Our semi-annual trek to purchase school shoes always started and ended at Mister Cobbler’s. They carried sturdy shoes that would last until the toes touched the front of the shoe. I’m thankful when a growth spurt doesn’t coincide with the month following shoe shopping. Jimmy Coin owned and managed the shop. There were two long rows of seats with foot measuring tools scattered around on the floor. The store was usually a mad house the week before school started because it made good sense to wait until the last minute to invest in shoes that had no guaranteed shelf life.
Jimmy stocked a nice selection of women’s shoes and I stopped by on a quiet afternoon to pick up a pair that I had ordered for myself. I’m no shoe collector, but I like my outfits to coordinate and needed a pair of raspberry pumps. Jimmy dyes shoes any color of the rainbow. I was hoping to break in the shoes before the weekend. My feet are a little wide and I was already familiar with the pain of new-shoe blisters. The shop seemed quiet and Jimmy was assisting a woman who was trying on a pair of sturdy low-heeled shoes. I could see Jimmy’s face strain as he tried to use the shoe horn to squeeze the woman’s foot into the shoe. He called out a quick hello and the woman turned her head to look to see who entered. Holy Toledo! Mrs. Culver, also known as “cutthroat” by the kids. Mrs. Culver taught fourth grade and was universally feared. I smiled a guilty grin even though I had not done anything wrong. I merely witnessed Jimmy trying to get that shoe on her. When she stood up to walk around in the shoes, Jimmy excused himself and approached me at the counter.
Mrs. Culver told Jimmy that she would return later in the week to purchase the shoes, changed into her old shoes, and left with a nod to us both. Jimmy told me that Mrs. Culver insisted on buying shoes that were a full size too small, and it was always an unpleasant experience for both of them. I sarcastically suggested that Jimmy switch out the shoes in the shoe box with the right size and have them waiting for her. Jimmy looked like a light had just gone off in his head and pulled out my pumps from under the counter. The color was perfect and I left with my shoes. Jimmy still had that stupid grin on his face when I left.
A week or so later, I brought the children in for their shoes. It was a minor mob scene with kids climbing everywhere, moving displayed shoes and cramming their feet into the measuring tools for each other. Jimmy had scheduled extra help and we managed to find shoes that everyone liked and looked like they might last a few months. Jimmy offered the children lollipops from a giant bowl and they happily choose their favorites. While they were choosing, Jimmy leaned over and told me that he took my advice with Mrs. Culver. I must have looked a little shocked. He told me that he removed the ink mark from the inside of the shoe that displayed the size and packed them in the box from the smaller size. Mrs. Culver picked up the shoes without trying them on again. Jimmy told me that Mrs. Culver called him two days later, and he thought he had been caught. Instead, she ordered another pair because they were the most comfortable shoes that she ever owned. I giggled at his brazenness, and he swore me to secrecy.