect those new shoes, got left behind in the hearse and he had to dry his shoes out all the back to Rhode Island.
It didn’t seem odd in the least to me that Pa could nap in the back of a hearse. It’s not like any of the dead people that had ridden in there were going to mind, or I didn’t think they would mind. I bet they would have had a good laugh about the lady at that diner. Just because you are dead doesn’t mean you have to be a stiff. I’m sure that dead people laugh at all kinds of things we do.
It was a cold but snowless day shortly after the Great Hearse Ride when Pa went out on a call from the local police. They had picked up a man who was hitchhiking. He had no place to go and no money. The police knew that sometimes we let wanderers sleep at our house, so Jack came to stay overnight with us.
Mama only grumbled a little and had us kids pull the table out from the wall to make some extra room for dinner. It was a weeknight so dinner was just leftovers from Sunday, but you’da thought it was a fancy restaurant from the way that Jack was talking. He “M’am’d” Mama and called me and my sisters “Miss.”
We were very impressed but I don’t think Mama was. She said to Pa in the kitchen that she thought Jack was pretty smooth.
He helped clear up and dry the dishes and he even swept up the kitchen floor before he came in to sit in the living room. Pa told him he didn’t need to do that, but he wanted to help, he said.
Our living room and dining room were two rooms that looked like just one room when you first saw them. In the middle on the walls between the two parts there were floor to ceiling mahogany beams, thin ones. What they really were was the handles to pull out a sliding panel on either side. They met in the middle and made two rooms.
Pa said it was because sometimes in the olden days, people used to be ‘laid out’ in the parsonage parlor before they were taken to the church for the services. My brothers thought that was pretty cool, dead bodies in the living room.
I used to imagine that I was a Victorian girl who had lived in the house when it was new. I could see her (me) sneaking down the kitchen stairs and into the dining room. I would peek between the two sliding doors right in the middle where you could see if you looked with one eye. I would see the BODY all laid out in front of the bay windows, all dressed up in a suit and vest and tie. He had gloves on, white gloves, and a bowler hat on his chest. It was always a man, I never imagined a woman lying there at rest. She would have been too busy with the kids anyway. I never imagined him jumping up or scaring me, like most kids might. He was a dead imaginary man and I knew he couldn’t hurt me.
The night that Jack stayed we were all up late listening to his stories. He told about traveling all over the country, riding his thumb. There was no one that didn’t tell Pa their best stories, they just kind of fell out of people around him. Pa got out his guitar which was always at the ready and the men sang songs of the road, favorite was one that a pal of Father B’s used to sing called “Pastures of Plenty” and us kids sang loud Woody Guthrie's words rang that night and Jaxk sang ,too- “ My land I’ll defend with my life if need be for my pastures of plenty must always be free.” Eventually. Mama said it was bedtime.
I heard Jack singing happily in the bathtub after a while. He slept that night in the room right next to mine. He said his prayers out loud before he went to sleep, and I overheard. Ok, I was listening.
Pa was never much for a public show of his faith, even though he was a pastor. He learned the prayers of many faiths so he could offer comfort if he was needed, but he never pushed. He liked things simple and quiet.
Hearing someone saying their prayers out loud, though softly, was a new thing to me. He talked to God like he was an old friend. I remember how he closed his prayer: "Well Pops, you know I don't stop by too often and thanks for listening. Please bless these good folks for their kindness; this was like having my own family around me. Your friend, Jack."
The next morning Jack left early with Pa and they were gone before we were up. Pa was taking him to the bus in Providence. I knew by the look on Mama's face that he was probably buying his ticket home to the Piedmont, too.
When Pa came in , he was in his stocking feet. My mother was quite red in the face. “Curtis, where are your shoes?" “Gave 'em to Jack," he said, "Plenty of wear left in these." He put on his old shoes with a big smile. “Ruth, I never knew a pair of shoes could make a man so happy. He is going to go home and find his family. He's gonna do that in decent shoes and clean clothes. I thank you, my love." He gave her a big ole kiss and a bear hug and went whistling off to write his Sunday sermon.
Mama never stood a chance. She wanted to be angry over Pa's new shoes going South, but no one could hold up against his happiness.
Stuff doesn't matter, new things don't. Sometimes I have given away things and money and time when they were in short supply. I grew up thinking that was what all people did, you help and then help again and if you can't do a big thing, you do something. When I have a little, then whoever needs it can have a little, too. It really doesn't hurt. It's not folly or foolishness.
That’s how I like to see the world: like my Pa did. It’s ingrained in me. The world is simply full of a whole lot of relatives and friends I haven't met yet.
The pictures attached are PA ( also known as Father Busby) and his band The Monument Mountaineers circa 1933 and the cast of the new show
I’m honored and touched to be performing that song with The River Company in"Woody Guthrie's American Song" will be presented by River Company under the Direction of Torie DeLisle at The Porter Room at Skidompha library.
On Friday October 6 there will be a “pay what you can” preview at the Peace Gallery in Damariscotta at 7:30 pm. Performances continue at Porter Room on Sat Oct 7, Sat Oct 14 at 7:30 and with one matinee on Sunday Oct 15 at 3 pm. Tickets on sale at rivercompany.ticketspice.com/woody or at 207 449 2943. Tickets are $15.00 for adults and $5.00 for youths