Christmas Eve at Bibb’s Shoe Store
by Lucy Tharp
I

watched the clock. In 20 minutes I could close the store. Tonight, Christmas Eve 1951, all the stores in Crossville, Tennessee, closed early with the exception of Bibb’s Shoe Store. Owen Bibb kept his business open seven days a week regardless of the occasion.

I wanted to get back to my apartment to get ready for the 15-mile drive to my home place. I would be spending Christmas with my parents.

I felt pleased that I had been able to cash my paycheck during my lunch break and pay my rent and other bills. I still had 10 dollars left out of my check. I felt in my dress pocket to see if the $10 bill was there. I thanked God that I still had enough money left to buy a gift for my parents.

I hummed “Silent Night” all the way down aisles A and B while dusting shelves and straightening shoes. The clock pointed to five minutes until six, but there was no mistaking the tinkle of the bell over the store’s front door. A rush of winter air blew down aisle B before the door closed. I moved toward the front of the store to greet a potential customer.

Two small kids were standing on the rubber doormat at the entrance of the store.

What could these kids want? I wondered. I was sure they were not out shopping for shoes on Christmas Eve.

“Kids, the store will be closing in five minutes,” I said in an irritated tone. “You should be home and off the streets.”

The girl shook her dark red curls back and forth and pressed her lips forward. She looked about 7. The boy spoke in a gruff voice, “We want to get our mother a present. She wants a pair of red shoes. Some with high heels.”

I frowned at the kids impatiently. They were wearing thin tennis shoes with the logos peeled off. The girl wore a badly frayed fleece-lined coat, but the coat’s fleece looked like a freshly sheared lamb. The boy wore no cap, and his ears were red from the cold.

“Shoes? Wouldn’t it be better to let your mother come in and pick them out? Then she can try them on for size.”

“No need for that,” the girl pleaded from dark eyes. “She wears size 6. I looked at her shoes at home. Please . . . we got money.”

I rejected the temptation to ask, “How much?”

The boy ran down aisle C, and the girl followed. He set out a pair of sandals with Christmas glitter toes, a pair of red pumps, and an assortment of other styles. The girl squatted to examine each pair. She ran her hand over the pattern of each shoe, a practiced eye searching for flaws.

I failed to hear Owen Bibb’s key turn in the back door.

“What’s going on here?” he demanded. “It’s five past six, and you haven’t locked up. What are these kids doing—playing with the shoes? I run a shoe store, not a toy store.”

“They’re not playing, Sir. They’re shopping for a pair of shoes for their mother.”

“With what? What are they using for money—wampum?”

“It’s all right, Mr. Bibb.” I tried to assure him. “I’m holding their money right here in my pocket while they choose.”

I had a sinking feeling when I realized what I had said. I had probably obligated myself to stand good for the pair of shoes they were buying.

Suddenly, the boy whispered in his sister’s ear. She nodded. I knew that they had made their choice.

The girl held up the pumps in one hand and two crumpled dollar bills in the other. Mr. Bibb stood with his back to the children, while looking out the store’s front window.

“It’s snowing real good now,” he said cheerfully. “The snowflakes look like magic. Jesus is going to have a beautiful birthday. God is giving us a lovely white Christmas.”

The red pumps carried a 10-dollar price tag. I took the $10 bill from my dress pocket that I had put back for my Christmas shopping. I smoothed it out on the counter before putting it in the register and ringing up the sale. I stuffed the two crumpled bills from the girl into the toe of one red shoe.

I felt a deep feeling of warmth inside me to see the girl’s fawn-like eyes watching me. They seemed to flicker like small lights.

The children moved to the door, hugging their package. I heard them leaving. Through the smile on my lips, I called,

“Merry Christmas.”

From somewhere deep inside me, I heard a small voice, “Blessed are the children.”

Then, quickly, came a sinking feeling. I tried to console myself with the thought that I had done what my parents would have wanted me to do.

Mr. Bibb left when I turned off the lights. The snow was shining so brightly through the window that I didn’t need any light to see the beautifully wrapped package on the counter.

The card read: “For my dearest employee, Lucy. From: Mr. Bibb.”

I stared long and hard at the word “dearest.” Under the package I found a crisp new $20 bill! At the end of the counter I found a red sucker wrapped in crumpled paper decorated with stickers and tied with a dark green ribbon.

It was an unforgettable Christmas at Bibb’s Shoe Store. Somewhere a mother was rejoicing with her children over a new pair of red pumps. Mr. Bibb had given me a wonderful present, and I was able to share my Christmas blessing with my beloved parents.