Tom Stafford

Commentary: Shopping detour with wife sparks interest in expensive shoes

I don’t know whether high school seniors still vote people “most likely” to do one thing or another during the rest of their lives.

I do know that as a different kind of senior, I could be voted most likely to do something I’d never expected at that age: Drive through three states with a turn signal on.

And as best I can remember, I achieved the turn signal triple crown last year after my wife and I visited the Baha’i House of Worship in the northside Chicago suburb of Wilmette, Ill.


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Surrounded by a spacious, lush lawn and gardens, the temple is a beautiful place that’s the celebration of a faith so open to all that I’m surprised the temple has doors. If you have a chance to visit, I recommend it.

Although it was a tad cool when we were there, it was a day of plentiful sunshine beneath a deep blue sky whose traveled by winds that made brush strokes of the iridescent white clouds.

On the way there from my brother’s place in nearby Evanston, we also had the opportunity to continue my wife’s pilgrimage to places that celebrate the other human sole.

Appropriately enough, the shoe store was shoe-horned in an upscale strip mall on Sheridan Avenue just south of the temple. To her credit (she won’t use a debit card), she only buys items in such places when they’re on clearance.

While she was shopping, a salesperson unaware that I’ve been on clearance for years asked if I was looking for something in particular. I told him my trip to stores like his are like visits to museums. I can’t afford to buy the items on display, so I’m not going to touch them.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate them, and I soon found myself admiring an artfully made men’s lace-ups that looked like they had been dipped not in powdered sugar but in dark, rich powdered cocoa taken from the best cannister in Willy Wonka’s factory.

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I could almost taste them.

I immediately recognized them as the very kind of shoes I’d ruin on the first wearing by stepping in mud my while walking and reading my cell phone on the clear afternoon following a rain-drenched morning.

It brought back the day I’d ignored my mother’s warning not to wear the good pants she just bought me, succeeded in getting grass stains on the knee, and was saved by my grandfather’s promise that he’d stop my mom from following through on her threat to make me wear them to church.

I felt like a boy with a grass-stained soul.

After admiring other artfully made shoes by the same company, I thumbed through its catalog, which also was so beautiful that I walked out the door with it. (I didn’t have to stuff it in my pants because my wife had actually bought something.)

The whole experience was so good I called up the company website when I got back home and wrote a note to let the folks who live in the shoe know what a great job they are doing. It involved a brief description of what struck me most and instructions to tell “all the boy girls know” they had “done good.”

A thank you came the next day.

Two days later came the big surprise.

Someone higher up the ankle at the company emailed me with another thank you including a code number I could punch in to claim free shoes.

I felt like Ralphie’s father the moment the day the telegram arrived about his major award. Only I felt better because while he mistook his prize for being Italian because the crate was labeled fra-Gee-lay, my shoes actually had been made in Portugal.

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For the second time in our 42-years of matrimony, my stock went up in the eyes of my wife, a charter member of the Clark County Chapter of Imelda Marcos Auxiliary. She considered the whole thing a shoe coup.

(The first time involved a historic savings made by a leveraging of Kohl’s Cash.)

Also, there was that special afternoon we celebrated the arrival and unveiling of the shoes, ankle height with smooth leather dyed espresso brown, the leather set off by a nicely contrasting tan Vibram sole.

As often happens with me, this moment of pleasure was a sign of humiliation that had already visited and would visit again.

Before I ordered the shoes, I had to find the right size. That meant talking with a nice Columbus shoe salesman who went to great lengths to tell me about the lengths leather workers in Portugal go to attend to the finest details of their work. I know it wasn’t necessary, but I think I did blurt out the fact that there would be no commission coming his way because I was getting the things free online.

The second and larger humiliation came six or eight weeks later on my next trip to my brother’s place in Evanston.

With my ego inflated by my wife’s renewed respect for me, I went through the whole by then well-rehearsed story for my sister-in-law.

I stitched all the details at my disposal into to an unredacted narrative underscoring the fact that a simple, honest compliment with no thought of a reward had landed me, a nice man, a $250 pair of shoes.

Moreover, these were shoes I selected not because they were the most expensive available, but because they were the pair I was least likely to ruin immediately.

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In this dark, cynical world, surely my story qualified as a modern fairy tale.

I told it flawlessly to my sister-in-law, one of my favorite people in the world.

Then, in the blink of an eye - and with no ill intension - my fairy tale turned to dust.

“What kind of shoes are they?” my sister-in-law asked.

“Samuel Hubbards,” I replied.

“I think your brother has two or three pairs of them. You can check in his closet.”


Here I am thinking, I’m big stuff for getting this free pair of shoes I’d never be able to afford and my brother has three pairs. And I know in the deepest recesses of my knowing that he didn’t use Kohl’s Cash to get them.

I was so forlorn, I’m pretty sure I drove all the way back from Chicago with my left turn signal flashing.

If you’re a boy with with a grass-stained soul, you can’t escape destiny.

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