It Must Be the Shoes

by Leslie Gibson McCarthy
Red shoe with gold coins
Photo: Catholic Icing
Used by permission

Among Matt's earliest pairs of shoes were black baby Nike "Air Jordan" high tops, given to him by my friend and former colleague from the Sporting News, Celeste Williams.

Celeste didn't have kids, so she was content to spoil her friends' children. They were the coolest baby shoes I'd ever seen. Matt wore them for about six weeks that summer.

But it was those baby high tops we left in our dining room alongside our own shoes December 5, 1994, the night before our first St. Nicholas Day as parents. And sure enough, St. Nicholas didn't disappoint, depositing an orange, some coins and a little baby toy in those tiny Air Jordans—along with something for Mom.

Matt doesn't remember that St. Nicholas Day, but I sure do. St. Nicholas Day had long been a tradition in both our families growing up, but we celebrated a bit differently. How the Irish adopted the feast day of a Greek saint who became a German tradition, I'll never know, but every December 5, as kids, we'd leave our shoes in the hallway before we went to bed—just as my mom's family did when they were kids—and wake up to them filled with a gift and some candy.

I always figured it was an appetizer for Christmas—if you couldn't wait for December 25, here was something to tide you over. I simply remember December 6 mornings as moments of pure joy. Must have been the shoes.

Tom's family—his mom was German—was more traditional. They left out stockings that would be filled with oranges and nuts and candy. So we compromised. He got the oranges. I got the shoes—and the toys. And it was that first St. Nicholas Day we had children that set the tone for the subsequent years.

The next year, St. Nick filled a pair of white toddler shoes. The year after that, two pair. Every year, little feet would wake up early December 6, walk as fast as they could down the hall and make the sharp left turn into the dining room to find shoes filled with goodies.

Eventually, the pitter-patter became a raucous run which became a stampeding stomp in the rush to find St. Nick's bounty.

Sunday night, Matt will leave out a pair of size 13 black Nike high tops. Jack's size 11s will be nearby—both bigger than those first pairs those early years, but so are the feet that wear them.

I still have Matt's baby high tops. He probably will grow out of the size 13s, too, but I'm pretty sure I won't keep those. I'll just keep the memory of a St. Nicholas day that keeps bringing me joy. Must be the shoes.

From South County News, St. Louis, Missouri, December 3, 2010. Permission pending.

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