The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

New Shoes For Rick

By Eunice N. Harrelson © 1984

Issue: December, 1984

"Virgie", as those close to her called her, was reared in the coal mine country of southwest Virginia.

She and her six brothers and sisters were deserted by their father while still young. Their mother did the best she could for them, but they were often hungry and lacked clothes to wear.

Widowed herself, with three small children, Virgie was destined to live out her days in poverty.

All of these experiences gave her great compassion for abused and neglected children.

Virgie had a neighbor couple who were alcoholics and their children would often seek refuge at Virgie's house when conditions became intolerable at home.

The neighbor's 12 year old son Rick was a bright boy who didn't have decent clothes to wear to school. One day he went to Virgie in tears. His father and mother had promised to buy him a pair of shoes on payday. Payday came and they bought whiskey instead. Friends came by with more whiskey and now they were all passed-out drunk and the boy was in the depths of despair.

Virgie asked if there was any more whiskey in the bottles.

"Yes, I think so," Rick replied.

"Go bring it to me," Virgie said. Rick did as she requested.

Virgie took the bottles and turned them up over a quart fruit jar, draining the contents into the jar.

"Now take these bottles back and place them where you found them," she said to Rick. "When they wake up, each will think the others drank all the whiskey."

"Now, when they begin to talk about wanting more whiskey," she continued, "you tell them you heard me say I knew where I could get some good homemade whiskey."

Rick did as he was directed, and sure enough, in a little while Rick's father was knocking on Virgie's door. "Can you get me some good liquor?" he asked.

"I don't know," Virgie replied craftily. "How much money do you have?"

The man pulled out six dollars. "That's not enough," she said. "Go see if your friends have some."

In a short while the man was back and handed Virgie twenty-six dollars.

"I don't want anyone going with me," Virgie said. "When you see me come back down the road you can come on down here. I may have some whiskey."

“Come 'round to the back door,” she added.

Virgie left in her car and was gone for about an hour. When she came back all the people at Rick's house were sitting on the front porch, waiting impatiently for her to return.

Virgie took a sack, which contained a pound of coffee she had bought at the store, and went into the house. She put the sack of coffee in the cabinet and put the fruit jar of whiskey into the brown bag.

In a few minutes the neighbor was tapping on her back door. Virgie handed him the quart of "twice bought" liquor.

The next morning Virgie and Rick went shopping. They bought Rick a new pair of shoes and a shirt. The twenty-six dollars Virgie had gotten from Rick's father all went to buy clothing for Rick.

After that, whenever his folks and their friends got drunk, Rick would run down to Virgie's house with the partially emptied bottles. Virgie would rebottle the whiskey and Rick would take back the empties, always being careful to put them where he found them.

The routine of twice-bought liquor kept Rick and his brothers and sisters in better clothes than they ever before knew. Virgie is gone now. She died last year of cancer.

Whenever her name is mentioned, Rick will tell of her kindness to him, and, sadly shaking his head, says, "She was the best friend a poor boy ever had."