Black Patten Leather Shoes

First Holy Communion, Pentecost Sunday May 24th, 1942.

There was a war going on. In the midst of rationing and praying for peace, two grand events were about to happen in my life. I was nine years old, my mother was going to have a baby and I was going to make my first Holy communion.

At another time preparing a daughter’s first communion would have been rather simple. You buy a dress and veil. Purchase a rosary and prayer book from sister and hope that all that trying on and buying does not get in the way of what is important.

It is essential that you understand my mother. She was intelligent, easy going friendly and my father’s problem solver. But when I brought home the must buy list for my first communion she changed. The list tipped her balance. Shoes were rationed, and white shoes were not on the shelves. But nylon stockings meant you needed a friend on the black market. My father was a government employee so that was out of the question. The dress and veil were a cinch. My older cousin from Chicago, already sent me her veil and dress.

Let me tell you, my father sat down at the table and waited. We hardly finished passing the mashed potatoes when my Mother started. For my part, I really did not care about shoes or stockings. I had a dress and veil. Besides, Sister Bethel reminded us every morning, that it was not how were dressed on the outside but how we were prepared to receive Jesus that mattered. I did not say that to my mother.

The next Saturday we went shopping. Just as my mother suspected, there were no white shoes. She spotted a single pair of patten leather shoes on the shelf, just my size and she had enough ration tickets. I looked dumbfounded at the black shoes, tried them on and carried them home. I knew I was a gonner. I worried that Sister Bethel would not survive my shoe shock. My mother borrowed a skinny friends pair of nylons for just one day, just for me.

Everything was in order. My mother was pleased and I was nervous. Now if the black shoes weren’t trouble enough for a nine year old, one more unexpected event happened. I came home from Communion practice and played outside with my friends and broke my elbow. My mother felt so sorry for me. She found a beautiful shawl that belonged to my grandmother and wrapped it around the cast and me. She told me the shawl was perfect with my black patten leather shoes. That was good enough for me. I did not have a single worry about the next day. I was making my first Communion.