During World War II, a young American soldier dozed in Holland. He was exhausted from building bridges to aid the movement of troops, and rebuilding those bridges when they were destroyed.
He stirred from his slumber, awakened by a clip clop sound that drew closer and closer. A woman walked by, wearing wooden clogs. Enchanted, he purchased a small pair of wooden shoes to take home as a gift to his little niece, Patty Jean.
Young Patty had recently lost her father in a tragic accident. That man was the soldier’s older brother. The soldier, whose name was Lloyd, was determined to get safely home and deliver the clogs to his niece, who always called him Aunt Lloyd, instead of Uncle. He wanted to see her face brighten with a smile, and ease her sadness.
Lloyd did indeed make it home from the war, after serving his country with bravery and honor. And he gave Patty Jean the brightly colored wooden shoes, which she loved.
That little girl was my mother.
I’ve heard the story about my grandfather’s untimely death many times. His truck slid off an icy road and into a pole. He left behind a young wife and three small children. And just as many times, I’ve heard the story of the wooden shoes that “Aunt” Lloyd brought home from Holland.
Those clogs brought great joy to that little girl, during a difficult and confusing time. My mother loved the shoes so much that she cared for them and took them wherever she went. How many moves did those shoes make, long after my mother outgrew them? How many shelves have they rested upon?
My sisters and I wore those shoes when we were little, clip clopping with delight through our childhood home. Our children wore them too, our daughters and our sons, when they were small and visited their grandmother. And when my mother moved for a time, to Mesa, Arizona, the wooden shoes came to live with me.
The shoes have always been on display in my home. When my children were still young we followed the Dutch tradition at Christmas time, filling the shoes with tiny wrapped gifts, candy canes, and poinsettia blossoms. The wooden clogs remain a part of my Christmas decor each year. Now I simply light a tea light candle in a red and green ceramic holder and place it near the shoes.
My grandchildren were the next generation to clip clop around the house in the wooden shoes, which are now faded with the passing of time. What joy those shoes still bring. Uncle Lloyd, who is gone, would be thrilled to know that his gift has brightened so many lives.
In stories, shoes are often imbued with magic. Cinderella left her distressing life behind, thanks to a pair of glass slippers. A little girl named Karen couldn’t stop dancing in her red shoes. And Dorothy discovered at the end of the yellow brick road that her shoes had the power to take her home all along.
My mother’s wooden shoes are magical too. They are enchanted with love…the affection of an uncle for his niece, and the adoration of a little girl, who missed her daddy, and looked up to the man who so reminded her of him.
That love has remained within those clogs for almost 75 years. And every pair of feet that slid into the shoes experienced joy as they clopped around, their hearts surrounded by love as surely as their feet were encased in wood.
What a legacy, Uncle Lloyd, your kindness created. Someday another generation of children will dance in those clogs, and hear the story of the wooden shoes.