This story is part of the Glimpses of Ben Series.
Ben sat on the floor of his bedroom trying for the fifth time to get his shoe on his foot. He tugged it off again, rearranged his sock again and tried to squinch his toes together. It was useless; the shoe would not go on to his foot. Now he'd done it, the shoe was too small. His shoes had hurt his feet for sometime now, but the fact could no longer be ignored his foot was too big. He stopped struggling with the shoe and turned his foot this way and that trying to see if it looked bigger. Standing up, he picked up his shoes and laid them down next to his bed with a sigh.
With his little shoulders flung back and his head held high he opened his bedroom door and peaked out. Silence greeted his ears. He closed the door behind him and started down the hall. He made it all the way to the front door without hearing anyone. That meant that his grandparents were outside. He sighed again and tugged the large cabin door open.
Martha Fraser heard the small sounds her grandson made at the cabin door as she sat drinking her morning coffee on the porch while her husband mended leather harnesses. She waited for Ben to come out. She heard Ben heave a great sigh before he walked out to join them. "Oh dear," she thought what kind of trouble would she have to deal with now.
Ben solemnly marched out to stand in front on his grandparents. He stood as straight and tall as he could like his grandpa taught him. Grandpa said people listened to people who stood straight and tall.
"Isn't it time for you to do your chores, Ben?" Martha inquired as she sipped her coffee again.
"Yes, Mam. I'll go do them now." Ben turned on his socked heel and started for the porch steps.
"Hold it. Just where do you think you're going?" his grandpa said with twinkle in his eye.
"To do my chores." Ben said trying not to look directly in his grandfather's eyes.
"Not in stocking feet, you aren't. Where are your shoes?"
"In my room."
"Why aren't they on you're feet?"
"They don't want to fit anymore." Ben said simply.
"Ben, shoes don't have feelings dear." His grandmother smiled at him. "Run and bring you shoes here so we can see them."
Ben retrieved his shoes quickly and handed them to his grandmother. Martha eyed the shoes carefully noting the falling apart laces and the worn shoe tongues. She turned them over and inspected the bottoms, which were rough and scuffed but without holes. While Martha looked the shoes over, she watched Ben from the corner of her eyes. He wore his favorite light blue sweater and a pair of heavy shorts. The sweater was getting a little small too she noted. His beautiful eyes anxiously followed every turn of the shoes in her hands.
"Aren't these the same shoes you took off last night Ben?" Grandpa asked as he punched a hold in a harness piece.
"Yes, sir. There're the only pair of shoes I have." Ben hung his head forlornly. The small boy shifted on his feet and finally looked at his grandparents.
"Ben looks like you're growing. Can you wiggle into them one more time?" She hid an amused smile behind her coffee cup as she watched a look of pain cross the boy's features. "Ben sit down and take off your socks."
The little boy complied quickly and sat wiggling his toes in perfect freedom. His grandparents noted the red spots on some of his toes. Ben put his feet up in the air, "See Granma."
Martha laughed as she watched the toes wriggle in freedom as Ben swung his feet up closer to her face. She turned to face her husband and spoke so Ben could hear. "Looks like the boy is growing. Guess it's about time to make a trip into town."
Since he had come to live with his grandparents they hadn't made a trip anywhere. Ben listened quietly, excitement building in the pit of his stomach. He couldn't remember ever riding in the old car Grandpere kept in the barn. He watched his grandmother go into the cabin wondering why she seemed so amused. She returned quickly and quietly handed Ben a pair of her own work boots.
"Put these on and go do your chores, we'll leave to go shopping when you're done. Don't do a slap dash job Ben." Martha watched the little boy slide his feet into her boots, which were several sizes too large.
Cautiously Ben moved around on the porch, having to drag his feet a little to keep the boots on his feet. He finally walked down the porch steps carefully and began his trip to the barn. He had to feed the chickens and water the dogs. That was his job every day now. Grandpere said everyone had to help, that's what kept things working. With each step he took, his grandmother's boots slopped around his feet. So he walked a little slower and listened to the sounds the boots made scrapping along the ground. He finished his chores as quickly as he could and headed back to the cabin. His feet were getting sore and his legs felt really heavy as he finally climbed the porch again.
Ben's grandfather smiled at Ben over the edge of his glasses. "Chickens fed?"
