My Wish For Red Shoes

By: Yvette Benavides

After learning about this website, I returned to this email message I received from my mother in 2006. The subject line was “My Wish for Red Shoes.” This is my mom’s story about red shoes.

Why did I, at the tender age of 66+, all of a sudden bring back a memory of a 60 year-old wish for a pair of red shoes? I think it had to do with reading the newspaper this morning, October 11, 2006, and in particular the grocery store specials section. I always check to see what is on special so I can make my dollar stretch even longer. What’s the use –I ask myself sometimes. You don’t need all that stuff that’s on special and anyway when you live alone, or almost alone, you cannot use all the stuff you buy before it goes bad in your fridge.

Anyway, this morning, I saw the ads for Halloween costumes. It did not concern me, I thought, so why do I go through each one wondering who would buy those. Then I get this thought: how many kids see these ads in the papers and wish and hope for their moms or dads to buy them this particular costume and can almost see themselves wearing it. How many kids wait even until the last day, October 31st, and never get that costume? My five brothers and two sisters and I grew up thumbing through many ads, wishing, hoping and never getting this or that costume. Unavoidably, that threw me into my Red Shoes memory.

When I was six-ish, my father was already gone almost completely from our lives. My Mom and older four siblings were struggling to keep the family fed and most of all, together. Our Halloweens meant painting ourselves up and wearing baggy, raggedy clothes, which was not that difficult, since most of our clothes were already considered “costumes.” Hand-me-downs from younger boy cousins, which would fit mostly my younger three brothers were common during those years. I would search through the bags or boxes, hoping for some pants, shirts or shorts that looked like they would fit me. Many of the garments no longer had a size tag attached, so my Mom would eyeball the piece of clothing against each of the three boys to see who it would best fit. Nevertheless, I would still manage occasionally to grab a pair of boys’ pants or shirt that more or less fit my small frame.

Oh, yes, back to my Red Shoes wish story. That Christmas season, when I was six and a half, was the first Christmas that I was in elementary school. The school I attended was an old school named Central School, also known as La Escuela Amarilla, or yellow school because of its yellowish or orange colored brick. It was a three-story building. My class was in the basement where kids my age started in “sonidos” or phonetics class, pre-first grade. As I remember, sonidos class would go for a few months and then the kids that showed promise would go on to first grade. This school was one of a few elementary schools throughout Laredo, and the kids that attended were 98% working class/poor/very poor and 2% of what us poor considered ricos or rich because they had a mother and a father and lived very close to the school, actually across the street from it, in a subdivision of beautiful masonry or brick homes with manicured front lawns and rose gardens. Each day, as we made our way home, walking the approximately nine blocks, with many of the streets still unpaved in those days, I would see the 2% walk into their nice, clean, maid-waiting-with-after-school-snacks homes. One November day, as I waited with one of my older sisters to cross the street to the school grounds, I saw one of my classmates coming out of one of the rich houses. She was wearing the most beautiful red shoes I had ever seen. I looked down at my own shoes which were hand-me-downs from one of my sisters and were a little larger size than my own, but there were no other shoes available and so we had to make do, as my Mom would say. Our family’s shoes were usually purchased from one of the variety stores downtown. And because of the materials used, mostly cardboard-type, these were considered cheap by all standards. In any event, at least I was wearing shoes, whereas one of my older brothers sometimes had to go barefoot to school or to his job shining shoes downtown to earn a few coins to help support the family.

That winter the image of the girl’s red shoes stayed in my mind. When the Christmas season arrived, I wrote my letter to Santa. I was envisioning not a doll or toy dishes or socks, which were my usual treasures on Christmas morning, but in my mind was the constant picture of a pair of beautiful red shoes. So I wrote my letter and put as the number one item my beautiful red shoes. I followed with a couple of other things, a doll, an iron, a dish set, an apple, an orange, candy, nuts and fireworks. The last five items we received on a regular basis in our Christmas stocking. Christmas morning that year I woke up very early and found my usual Christmas stash, with a little doll, a puzzle, a pair of socks, but no red shoes. I still feel the disappointment when I relive the memories of that morning. However, for days after that, and feeling that Santa and Christmas are magical, I firmly believed I would find those red shoes in just about any other place in my house. So for days I went around looking under beds, in the “guardaropas” or armoire that was in our crowded bedroom. I looked under all the clothes which were customarily stuffed into the armoire by us kids, Mom’s helpers, after every washday, and with an even more sour attitude at not finding my red shoes under the clothes, I did an even worse job of stuffing the clothes back in and left some on the floor and some sticking out of the doors. And all the time during those days of immeasurable sadness, disappointment and wakeful nights I wondered why Santa refused me my red shoes, but I did not tell a single soul what was on my mind.

After the Christmas season and my unsuccessful search, I decided to ask my Mom why Santa had refused me the one thing I had wished for with all my heart. My Mom sadly told me that although Santa tried to make every child’s wish or dream come true, sometimes he has to make a decision to give that particular gift to a child who is in more need, like a child who has no mother or father or is ill or incapacitated. My Mom was the most loving, sensible and smart person I had ever known, so I knew she was right.

The next spring, my oldest sister at fourteen years of age, and an eighth grade drop-out, went to work as a saleslady at a new store which opened downtown. The employment minimum age was sixteen, and it took a little makeup and cotton stuffed in the right places to make her look that age. I was almost seven years old. From the pittance she earned during those years, working long hours six days a week, she was able to help feed the family, and the family depended on her for our school clothes and school supplies each year for the seven long years she worked at that store. And oh yes, during that school year when I was seven, my sister bought me a beautiful pair of reddish brown shoes which I proudly wore to school. They were not exactly like the ones I had so strongly longed for, but they were new and for a seven year old with nothing to look forward to, they were beautiful. I will forever be grateful for my wonderful Mother who taught me to use common sense and be grateful for what God gives us, and for all my brothers and sisters, who each worked hard to help the family, especially to help the youngest four. We were eight. I was number five and the first of the siblings to graduate from high school.

After graduation and working through several jobs, I could afford a pair of better shoes. So I bought myself the most exquisite, red, high-heel pumps from one of the best shoe stores in town. I wore my beautiful red shoes with pride and as a symbol of accomplishment.