The shop was called Cesar’s Shoe Repair – it was on Union street in downtown Annapolis where Gil London was a cadet at the Naval Academy. Cesar was in his forties, peasant Italian, but always with a smile, as if life was constantly amusing him. Gil dropped off his loafers -they needed new heels-and took the bus back to his dorm room. It was a Saturday, the 6th of December, and cold. The next morning the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor and before he knew it, he was on a destroyer in the North Atlantic, plying the deadly Murmansk Run. He was actually one of the sailors who participated in the sinking of the German battleship Scharnhorst off the North Cape. After his discharge, Gil was able to go to M.I.T on the GI Bill. Though he studied engineering, in 1950 Gil went to work for Bennett Vending, a company that sold candy dispenser machines to the burgeoning wave of shopping malls that were springing up around the West coast. In 1954 he met Betsy Rankin at the Bennett Christmas party. They married, took a mortgage on a house in Fresno, and started a family: first came Melinda, then eighteen months later, Benjy; normal American kids. Well, yes, during the ’60’s, Gil feared Benjy was a little too heavily into weed, and Betsy worried that Melinda was becoming promiscuous…but it all evened out. In 1970, Benjy went to Burma (now Myanmar) as a member of the Peace Corps. In 1987, for his sixty-fifth birthday, Betsy gave Gil a special present: she took a leave of absence from her job at the hospital (Fresno General, she was a registered nurse) rented a single-width trailer, and told Gil they were driving East, cross-country together, on a second honeymoon. She knew Gil had always wanted to do this, and, sure enough, he was overjoyed. They set off from Fresno on a crisp morning in October, and two days later they hit Colorado and took a trip by mule into the Grand Canyon. They stopped in Chicago to visit Betsy’s aunt Lil, who was in her 80’s. They were on their way to NYC, the Big Apple, when they entered Maryland, and Gil had a sudden urge to visit his old alma mater, the Naval Academy, see if it had changed. Betsy turned the van onto Union street and damn if Cesar’s Shoe Repair wasn’t still there; they hadn’t even repainted the sign. “I wonder if Cesar’s still around,” Gil said to Betsy. Then he drew out his wallet. “Sonofagun,” he murmured, “look at this–” Tucked away behind the pictures of his kids, there was the ticket for his re-heeled loafers -the one Cesar had given him forty years ago. “Stop here, honey–“. Betsy braked the van. “Back in five minutes,” he yelled over his shoulder. The little bell tinkled as he opened the door, just as it always had. Same dusty smell, same worn linoleum floor, it was The Shop that Time Forgot. A youngish man came from the dim interior and stood behind the counter. “Help you?” he said. Gil smiled. “I don’t suppose Cesar’s still around?” His tone indicated he knew this was unlikely. But, surprisingly, the guy said, “Yeah, he’s in the back; you want to see him?” Was this perhaps the son? He disappeared inside and a long moment later Cesar shuffled out, leaning on a cane. Must be in his nineties, Gil thought. “Cesar!” he cried, “I never thought I’d see you! It’s Gil, Gil London, from the Academy, remember?” A smile came to the old man’s rheumy eyes, but he said, “Forgive me, ahma no remember -so many of you fellas…” “Sure, of course,” Gil said, eager to save the old man embarrassment, “but hey now, you won’t believe this, look what I found in my wallet -from 1941.” He gave Cesar the old, worn ticket. Cesar held it close to his face, reading the number, 8422. Without a word he turned, shuffled into the back of his shop. Gil waited what seemed like forever. Finally, the ancient shoe-doctor returned, with a beatific smile. He’d found the shoes. “Be ready Tuesday,” he said.
Suzanne Cogan said:
What a lovely story.