"Yes sir." Ben collapsed into a huddled blob on the porch and pulled his feet out of his borrowed boots. "My feet hurt." He grabbed his right foot and looked it over seriously.
"I guess they are a might big for you. We'll buy you some foot gear that will fit better when we go into
"Yes, sir." Benton ran barefooted into the cabin and pulled a stool over to the sink. He quickly grabbed the bar of soap on the sinks edge and began washing his hands and wiping off his face. He jumped down from the stool and looked down at his casual clothes, he looked all right he guessed. He started for the door only to be intercepted by his Grandmother at the door.
"Benton Fraser, you have to comb your hair if you are going anywhere with us." She opened her purse and handed Benton her own comb. With a sigh, he began tugging the comb through his thick curls.
"Here Grandma," he finally said with relief. But his hair was still far from the well-combed status his grandparent expected.
Martha took the comb and tugged it through Ben's unruly curls again. She stood back and took a look at his hair. "You need a shorter cut, Ben. Those curls are just too unruly."
"They just grow back, Granma." Ben said with a real note of experience in his voice.
"I know they will Ben, but we'll get you a good hair cut today along with new shoes." She held her hand out and took his hand in hers. "You'll just have to go barefoot till we get the new shoes."
"Yes Mam." Ben looked down and wriggled his naked toes.
They both heard the sound of the car arriving by the front porch. Martha led Ben out the door to the porch steps where Ben's grandfather waited. Martha leaned down and picked Ben up off the steps and walked to the car with the boy. She set Ben down in the backseat by himself. Ben found he was too small to see out the car windows and crawled up on his knees to lean out the window as their car pulled off their property and onto the old logging road that lead to the nearest settlement.
Ten minutes down the road, Martha found herself enjoying the scenery. She didn't get many days for relaxing. They were always busy at the cabin or off somewhere working at whatever location currently needed their librarian services. Summers brought them home to the cabin; cold weather sent them out to library work. This year they were going to stay home and work in the library nearest them.
"Grandma, how far do we have to go to get my shoes?"
"I think it's about 110 kilometers one way, Ben."
"How long does that take?"
"The roads are not constructed like city roads, so I guess it will take us several hours, Ben."
"How big is the settlement?"
"You'll see when we get there."
"Are there people there?"
"Yes, Ben there are lots of people there."
"Do these people have kids like me?"
"Some of them might."
Ben was on his knees gazing out the back window as his grandfather drove down the bumpy road. He tried resting his chin on his hands as he watched the passing scenery. Before he knew it, Ben was drifting off to sleep and sliding down off the back of the car's rear seat. The car hit a bump and Ben went flying off the seat to land in a heap on the rear floor of the car. He rubbed his head and looked up to see his grandmother turned in her seat and watching him.
Martha smiled and offered her hand to the boy. As he pulled himself up, she pulled him forward towards her and pulled him into her lap.
"Gran, I'm too big to sit in your lap, I might hurt you." Ben said even as he enjoyed the comfort of his grandmother's arms around him.
"Nonsense Benton. You're just the perfect size to sit here and keep me company while your grandfather drives.
Ben nodded happily and began another spat of questions as he watched the road. He wiggled his toes and settled back against his grandmother as she rolled the car window down.
"Will I be too big when I'm seven?" he asked.
"Probably not, unless you start another growth spurt." She smiled at him and held him closer.
Ben tried valiantly to stay awake but the lulling sound of the wheels on the road defeated him. He was soon sleeping cradled in the arms of his grandmother. He slept until the car turned onto the paved road that led into the small settlement that his grandparents usually only visited twice a year for supplies.
Martha smiled as they drove into the small, two street town. They drove down the main street until they were able to park in front of the general store. Martha gently woke Ben and waited for her husband to open the passenger door. He lifted Ben out into his arms as the boy began to wake up. Martha climbed out quickly and stood beside him. Ben stretched and yawned. He realized he was being held in his grandfather's arms as they stood on a real sidewalk on a real street.
They entered the general store quietly leaving the sunlight street behind them. Ben wanted to see everything and tried to move in his granpere's arms. His grandfather strode over to a small group of chairs near the window and set Ben down carefully. "Wait here, while your grandmother and I look around. Don't touch anything."
Ben sat in the chair he had been placed in and watched his grandparents talking to a man behind a long counter that they obviously knew well. He couldn't hear what was being said, but he knew they were talking about him because the man seemed to watch him and nod as his grandmother talked to him softly.
