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SHOES AND HUGS



It is amazing that any of us boys from the orphanage ever passed from grade to grade. Once again, five of us had not gone to school. Running away again, we headed out into a world that was unknown to us.

Generally, we would cross the Main Street Bridge and walk the 10 miles over to Park Street. We would hang around in the small city park located next to the Five Points shopping area.

"Look at that old man on the bench. He ain't got no shoes on, just socks," said Wayne Evers.

We stood looking at the dirty, unshaven man. He appeared to be resting. We walked closer to the bench where he sat and stood looking at him.

"It's cold mister. How come you ain't got no shoes?”

He opened his eyes and looked at each one of us, then closed his eyes again without saying a word.

"It's cold mister. How come you ain't got any shoes?" Wayne asked again.

"They just fell apart several days ago," mumbled the old man, nodding his head to one side.

"Ain't you got no more money to get more shoes?"

"You boys had best just move on," said the man.

Then, he lied back down on the bench.

"Why don't you go home and sleep?" asked Billy.

The old man turned over on the bench and said not a word.

We started walking down the sidewalk headed toward the large fishpond. There we would hide behind the large bushes so the police could not see us. Every hour or so, we would venture out of the park to check out the garbage cans behind several of the local restaurants. Other than stealing, eating from these cans was the only way we could get food.

At three o’clock in the afternoon after school let out, we felt we could safely venture around the Five Points Plaza without being hassled by the police. As we walked around looking in the store windows, we came upon a shoe store.

"God! Look at all them hundreds of shoes," yelled Billy Stroud. "Here they got all those shoes and that old man ain't got any."

"Want to steal him some shoes?" asked Wayne.

No one said a word; we just stood looking at each other.

"Who’s going to run in and get 'em?" I asked.

"I'll get them," said Wayne.

"But we ain't got no right size," said Billy.

"All you got to get is a big size. Get real big," I instructed Wayne.

Within a split second, Wayne had run into the shoe store and grabbed a box of shoes off the rack. Then out the door he went in a flash. We watched him as he ran full blast down Park Street toward the park. We just stood there, unable to move. We could not believe he had stolen a pair of shoes that fast and we also could not believe that no one was chasing him. No one even came out of the store.

The four of us stood still for several more minutes. Still, nothing happened. We finally started walking back toward the park. As we crossed the street, we saw Wayne standing by the bench with the old man. As we approached them, we noticed the old man was trying on the shoes.

"They are a little big on me, but I can wear more socks," the old man told him.

"Did you boys steal these here shoes?" asked the man.

"No, sir. We collected Coca Cola bottles all day," Wayne lied.

The old man smiled and looked over at Wayne.

"Come here, boy.”

Wayne walked over to the man and stopped in front of him. The dirty old man stood up and wrapped his arms around Wayne.

"Thank you much, boy."

At that very moment everything got really quiet. Wayne just stood with his body totally limp. He had no idea what to do with his arms. When the man freed him from his grip, Wayne turned his back toward us. He walked over and stopped by a tree near the pond. All at once, he slapped the tree as hard as he could. No one said a word.

Several minutes later, the five of us walked over to Riverside Avenue and on toward the Main Street Bridge that headed back to the orphanage. Still, no one said a word, not for 10 blocks or so.

Suddenly, someone yelled out, "WAYNE GOT A HUGGGGG! WAYNE GOT A HUGGGGG!"

All at once, there was total chaos on the street. Everyone began to push and shove each other as if it were a bar room brawl. Fifteen seconds later, all was once again quiet. I looked up at Wayne and saw tears in his eyes. I winked at Wayne and smiled. He walked over and put his arm around my shoulder. I in turn, put my arm around the shoulder of Billy Stroud and he around another boy, and he around another.

That is just the way life was with us orphans on the streets.



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