From the Relief Society Magazine, August 1939 –
Little Old Glass Slipper
By Fae Decker Dix
The old man was lonely, it’s true. But you would never suspect it if you stepped up to his rickety door sometime and caught him looking at the little old glass slipper on the mantel shelf.
Mostly he’d be there at sundown, for that was the time when he longed for them – the children and Betsy. Not that he wasn’t used to being all alone, for he’d had nineteen years of it now come September. But he still couldn’t help getting restless about chore-time. Not that there were any chores for him to do any more. There was nothing for him to do. That was what bothered him so. People didn’t need you for anything when you were poor and going on seventy-seven. But there was his own little fire to lay at sundown and a few weeds to pull from the row of radishes he planted each spring. It made him feel right useful to be gathering the chips and pulling the handful of weeds as dusk drew on.
It was such a still time at sundown. He couldn’t ever quite get used to not finding Betsy there over the cookstove heating the porridge, humming a tune, treading from cupboard to table and back. He would think of her straining the pail of milk he brought, shooing the last sleepy chickens from the doorstep, telling the dog to go out to the woodshed.
Betsy had been the last one there. It had been years since the children were with them. The boys somehow didn’t take to the land and left as soon as they could do a day’s work elsewhere. Married now, they were, all four of them, and living far away. Linnie, the only girl, had died when she was seventeen. It was Linnie who made the little glass slipper so important.
During the long months she lay ill she would stare up at the bit of shiny glass on the old mantel and look very, very happy. It meant such a lot to them when she could look happy, as if the pain had fled for a moment. Every night when the sun was about to set, she’d ask one of them to move the slipper out to the edge of the shelf and over toward the far end so the last rays could slant over every little point in the yellow glass and make it dance for her. Sometimes the points reflected back with prismatic loveliness on the whitewashed chimney, and Linnie would clap her thin hands and call it her “rainbow” and beg to hear again how mother had brought the little slipper all the way across the ocean to this cabin home in an American village.
And Betsy, treading heavy-footed from cupboard to table and back, would repeat in her equally heavy voice, the story of how her own grandmother had given her the glass slipper for a keepsake, how it used to have a lock of her first sweetheart’s hair tucked down in the toe, how Father made her throw the lock away when he married her. Here the old man always shuffled his feet and looked sort of foolish, and Betsy would give him a swift glance and tell how she had kept locks of each of her babies’ hair in the glass slipper until the night of the fire.
Then the old man would cut in with the story of the fire. He would tell how everything in their first little home burned except the little glass slipper and the treasure chest. The treasure chest was a wooden box bound with iron bands containing many old trinkets reminiscent of their life in the old country and many little keepsakes of the children’s. Most of its contents were now distributed among the boys and their families. But no one could get the old man to part with the chest itself, or the brass candlesticks in the old bedroom, or the little glass slipper. He kept Linnie’s and Betsy’s clothes packed in the treasure chest now that the trinkets were gone. Each year he unfolded the beloved garments, shook them in the air a bit, and put fresh mothballs in the chest again. It was a pleasant interlude for him, this handling of the past, this bringing to light again the things that Betsy and Linnie had worn when they were alive and busy and laughing about the old place with him.
How sweet it had been to watch Linnie feeding the ducks and the chickens out in the yard, and later from her bedside. They’d get so they’d walk across the clean board floor right up to her cot and peck out of her hands. And, if she could smile at all, she would smile and talk with the clucking hens and pretend she wasn’t lonely. But it was lonely for Linnie in the village. There were not many girls her age anyway, and those who were had been too “boy-struck” to think much of giving friendship to a sick girl.
The old man reckoned, as he rocked to and fro in his quaint, rough chair by the tumbling cookstove, that the yellow glass slipper had been their staunchest friend. Everything else had seemed to go – the chickens, the dog, Linnie, Betsy. Only he and the little slipper held on. Pleasantly, almost mysteriously, he would smile up at the shiny ornament as he sat on a summer evening watching the sun’s last rays slant through it.
There was an old rose vine still clinging to the bedroom window. Occasionally during the summertime a single rose would burst forth as if to bring him a fleeting memory of what had gone. When one bloomed, he always left it a day, then picked it for the little glass slipper. The slipper could hold only a few drops of water, just barely enough to wet the stem, so the rose could live only a few hours on the mantel shelf. But a few hours would be enough, for they were filled with sweet memories for the old man who rocked and dreamed of his past before the decrepit mantel at sundown time.