Swinging his bare feet back and forth as they dangled from the chair, Ben watched the adults moving about the store. The front door opened and two small boys about Ben's age walked into the darkened store. Ben sat a little taller as he watched the boys march up to the counter and put some money down on it. The man behind the counter smiled and handed two jars down to the boys and watched while they each counted out five pieces of penny candy.
The taller of the two boys at the counter, picked out his candy quickly and turned to look around the store. Of course, he spotted Ben quickly and moved over to stand in front of Ben. Ben smiled and was about to say hello when he noticed the boy looking at his bare feet. Ben felt suddenly shy and pulled his feet back into the shadows under his chair.
"You don't live around here, do you?" The boy asked Ben with a superior looking smile.
Ben shook his head no and sunk a little more into his chair as the other boy joined them. Ben eyed the candy the second boy held in his hands wondering what it was the boy held so tightly.
"How hold are you?" The first boy asked as he cocked his head closer to Ben and looked closely at Ben's curly hair.
"Six." Ben whispered.
"Oh, I'm eight but I'll be nine soon. My little brother is almost 7." The taller boy said glad to know he was older than the other two boys.
"Gotta a name?" The littler boy asked as he chewed furiously on a piece of taffy candy.
"That's not a name. Mines Bill and this is Joey. Don't you got a name like that?"
"Grandmere calls me Ben sometimes." Ben barely whispered and sunk further back in his chair.
"How come you don't got shoes?" Joey asked bluntly.
"I couldn't get them on my feet anymore. Grandmother is getting me new ones today."
"Where'd you get that hair?" Joey asked even more pointedly than his last question.
"Joey, be quiet. He can't help his hair. Mom would be mad at you for talking this way and you know it." Bill said with a hit to his brother's shoulder as he noticed Ben's eyes seem to be filling with tears.
Ben dropped his eyes to the floor wishing he could just curl up and disappear. He looked down at the boy's feet and saw they were wearing footgear that didn't look like regular shoes. Bill had on red; apple colored shoes with long white laces and Joey wore black shoes like his brother's red shoes.
"I like your hair Ben, sgot character." Bill said as he ran his hand through his straight, spiky hair. Mine hangs straight in my eyes when I need a haircut. It's a pain. Yours looks squiggly like. Saw a girl with curly hair once."
"Yea, looks like a girl's hair." Joey said with sticky candy starting to be apparent around his lips.
"No stupid. I didn't say Ben had hair like a girl. I said I saw a girl with curly hair." Bill rolled his eyes at his little brother. "Don't mind him Ben, Joey is just little."
Martha had found three pairs of shoes for Ben to try on and stood with her back to the boys while she hunted for a pair of boots. She smiled inwardly as she listened to eight-year-old Bill trying to sound like an adult. She picked up a package of new socks and turned to find Ben huddling back in his chair.
"Well, we got to get home. Mom only let us come down to get some penny candy, cause we earned it by doing our chores this week." Bill grabbed his brother by the collar and shoved him towards the door. "Bye Ben."
Ben watched the two boys leave with a sigh and ran his hand through his curly hair. He made a face of disgust and looked down at his bare feet. Martha walked briskly over to her grandson and sat down next to him.
"I found three pair of shoes that might do for you Ben. Put a pair of these socks on and try on one of these shoes."
Ben looked down at the shoes his grandmother had set before him. Brown leather with thick soles formed each pair. He looked carefully at the shoes and glanced at his grandmother. With a sigh, Ben picked up the sturdiest looking pair of shoes and began to try them on. He could wiggle his toes inside even after he tied the shoes tightly. They felt good.
Martha noted the sigh as she watched Ben try on the shoes. She reached down and pinched and prodded the shoe on Ben's foot for fit. "Do you like that shoe, Ben?"
"Yes, it's OK."
"How does it feel on your foot?"
"Is that the pair you want Ben?" She asked.
Ben nodded slowly and began putting the other sock and shoe on his foot. At least he wouldn't have to hide his feet, wearing these shoes. He looked down at the new shiny leather. His grandmother smiled and handed him the pair of work boots she had found in his size. She stood up and smiling down at Ben asked him to come to the back of the store with her. She looked at a rack of parkas and picked one up that looked warm and sturdy with a heavy hood.
