The Cobbler’s Children Have No Shoes.

Dad arrived at 8 am sharp with a couple of friends, ready to replace the leaking roof.  As they unloaded the tools, my mother peeked out the back porch window.  He saw her and asked sarcastically if she was going to call the cops.  She did not answer.  She turned her back, locked the door and returned to the kitchen.  It had only been a few weeks since he was court ordered to never be within 100 feet of her and yet here he was about to climb on the roof while she was inside the house.

She sat down at the small metal kitchen table to write out her grocery list.  I took her place at the window and watched the men go up and down the ladders.

“Why is Dad fixing the roof if he’s not supposed to be here?” I turned to face my mother and waited for her response.

“Because this is still his house and it’s about time he started taking care of it.”  She was irritated by my question.

“But why Dad?  Why don’t we pay someone you don’t hate to do it?”

She glared at me.  She might as well have asked if I was stupid.

“We don’t HAVE any money.  And he’s a carpenter.”

I couldn’t understand why Mom expected Dad to fix the roof in one weekend when it took him three years to sheetrock the living room. I just couldn’t help myself, I kept asking questions.

“Why did you even buy this house?  It’s too small for us.”  I was critical of her choices in life, even at 10.

“It wasn’t too small when we bought it.  It’s a starter house.  You are supposed to stay in it for a little while and buy a bigger one as your family grows.  It needed work, but your father didn’t do the work and we didn’t have the money then either.  He would rather spend his time and money at the bar.  Then it was too late.”  She started to sound sad.  She took another drag on her cigarette.

“I don’t get it.”  I turned to look out the window again.  The old shingles were falling from out of my view into the yard.

“He better clean up that mess,” Mom said, to no one in particular.

My brother walked into the kitchen to pour himself a glass of iced tea.  He left the empty pitcher on the counter for someone else to make more.  He drank the whole glass in one gulp.

“Why didn’t he want to fix it?  Where did all the money go?”

“Michelle, he drank it all.”  I recognized the exasperated tone.  “We bought this house when Jimmy was little.  We weren’t planning on another baby.”

“But you had another baby.”

As I spoke, my eyes met with Jimmy’s.  His eyes were bright with triumph over the evidence that I had, in fact, ruined everything.

read to be read at yeahwrite.me
I’m linking up with the Yeah Write Summer Series.  There’s no voting this week, the posts are prompted and we’re learning stuff.  Submissions aren’t open either.  You have to earn your spot on the grid.  If you want to find out more, go here and here.  You can also click on the badge (or the first link) to see who else is participating.  Go discover new-to-you writers or visit old favorites.  Either way, show the love.

Edited to add:  Not only did I earn a spot on the grid, but this post won the Jury Prize for Yeah Write 64. I am elated and so honored.  I have spent the last many weeks hanging out with a great group of writers and I know I gush on and on about them, but honestly every word I say is true.  And for a group of them to see this post as the winner, well, that means the world to me.  Thank you, members of the jury, and every single person who had such kind and thoughtful comments.

73 Responses to “The Cobbler’s Children Have No Shoes.”

  1. well, no matter if it’s on the grid or not, i love how you told this story…

  2. carrie says:

    So brutal. Harsh the things parents say and insinuate sometimes. I’m sorry that was laid at your feet.

  3. Oh wow, this is so powerful. I can just feel myself right there with you in your kitchen. Beautifully written – I can’t imagine it was easy. My parents divorced when I was 4 years old – though he wasn’t a drinker, my father was a workaholic (and also a carpenter!) who could not manage money and left us very poor and on welfare. I spent a lot of time seeing my mother sad, angry, lost – it’s so much for a child to carry. I’m sorry you had the additional weight of your existence to worry about as well. That’s not fair to a child – or anyone – to bare.

