BY PETER STRAFACI, SR
To understand“Holes in My Shoes,” I have to bring you back to the year 1950. I’m seven years old, the middle boy of two other boys in the family. My parents both work; we have a live-in-maid from Poland and a fenced house located on a street corner in a small town. My elementary school was two blocks away; a new junior high school was a ten-minute bike ride from my house, where I attended as a ninth-grader. My high school was in the neighboring town where I took a bus to attend the last three years of high school. Both my brothers attended the same schools; my older brother was the smart one in the family.
Not that I understood the term middle class at age seven, but I guess that term would best describe our family.
My father would change cars for newer models periodically; he joined a golf and country club, and on special occasions, he would take the family there for dinner. Both parents’ families were from Brooklyn and for that very reason, we often found ourselves visiting relatives on Sunday. Those trips were the best of times when it came to family outings.
Because of the age difference between my brothers, we didn’t have much in common. I was closest in age to my older brother…a three-year gap, whereas a six-year difference existed with my younger brother. Looking back now, it may explain why we have so little in common today. I said earlier that my older brother was the smart one. After high school, he was accepted to a top-rated college…he dropped out two years later, got married and went to work for my parents. When I finished high school, I chose a junior college to attend, graduated, and transferred to a four-year state university. Earning a degree in education, I went on to spend thirty-three years in one public school system.
Ok, I’m way ahead of myself…let me bring you back to 1950.
Although I have not lived in that corner house for some time, I can tell you everything about it, especially my bedroom on the second floor.
My bedroom, shared with my older brother, was down the hall from the maid’s room. The only thing separating where I slept in my room and my parent’s bedroom was a five-inch wall.
Why is that important to know? That wall became a lifetime of lessons acquired that carried me into adulthood on how to deal with money, marital disputes, and a lesson in that as much as a seven-year-old wanted to help his parents resolve their money and marital problems, he couldn’t.
There were far too many nights while lying in bed that I heard them arguing…whether it was his time at the country club, losing at playing cards or at the racetrack, their business, or money issues in general. There was a growing sense that I could do nothing to help them. I was too young to work and couldn’t tell them that I was tired of going to bed crying after hearing them argue.
I decided that the only way I could help was when I first discovered holes in my shoes. They weren’t large holes but ones that would eventually grow in size and require repair…and that would cost money. I fixated on what needed to be done and came up with an ingenious and secret solution. I put small pieces of cardboard inside each shoe…problem solved until the holes got bigger and it rained. No matter how many times it rained or the size of the holes increased, I had another piece of cardboard in reserve. I took pride in saving my parents money and keeping my cardboard secret from them.
I don’t remember when my parents actually found out about the holes, the cardboard, or why I chose not to tell them my reasons for doing what I was doing. My guess is that our maid told them. My wife told me years later that my father once approached her and asked her what shoes I was wearing when we first went out. She responded that she had not noticed and asked him why the question.
He responded saying that if it was his brown shoes, then those would be the ones that had holes in them and with cardboard stuffed inside to keep the rain out.
Lessons acquired at an early age are hard to break…some take longer than others. As for the cardboard in my shoes, that stopped after my parents found out. As for resolving marital disputes, that is not the job of children. When it comes to money disputes, that has taken me longer to address…it is still a work in progress.