Ben's grandfather stood near the counter talking to the clerk while Martha did her shopping. He noted Ben's sigh over the shoes and smiled for he had seen Ben admire Bill's red shoes. Martha was finally done shopping and put her purchases up on the counter. Ben stood quietly at her side gazing down at his new shoes.
"Martha, you and the boy go down to the café. I'll pay for these things and put them in car. We'll have some lunch before we get Ben a hair cut."
Martha nodded and led Ben out into the afternoon light. They disappeared down the street quickly. Ben looked around him curiously as they walked down the sidewalk. He couldn't remember being in a town before. He and his grandmother were seated and looking at the menu when his grandfather joined them. The three of them ate a light lunch and proceeded to the barbershop.
The barber smiled at Ben's hair and helped the small boy up into his huge barber chair. He listened to Martha asking him to cut the boy's hair back. In less than 15 minutes, Ben had lost his curls. He looked in the mirror at the really short hair on his head. Short hair made his eyes more prominent in his face. Ben wasn't sure he liked that, but it was done now. He climbed down and watched his grandfather replace him in the chair. In no time at, all his grandfather was done too. Ben didn't see much change in his grandfather's looks. He wondered why he looked different without his curls.
They climbed into their car as the sun was beginning to set. Martha turned to Ben to ask him if he wanted to sit on her lap. He was about to cheerfully climb up to the front seat when he saw Bill and Joey watching him as they played on the sidewalk. Ben straightened up and settled on his knees into the back seat. Bill waved at him as they drove down the street. Ben waved back but didn't look back as they drove out of town.
It wasn't long before Ben's head was drooping on his shoulders. He fell asleep in an awkward position on the back seat with his head tilted to one side. His grandfather stopped the car along the side of the road and lifted the little boy up into the front seat for his grandmother to hold. Ben didn't wake up as they made the rest of the trip home.
It was very late when the arrived home and Ben's grandfather carried him into the cabin as carefully as he could. He carried the boy into his room and settled him on the bed. Carefully he removed Ben's new shoes and socks and covered the boy with his comforter.
Martha put the last of the packages onto the kitchen table and began opening them. Each item was pulled out carefully and laid aside as she moved to open the next item. There were two more packages than she thought she should have lying on the table. She opened one with care and found a pair of bright, apple red shoes with long white laces on them. She was picking one up and looking at it in perplexity when her husband walked up and smiled at the shoes.
"Noticed the boys Ben was talking to were wearing shoes like these." He said quietly. "Ben noticed the shoes too."
"But he didn't say anything about them." Martha sat down and picked up one of the red shoes.
"No, he wouldn't. Haven't you noticed that young Ben only takes what he thinks you want him to take?"
"You're right I had noticed that."
"Well, I saw him smile today and I want to see more of those smiles. Won't hurt him to have a pair of bright red shoes."
"When are you going to give them to him?" She asked. Martha watched the man she loved with all her heart smile back at her.
"I thought I would put them on the floor next to the brown serviceable ones right now."
"Then you won't see his smile."
"We'll see." He picked up the shoes and trod quietly back to Ben's room where he lovingly laid the shoes.
Ten hours later.
The sun streamed in Ben's bedroom window as Ben stretched in his bed. He raised his arms and moved around under his warm covers. He wiggled his toes and realized he had gone to sleep in his clothes. Throwing his comforter back, he swung his legs off of his bed. Ben reached for his new socks on the floor and stopped in movement as he eyes saw his new brown leather shoes sitting right next to a pair of bright red shoes with really long white laces. Ben literally fell to the floor beside the shoes and looked at them in awe. Reaching out his hand he touched first one red shoe then the other. The shoes appeared to be the same size as his new leather ones. He picked one shoe up and examined it closely. He let out a war hoop and smiled as he began furiously opening the laces to put the shoes on his feet.
In the cabin kitchen, Martha paused as she was pouring Ben's oatmeal into his bowl. A smile brightened her face as she heard Ben's whoop of joy. She looked at the table where her husband sat over his morning coffee. "I think he just smiled." She said with glee.
Ben raced down the hall wearing his new, red shoes. He swung his little cropped head from grandparent to grandparent. He started to run to his grandmother but she stopped him with a nod of her head towards his grandfather. Ben raced across the room and flung himself into his grandfather's arms. After he hugged the life out of his grandfather, Ben pulled back a bit. His grandfather was overwhelmed by the brilliance of Ben's smile and began to let tears fill from his eyes.