  4. Wham! That’s a great last line. The joy of siblings, yes? I would be interested in thinking about this same moment from the perspective of your mom, trying to explain what was doubtless a seriously complicated situation to her little girl…Or your brother. It’s a kind of “Rashomon” moment, right, where I imagine each of the three of you (and probably your dad) have their own ideas and memories about what was going on that day/weekend. Well done!!

    • Thank you. I can only imagine what the others recalled of that day. My brother and I have very different memories of our childhoods. And even when we agree on the facts, we certainly do not agree on the implications of them. It is a strange phenomenon indeed.

  5. Awesome. As always. You are so good at this.

  6. My heart sank at the end. This is so well-written. Children have to endure so much pain, and it’s so unfair!

  7. Ado says:

    Loved this. Loved the line: “But you had another baby.”
    Because that one line, and what was left out of it, said *so* much.
    PS: I am going to Blogher too!

    • Thank you Ado. I’m glad you liked that part!!
      I remember you saying you’re going to Blogher. We *have* to meet in person, or else I will cry. Please look for me and I’ll do the same!

  8. momfog.com says:

    Well, this is just excellent. Don’t have anything unique to add but I really like it.

  9. I love this spinet – it shares so much in just a moment or two of life.

  10. Cathy Morton says:

    I can imagine the look on Jimmy’s face. :) Great story. Thanks for sharing it.

  11. I love the different points of view – your mom’s frustration, your childlike perception, your brother’s smugness. The details say so much – like the way he finished the tea and left it for someone else to deal with. I have a brother like that!

  12. IASoupMama says:

    Oh, no! You didn’t ruin anything… Well-paced and well-written — great post!

  13. Great post. I can feel that hurt with you at the end. And as an older sibling, I can also feel Jimmy’s triumph. I’m sure you know this but no matter what your circumstances of arrival, I’m sure you were loved with all her heart. My oldest was an “unexpected surprise” that completely altered my life course. I always worry that when he truly comprehends the circumstances of his arrival, he will feel unwanted but that is so unbelievably far from the truth. I wouldn’t change a thing about his being here.

    • Thank you. It was a heavy weight knowing that my arrival hurt my family so deeply. I am ok with it now. I think it took being a mother to understand that loving your child trumps the difficulties on the whole but there are those moments where thoughts creep in that you hope you never say out loud but sometimes you do. My mother had a terrible habit of treating me like an adult when I was far too young to emotionally handle what she’d tell me. I appreciate your kind words. I’m sure your son will know how much you love him, even if it takes him longer to understand the complexities of life as an adult. Knowing he is loved will be there underneath it all, I don’t doubt that at all.

  14. Jennifer says:

    Written perfectly, and I’m so sorry.

  15. You are such a talented story teller. My brother and I were always at it, too. He was so awful to me. I, of course, was a perfect child. 😉

  16. Moving post, Michelle. I recently spent time with a friend who is raising her son’s 3 girls. Divorce, he travels a lot. She made a comment in front of the littlest one, she’s 5, that indicated she would be glad when her son gets his act together and moves out with his girls. It didn’t come out sounding as harsh as that, and the 5 year old was sitting at a distance playing with her dolls, but she heard it, and I watched her face fall. It was so sad. My friend loves these girls, her granddaughters, but she didn’t realize what she said. That girl may one day write a story like this. It stays with you, doesn’t it?

    • Some kids’ feelings are so easily hurt. And there are things I remember, off-hand comments that I’m sure the speaker doesn’t remember at all. I try to remember that my son is a sponge, that he hears everything and remembers, but sometimes I forget and it breaks my heart.

  17. christina says:

    oh Michelle!! :(((

  18. Jester Queen says:

    Ouch. That relationship between an abuser and his victim who still needs him is so snaky. My Mom needed my sister so that she (my Mom) could protect my sister. But she had restraining orders left and right because my sister’s bipolar was the dangerous kind (i.e. self-medicated, un-treated by professionals) that could have killed Mom at any time.

  19. Robbie K says:

    This is heartbreaking and so well told. I can imagine your 10 year old self desperate for answers and trying to make sense of it all. You perfectly captured a mother’s frustration.

