I was enjoying my weekend in Houston. I had big plans to go out on the town and spend some money buying some items to indulge myself. Among those items were two pairs of running shoes, top of the line, very expensive. When I buy running shoes, I usually get the reasonably priced models that last long, but don't have a lot of the flash and extras the expensive models claim to have. Most times, I justify not buying expensive running shoes, because I go through a good pair of running shoes just about every six months. And for the price of one expensive, flashy pair, I could get two to three regular, reputable running pairs.
I had been working a lot of overtime to cover for vacationing and resigned coworkers. So I told myself that I earned the right to indulge myself in something frivolous. I figured I would buy two pairs of the expensive running shoes and see how they compare to the regular ones I always get. It was a great time to shop too, as this weekend was the tax free weekend in Texas.
A tax free weekend is a weekend designated by the state of Texas where sales tax is suspended on clothing, school supplies, and other back to school items. The goal of the tax free weekend is to encourage shopping and make items a bit more affordable for working class families getting ready for school. A lot of discounts and big sales take place during the tax free weekend as the stores attempt to clear out their summer stock to make room for the fall and winter stock. It's a great time to go shopping for deals. You get a lot more for your money's worth.
I woke up late on Saturday morning and ventured out into the kitchen to grab something to eat. I was crashing at friend's place--the night before, I had stayed out late, partying with some friends. My friend was babysitting another friend's kids. I greeted them and made myself a toast and egg sandwich, listening to the kids talk excitedly about their finds from an early garage sale they went to this morning with my friend. The kids were showing off the clothes and shoes they had gotten a good deal on. The stuff was in pretty good condition. I couldn't help but smile at their eagerness and excitement, knowing that they made some great deals that morning, and I, too, was hoping to score some great merchandise later in the day when my friend and I would go shopping. I thought it was very nice of my friend to take the kids out to do some garage sale shopping, buying them stuff.
At noon, the mom showed up to pick up her kids. Her kids shared their excitement of their finds that morning, and the mom seemed pretty happy with what the kids found. She had worked early that morning, trying to pick up some overtime. I asked her if she was planning on taking advantage of the tax free weekend and get some back to school shopping done. She told me she wasn't. Her kids didn't need anything. They had all their school supplies ready and had enough clothes for the school year. They left for their home in another part of town as my friend and I got ready to do some shopping.
First, we did some clothes shopping. We found some great deals on shirts and jeans and pants. Then we hit the home stores and found some great accents and drapes and linen. They were on sale. Even better, my friend had coupons we used to get even more discounts on the sale items. We were on a shopping bliss high, having found so many great stuff for really great prices. The last place we stopped at was the store where I would buy two pairs of expensive running shoes.
The store was packed with loads of people taking advantage of the sales. But the section where the expensive running shoes were located was a bit sparse. There was no discount on the high end running shoes, but with the sales tax suspended, it was still a pretty good discount--never pay full price! I felt a little indulgent as the sales person fetched a few stunning looking pairs and I tried them out. My friend laughed and pointed out that she would never have imagined me buying expensive running shoes, much less wear those flashy shoes out. It wasn't my style--and she was right. I'm very practical and tend to stick with casual, clean looks. Being flashy was never my style--nor was showing off expensive gear.
Still, I enjoyed trying out the different pairs. They felt different. I wasn't sure if I liked them or not. I told myself that I probably just needed to break them in. We talked as I tried on different pairs, jumping up and down, walking down the aisle and back. I told my friend that it was very nice of her to take the kids out to the garage sales and buy stuff for them while their mom was at work. My friend told me it was the least she could do, seeing as how things were a little tight with the mom and her kids.
I stopped parading down the aisle long enough to sit down and talk with my friend. I was surprised to learn that the kids dad hadn't been paying child support all year. The mom was struggling to pay the bills. This month alone, my friend lent her rent money and told her not to pay her back for a while--at least until she can afford to without being homeless. The church had been kind enough to provide the kids with school supplies. And the extra shifts the mom was working would be enough to keep her afloat for a while, and her bills would be caught up.
I didn't know how to take the news. Truth was, I was kind of shocked. The kids were happy, like they had no clue how hard things were for them. The mom seemed totally at ease, showing no signs of stress. Maybe they were just really good at covering things up. I don't know, but I suddenly thought back to a time in my childhood, after my dad died.
Things were pretty rough for us back then. We didn't have a lot of money after my dad passed away. And my mom worked a lot of overtime to make ends meet. When we got our school supplies, we made sure to take care of them, that they would last the rest of the year. We didn't get any new clothes for school, because we all wore uniforms at the private school. I remember my two brothers and I asking our mom that we wanted to go to a public school instead. We knew that it was costing a lot of money for us to keep going to a private school. My mother agonized over our request. She wanted her three youngest to have the best education possible. It's why my father and she started us off in private school. But eventually, she relented after that year, and the following year, we started public school. They still had uniforms, but at least public school was free, and my mom didn't have to work so hard just to pay off tuition. And my brothers and I worked just as hard in public school as we did in private school. And it was kind of nice to see some neighborhood friends in the class for a change.
The few times we did get a new set of clothes, it was usually for a birthday or a special event. We cherished those clothes, especially since we had gotten so used to hand me downs. I didn't mind the hand me downs. They were actually in pretty good condition. Most of the stuff was too big for me, as I was a very skinny kid. But I loved it, especially in high school when the retro look was in, and everyone wanted to know where I got the bell bottom jeans from. Even better, when hip hop became popular, I was the kid who started the baggy clothes trend in high school. Not that it was my intention. It was just that my older brother had gotten too big for his clothes, so he passed them on to me. I just liked wearing them, because they felt roomy and comfortable. I had no idea that I was being credited as a style setter.
Thinking about those days in the past made me realize something. I sat down and took off the new pair of expensive running shoes I was thinking about buying. I placed them back on the shelves where they belonged. I put on my old shoes and took off with my friend to the other aisle. I grabbed a pair of the regular, reasonably priced ones. Ordinarily, I would've purchased two pairs. But I only needed one for now. My friend raised her eyebrow, and she asked me why I changed my mind. I told her, the other shoes just didn't fit right. I paid for my new shoes and still had enough money left over to buy two new pairs of the expensive shoes. But we went home to drop off the shopping and headed out to eat.
The next day, I took a drive up to see the mom and her kids. I've known them for a few years now. I knew about the shaky history with the dad and how he left them hanging. I knew how tough things had been for them since, but I just didn't know how hard they had gotten. I waited half an hour in the parking lot for them to return home. They were surprised to see me, and the kids were waving. I waved back. The mom walked up to my car and asked me how I was doing and what I was doing there. I handed her an envelope with what was left over of my new shoes money. I told her maybe she could take the kids out shoe shopping or something else. She opened the envelope, looked at me, and then came over and gave me a hug. Her eyes were watering up, like she was struggling not to cry. She thanked me and asked me to stay for dinner, but I told her that I needed to be somewhere else, so we said our good byes and I got back in car and drove back to my friend's place.
I didn't want to see the mom cry, because I was afraid that would make me cry. And I didn't want the kids to get upset. I wanted them to keep feeling happy and excited about school starting soon. However hard life got, I wanted them to know that there was still some good in this world, and life can still be pretty wonderful if you got love and good people and each other to help you through.
Later that night, my friend noticed that I was wearing my new, regular running shoes. She asked me how they fit. And I smiled and told her, they fit just right.