In the mornings he would rise and make a pretense at sweeping his floor, washing his tin cup, plate and knife, which he deemed the only necessities for a well served meal. Pushing his chair into the corner, he would mop his face a bit and take his daily walk down to the village main street.
All morning he loafed about. There was nothing else to do, and no one cared anyway. At noon he would go home for his crust and bowl of porridge with sometimes a bit of fruit, then sleep through the warm mid-day.
Asleep on Linnie’s cot, he was a pitiful sight with his gray be-whiskered face burrowed in the smudgy pillow, his hollow eyes closed, his funny little mouth opening and shutting at intervals to accommodate his snoring.
Some days kindly Mrs. Vanter down the road would waken him, bringing him a bowl of cherries or a loaf of bread. Some days one of the farm hands from a neighboring field would stop by for a chat. Once in a while there was a brief note from one of the boys with a five dollar bill enclosed, or a box of good things to eat from a daughter-in-law. At Christmas time the grandchildren would scrawl impersonal notes to this grandfather whom they had never seen and send them along with the family box to wish him a merry holiday. He would muse over these, pretending he could imagine what each little grandchild looked like.
On a day in August a letter came to say they would all be there for the village homecoming at the end of the month. They would bring their children and stay at a tourist lodge. The old man grew a little excited at the news. He tried to sweep the corners of his cabin out a bit better, and to brush his old Sunday suit. He even dusted off the mantel shelf and put the shining slipper right in the center of it where it could catch the most sunlight when they entered the door.
They came. The old man spent four days of scurrying about to the celebrations, mostly with Tom and Miranda and their twins, because they had the biggest car and the fewest children. He was very shy and wearied in the presence of these strangers of his own blood.
Miranda had an aggressiveness, a sort of smugness that carried over into the twins’ attitude and gave the old man no real peace of mind while they were with him. Although he could not exactly say he hadn’t enjoyed the homecoming, there was an uneasiness about him that spoke of longing for his old rut. Ruts were his style. He would be glad to get back into his daily habits again.
“Grandpa, you’d better come and live with us. We’ll be glad to fix up a spare room somewhere for you. Well, why not? You surely can’t stay like this! My, I had no idea of –. You won’t? Well, of course, if you prefer THIS!”
It had been Miranda who had made the offer. To be sure, the old man rejected it. It had also been Miranda’s voice that spoke the words he couldn’t believe.
“Well, Grandpa, I’ll have to take a keepsake with me. Something to remember you by, for no telling when we can come out here again. I guess I’ll just help myself to this old glass slipper. No use to you, is it? I’d love it for my new “what-not!” Those old pieces are all the fashion again, and Tom brought me the loveliest one. It’s the best in Anterville – genuine antique, you know. This little thing will be just right to put between a pair of Wedgewood vases I bought. Tell me, is there a story to it? I’m quite fond of antiques. Isn’t there something I can tell my friends about its history?”
The old man didn’t believe it was his voice, but it must be for he could feel his lips forming words. Maybe he was dreaming. He would shake himself. he would tell Miranda no, she mustn’t take that from him. It would sound silly, but he must stop her.
“No. No – there isn’t a story – about – the little glass slipper. None at all.”
She had swished it off the shelf and was tucking it inside her handbag with that odd smugness Grandpa couldn’t comprehend.
“Good-bye, Grandpa. Good-by-y-ye!”
“Good-bye, my dear children. I’m glad you came.”
There were tears in the old man’s weak blue eyes. They thought he was crying because they were saying good-bye, and Tom gripped his father’s wrinkled hand with unusual force as he left him. None of them had the understanding to know how in that moment he hated himself because he had never been strong enough to say no to the things he wanted to say it to. And here he was still paying at this late date – paying in a funny, sentimental little way, but it was a supreme price to him.
“I ought to have told her no,” he kept reflecting after they were gone, “and she ought to have known enough to wait until I’m gone for good. It wouldn’t be so long. I ought to have asked her to wait.”
So the old man just sits and rocks at sunset time and stares at the vacant place on the mantel shelf. He waits and waits and wishes the time would hurry by so he could tell Betsy how somebody’s thoughtlessness deprived him of a certain joy in those closing years of his loneliness.