  20. Damn! The last line blew me away. I love the control of the story here. Awesome! Erin

  21. I loved your storytelling, but I hate the bitterness that rained down on you as a child. Not fair. Not acceptable. Ellen

  22. I love how this post said so much, and left other things unsaid. I love that it paints that scene so clearly. Powerful.

  23. Powerful story. Beautifully written. You expressed so much in your 500 words! Love the details and how you described your non-verbal exchange with your brother at the end. So much painful stuff on these journeys of ours … Great post!

  24. You told the story so well.
    You raised up a whole load of emotions for me; I felt that every sentence was fully loaded, and every word was used perfectly.
    As a parent, I can’t imagine saying those things to my kids. As a former child I can see myself in you and your thirst for knowledge.
    Thank you so much for sharing something so personal.

    • Thank you so much. It’s hard – there are days when my son is on me like that. He needs answers when he asks questions and some of his questions are so hard. I don’t always think before I speak, sometimes I forget his age because of the depth of his questions. My mother’s job was a tough one…

  25. Mere Smith says:

    Ow. Ow ow ow. Speaking as a Divorce Kid, please take this as a compliment: it totally sucked to read that. Leetle too close to home…

  26. Joe says:

    I don’t think we ever truly understand how divorce looks through the eyes of our children.

    • It’s a tough thing – my parents’ separation was neither a shock nor a bad thing ultimately, but it took me a long time and I think becoming a parent myself, to really put it all together.

  27. My mom doesn’t believe me when I tell her I recall with such clarity odd little family interactions. This could have happened at our kitchen table. You took me right back there. Amazing! Great writing!

    • Thank you so much. I once told my mother I remembered this conversation and she said she never implied what I took from it. I think it really upset her to know I took it personally, but really, how else could a kid take it? Kids rarely read between lines.

  28. This is an amazing post. I am blown away. It was like I was in the kitchen. And I could hear the exasperated tone. So well done.

  29. Michelle – Wow. Just wow. Such vivid writing, such a painful story. Cannot believe this is under 500 words. Much deserved congratulations on your Jury Prize win. My heart goes out to little Michelle. Cindy

  30. So much to love and cringe and ache here. The interlude with your brother drinking all the tea and how it reflects on your dad “drinking it all.” Goosebumps of awesome writing-ness.

    So well done. This comment doesn’t do my feelings or this post justice.

  31. I love this post. I love how you sparely tell the tale but leave me with so much feeling. Oh my god, your telling is so true. Metal table, iced tea, the cigarette, the dialogue. Perfect.

  32. Ooooh… You’re in trouble! Nice bit of writing, Michelle. I enjoyed it. :)

    Michael A. Walker
    Defying Procrastination

  33. Tammi says:

    This brought tears to my eyes! You reminded all us that our kids take in everything that we say so even when we are having a bad day we must control and watch our tongues.

  34. Pish Posh says:

    WOW! I’m sorry I don’t have anything more to say than that. But just wow. I feel like I’ve just read something professional, literary, and QUALITY.

  35. Glad you linked up “in my row” at Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms. Also glad to know that I’m not alone in being the unwanted child. Although, I always knew it. I can’t ever remember not knowing as my parents weren’t married and in college when they had me…. sorry that you had to find out like that :-(

  36. This story is so powerful. I’m glad you linked it up. Ellen

  37. Azara says:

    That last paragraph is a knock-out. Wow! Nice set-up – this story didn’t go where I was expecting it to in the beginning.

  38. Larks says:

    I read this post when it was initially published during the summer series and remember going back to comment and then deciding against it because I didn’t know what to say besides “Nice post!” which I try never to say without attaching more substantive specifics because it can come off as false and spammy. This has one of the best endings of a blog post I’ve ever read and I really did and still do think it’s a very nice, tightly written, heart wrenching post. And I mean that in a totally not spammy way. :)

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