Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The day Auntie Rosie got me back to school in style

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Going back to school always meant I'd get a new pair of runners, except for one year. My mom broke the news very matter-of-factly.

There were too many bills. We couldn't go shopping in time for school, so better luck next month. I was crestfallen.

Everyone would be decked out in shiny new clothes and shoes on the first day of school. But I just had my ratty old runners. Sure, they survived summer, but they were deformed from months of abuse.

I was about 10 years old and just beginning to understand things. Some people passed judgment every day, even kids.

Kids judged you by your friends or lack thereof, the colour of your skin, what was in your lunch bag -- if you had one -- and most frightening of all, your clothes and shoes.

Adults are guilty of it too, judging someone without a clue of who they really are.

My friends and I could only gaze fondly at the girls with their seemingly constant parade of sweater sets, matching barrettes and shoes of every colour.

I was OK with being poor and brown. But I was not OK with not having the bare essentials, like new shoes. The teasing and judgmental sneering I anticipated made me shudder internally.

That's when my Auntie Rosie came to the rescue.

"Don't worry, Chich," she said, calling my mom by her nickname, "I'll get her shoes."

My mom was relieved by the offer, but mentioned something about "no funny stuff."

Rosie is my mom's oldest sister. She was always cooking, cleaning and sewing back then -- and she has great taste in clothes. I was all for it.

The next day, my Auntie Rosie and I took a bus to a mall that no longer exists. We went into a big retail store and perused the aisles casually until we found the kids shoes section.

"What do you like?" Auntie Rosie asked as she scanned the selection.

Nobody was really into brands back then. There really wasn't the kind of bling you see nowadays. I ran around trying on various types of shoes until an especially snazzy pair of red runners caught my eye.

They were burgundy red, suede-like, with some silvery grey material and piping. I'd never seen anything like them before.

I was smitten, so my auntie found me a pair that fit and swiftly tied up the laces. She got me to walk up and down the aisle a few times to see if they felt right.

I loved them, but felt bad about the price. They were double what my mom would usually pay.

Auntie Rosie didn't care. She casually slipped my old runners under a shelf and said I could wear the new ones home. I was so proud of my new shoes that I barely noticed as we sailed out the door without paying for them.

Years later, my mom told me stories about how Rosie's skills came about. Back when they were little, they were sometimes left alone for days at a time, often with no food.

Rosie learned to steal food to feed herself, my mom and all the younger kids. She taught herself to cook for them too. One winter, she even pilfered some used skates so they could skate up and down their back lane.

She became the caretaker of the family. Sometimes old habits are hard to break, I guess.

But she retired those skills decades ago, working hard for many years at everything from cleaning rooms to making bannock.

But I'll never forget those red shoes. I knew it was wrong as we made our way home, but Lord, I still loved my Auntie Rosie for doing that for me.

Colleen Simard is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 24, 2012 A11

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