This little story was told to me some fifty years ago, by whom I can’t even remember, and has stuck with me ever since.
An older gentleman used to take his regular evening walks on a small pier in his hometown.
One night on the pier there was a young boy of around eight or nine sitting on the edge, his bare feet dangling above the water as he gazed straight ahead.
The boy started being there every night, so one night the older man stopped and asked him his name.
Charlie the child answered.
The man replied my name is Ted and continued his walk.
The next night as he approached Charlie, he decided to sit with the boy.
“Hi. You live around here?” asked Ted.
“Yup.” said the youngster.
“You know that you shouldn’t walk around barefoot on the pier with all its old nails sticking out here and there.” said Ted.
Charlie only shrugged his shoulders and kept staring off into the distance.
“Where are your mom and dad?” he asked.
The boy answered, “My dad’s dead, and my mother is with some man right now and I shouldn’t go home for a while.”
“Do you have any friends your own age to play with?” enquired Ted.
“A few but I can’t keep up with them barefoot.” he replied, looking down at the water.
On that, the old man said goodnight and walked away off the pier and back into town.
Two nights later, Ted walked down the pier and again sat down next to Charlie, placing a box next to himself.
Ted said hello to which Charlie replied Hi and then asked him if he’d like a pair of socks.
Charlie uttered a timid “Sure”, as he now stared at Ted.
Ted fished into his pocket and pulled out a pair of bright blue socks.
“Here try these on he said to the boy.”
Charlie obliged and raised his legs up and admired them for a minute.
“Thanks, mister” he said. “They’re cool.”
Then Ted pushed the box over to Charlie and told him to open it.
Fumbling with the top, Charlie managed to get it off to discover a brand new pair of white sneakers trimmed in blue.
He looked up at Ted and uttered “These for me?” in childlike disbelief.
“Yup” said Ted “Hope they fit. I wasn’t quite sure about the size. My boys are all grown up now.”
The boy swung his legs over onto the pier and proceeded to try them on, assisted with the laces by Ted.
He stood up, walked around a bit with a huge smile on his face - the first Ted had seen so far - and pronounced them “perfect”.
That night they parted company for the evening with a firm handshake with Charlie walking around in circles as the man faded into the distance.
After that night, Ted never saw Charlie again, neither on the pier nor anywhere in town.
He figured the boy was just walking to new and more interesting places as boys will do.
About a dozen years later, Ted passed away.
At the local funeral home where his body was displayed with all his family attending, the funeral director asked Ted’s widow to come to his office.
Once there, the director handed her a package that had been left the day before by a young man and addressed to her attention.
He handed her the bundle, she opened it, and inside were a pair of thoroughly used-up white sneakers with blue trim.
A note stuck in one of the sneakers simply read “Thank you, Ted, you were a very nice man. Love Charlie.”
The widow, familiar with the story from years before, simply smiled and looked up.