My family is pretty widely spread across the USA, but we often gathered for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I have dozens of wonderful memories of my grandpa telling (and re-telling) stories during those reunions. He loved nature and hiking, and was the leader of the pathfinders group in his town for many years (sort of like boy/girl scouts in their area). Most of the stories I remember from him center on his hiking trips. His favorite was one he had titled “Angel Shoes”. While I wasn’t there, I’ll include as many details as I can recall, and artistic liberty where my memory falls short(names and dates mostly).
It’s Spring Break, and time for the annual hike into the Sierra Nevada mountains. I gather the three teens of my pathfinder troop who didn’t take off for more exotic lands. Inspecting their gear as we packed it into the truck, it’d be unfortunate if someone forgot their mess kit or something. Backpacks check, canteens check, bedrolls check, food check, hiking boots ch…Joe’s shown up in his old black Nike’s.
-Joe, do really expect to hike for four days in your old cross-trainers?
-Yessir, they’re what I have. I’ll make do sir.
-Very well, I hope they hold up.
-Who said to stop loading? We need to get on the road if we want to get a good start today.
And with the packing complete, the journey begins. A couple hours later, we arrive at the trail head. We quickly unload to start up the mountain, I set a quick pace so we arrive at the first campsite before dark. These kids have been scouting under my lead since they started losing teeth, I know I can trust them to set the tents and gather wood while I prep supper. Day One, everyone is safely tucked in.
As my campers are dismantling tents and stowing gear, I notice a dark cloud on the horizon. I vainly hope it empties before it reaches us, but know it will likely pour on the mountain. I stow some tinder while it’s still dry. We pause in a pleasant meadow for lunch, and watch the storm approach.
No-one wants to be caught in the rain, but we still need to hike another few hours to reach the next tent site. No sooner do we cross the half-way point than did the rains burst forth. A mighty downpour quickly soaks our clothes and turns the dirt trail into a muddy mire. Joe’s size 14 shoes are sloshing so much it must be through sheer force of will they stay on his feet. The overwhelming downpour soon quiets to an uncomfortable drizzle. We reach the camp and set a new record for tent assembly.
The few drops of rain fall, and I amaze them all with my foresight and produce the dry tinder for the fire. We’re all happy to be drying out next a roaring fire, sipping hot cocoa and waiting for dinner. I start blessing the food when I smell the acrid stench of burning rubber. Joe’s left shoe has caught fire. We all rush to put it out, but it is damaged beyond repair. Joe says he’s not worried, that God knows he needs a shoe. Day Two, heavy rains demoralize the troops, but the only physical casualty is Joe’s left shoe.
We rise early the next mourning to bird song. The mountains seem revitalized by the rain. A quick bowl of oatmeal and we are on our way to the summit. Joe quietly smiles though his foot is soon raw. We reach the summit camp, where the trails from either side of the mountain meet. Now each of these camps is marked by a fire pit, and what we found by the fire pit at the summit astounds everyone but Joe. Sitting beside the fire pit is a brand new pair of Nike’s, size 14, white, abandoned with no sign owners. Joe calmly walks over and puts on the left shoe, leaving the unneeded right one where he found it.
God answers prayer, and Joe wore those mismatched shoes all through high school, telling the story of the “Angel Shoes” to whoever asked about them.
My telling probably falls short of my grandpa’s, but this is how I choose to remember him. I want to some day bare the torch of “family story teller” by keeping his stories alive, while I make a few of my own.