Aunt May was full of good intentions, which in her mind went hand in hand with practicality.
“No, Bridget,” I will not buy you a new pair of patent leather shoes for your First Communion. You’ll only be in church for an hour and a half and nobody looks at your feet. It’s not as if you could wear them again either, out here in the fields. No, the money the shoes would cost would be far better spent feeding the orphans in Africa.”
Bridget didn’t care about the orphans. Orphans were always hungry, no matter how much money you sent them or what luxuries you did without in order to support them. Father Murphy was always talking about the orphans and the Missions and Bridget had long ago ceased to listen.
But shoes, they were important. She would not be getting a dress like her sister Lila. When Lila made her First Communion she wore a lovely white dress with a satin sash and flowers in her hair.
“You look radiant!” Aunt May had said, as had all the other aunts and uncles.
Lila had worn white shoes and had positively danced up the aisle on the big day. However, new dresses were now frowned upon, as they highlighted the differences between those families who could afford them and those who could not. The church had raised money, taken no doubt from the mouths of orphans, thought Bridget, and bought a set of gowns; large voluminous, shapeless tents, designed to hide whatever clothes the child was wearing so that everybody could appear equal.
Naturally the attention had at once shifted to their hair and their feet. Bridget had long hair and Aunt May had promised to curl it for her but there was no way she was going to buy her a new pair of shoes.
“But I can’t wear these gym shoes!” wailed Bridget, looking down at her feet and the battered shoes which had climbed walls and trees, scaled cliffs, waded through mud and been chewed on by the dog.
“Nonsense! Of course you can!” said Aunt May and the subject was closed.
On the morning of the big day Bridget rose early and wrapped damp socks around strands of her hair, tying them up tightly. She opened Lila’s wardrobe and gazed longingly at the white dress and matching shoes. Neither of them fit her so she could not even borrow them for the day, not that Aunt May would have allowed it.
The gown was so enormous that it reached down past her knees but it did not cover her shoes, even though she hunched down to make herself shorter. Her classmates gathered around her in identical gowns, each with a pair of gleaming new shoes proclaiming the wealth and status of the wearer’s family. Bridget’s scuffed gym shoes could not have stood out more, even if they had had flashing lights.
Bridget kept her head down, not wanting to see the looks in her friends’ faces. The pity, the triumph, the ridicule. Who cared about First Communions anyway – it was all for the parents. It should have been a special day, her big, important first step. Everybody in the family was here, there would be a big feast afterwards and probably lots of presents, but none of that mattered compared with the hideous things on her feet. The whole day was ruined and nobody had even sent anything to the starving orphans.
The organ started to play and a big tear rolled down Bridget’s cheek.