“The Red Shoes” 03.04.22

My Granmama Patte was one of the best story tellers I have ever known. Her birthday was this week; a fact I had honestly not remembered when I started writing this article about her. She told me all kinds of stories. Some of them were true, but mostly fictional. She helped me to become who I am today. She gave me the strength to be wild, to be a woman who runs with the wolves, and to feel special in my own way. She was one of the most influential people in my life, and a successful, powerful woman.

When I was really little, my Granmama lived in a house with creaks and groans. She had a spiral staircase connecting the upstairs from the bedrooms below. Whenever we visited, I would wake up early before everyone else and climb the rickety steps to my Granmama’s room and crawl into bed with her. I sometimes wonder if she was already awake because she anticipated this as a regular occurrence. She would tell me stories, and we would talk about important things I don’t remember anymore, but I will never forget her voice. A few years before she died, she gave us each a book that contained many of the stories she told us as children. Now, when I choose one of my favorite stories, I ask my Granmama to read me that story. As my eyes keep up with the pace and I concentrate with all my strength, Granmama’s voice shines through, and she reads me that story, as if she is sitting next to me.

I remember the strangest fictional stories she told us, and how the details changed over time. “The Red Shoes” is my favorite. Now that I am a storyteller, I will give my version.

Once Upon a Time…

There was a small girl living in poverty. She roamed the streets with only the handmade rags on her back. She had fashioned her wardrobe all by herself, and was especially proud of her threadbare shoes. She had painted them red, because that was her favorite color, and she felt bold wearing them. Despite the fact that she had nothing and had to pander on the streets for her dinner, she had no wishes. Her life was filled with happiness which lacked the burden of material possessions.

One day, a carriage rode through town, housing a very rich old woman with poor eyesight. She was never able to have children, and her husband had died quite suddenly a few years into their marriage. She wished intensely to have another presence in her house. A “fixer-upper.” When she saw the raggedy little girl, she called out to the coachman, “Stop here!” Exiting the carriage was an ordeal you cannot imagine. All of the bulk and fabric of the old woman’s clothing almost prevented her from taking her leave of the carriage, but she appeared to have found her perfect “project.”

The old woman approached the young girl, and asked if she would like to shower, change clothes, live a life away from the streets. At first, the girl was hesitant. She did not trust many people. But a hot shower sounded like Heaven on earth. She accepted the woman’s offer, essentially signing an invisible contract.

When the girl stepped out of the shower and retrieved a towel, she inquired about her clothes. A servant led her to new bed chambers, which were to be her very own. There was a beautiful dress and fancy gold slippers lying on the bed. The girl asked the servant, “Where are my clothes?” The servant informed her that, “The Mistress told me to dispose of the tattered garments.” The girl was so sad she was irate. Those were her only possessions and she loved those “tattered garments,” especially her red shoes. She would never wear those fancy gold slippers, she did not put on the fancy dress, and she did not join the old woman for dinner. She behaved ungraciously, because the old woman had stolen her prized and only garments. She fashioned a dress out of her bedsheets, and walked barefoot around the house wearing a “toga-like” outfit. The old woman could only see that the girl was wearing white, because of her poor eyesight.

It became clear to the young girl that the old woman was a devout Christian. She went to church on Sundays and Wednesdays, and sometimes on Saturdays. She only roped the girl into going to Sunday Mass. The young girl had only ever worn her homemade clothes and red shoes, and had never gone to church. She refused to wear tight uncomfortable dresses, but the old woman took her shopping for appropriate Sunday attire. The old woman’s eyesight was getting worse. The young girl was sly and used this to her advantage. After a few agonizing hours of dress shopping, they arrived at a shoe store. The old woman told the girl she could choose any pair of shoes in either black or navy blue. The young girl looked around until she found the most beautiful, shiny, glittery red slippers she had ever seen. She fell in love with them. When the store manager saw the young girl’s interest in the shoes, he told her, “These are dancing shoes.” He said it like a warning or a curse of some kind.

When the old woman bought the young girl’s “navy blue” slippers, she put them on immediately and started dancing all the way home. She thought she was dancing, but the man had been correct. The shoes were dancing.

On Sunday, as they dressed for church, the young girl donned the red shoes, never imagining how negatively they would be received. Everyone was gossiping about the girl’s red shoes and how inappropriate they were in church. “How disrespectful!” “What pure negligence!” “How could she let her wear those in this sacred space?” The old woman was very embarrassed. She scolded the young girl, and set the shoes on a top shelf out of reach. Isn’t that what stools are made for?

The following Sunday, the young girl stepped into her red shoes again. The shoe store manager was leaning against a wall outside the church before she entered. He warned her again about the dancing shoes. She ignored his warning and set foot in the church. Suddenly, she was dancing out of the church, headed for the forest. She danced and danced. She danced until she had blisters and her toenails were bruised and falling off. She danced until her ankles broke and her knees gave in. Try as she might, she could not get the shoes to come off. She decided she would rather have no feet. She encountered a huntsman in the forest and begged him to cut off her ankles to take off the shoes. “Are you truly certain?” He asked. “Absolutely!” She said, “The sooner the better!” So, he cut off her ankles and the shoes danced away with her feet inside them. She was grateful that she would never dance again. She was once again, a happy young girl wearing shabby clothes. No material possessions to weigh her down. Her feet had grown back, and she wore homemade, cloth red shoes.

All that trouble for a hot shower.


P.S. I inherited some mischievous characteristics from my Granmama. I often wear red shoes to church.