Thrift Store Shoes
Perfect Bound Softcover
Author Connie Lounsbury admits that, at times, she has been slow to listen to how God wants her to live. Now immersed in the third act of her life, she shares her blessings, mistakes, and the secret she carried during her childhood as she learned to hear God’s voice—even in the most difficult times.
Lounsbury begins her story in 1950 on a frigid morning in rural Minnesota when, at just nine years old, she was terrified to hear her father shout, "The house is on fire!" Her father was able to save just a few items before their house burned down. He had no insurance or job, and so life was not easy for the family. As Lounsbury details her journey through childhood and the years beyond, she illustrates the importance of God’s presence during challenging times, of teaching children about God, and of living a faith-filled life. From remaking cast-off clothing to buying shoes in thrift stores, Lounsbury shares how her family somehow survived—and even thrived—by relying on love, faith, and a fierce determination to persevere despite many obstacles.
Thrift Store Shoes shares a poignant glimpse into one woman’s inspirational journey from when she first accepted Christ into her heart to today, as her life continues in God’s grace—and demonstrates that, no matter what, God is always with us.
Chapter One: The Fire
We still talk about that frigid January morning in 1951, when I was nine years old. It was the last Saturday of our Christmas vacation from school, and my older brother, Lee, my three younger sisters, and I slept late. We quickly dressed in the cold and rushed downstairs to the warmth of the roaring fire in the wood stove that sat in the middle of the living room. It was the only source of heat in that old, rented farmhouse near Orrock, Minnesota.
We kids all huddled close to the stove. Mom was in the kitchen cooking oatmeal. I was brushing my hair, and Lee squatted on the other side of the stove, tying his shoelaces. “Don’t stand so close to the stove, Irene,” I said to my youngest sister. “You might get burned.”
“I’m cold,” Irene said.
“Come and stand in front of me,” I told her. “Then your back will be warm too.”
The door opened, and Dad came in with an armload of wood crusted with snow and ice. Cold air blew into the room, and we all shivered. “We’ll need a lot of wood to keep the house warm today,” Dad said as he stacked the wood behind the stove.
Mom called from the kitchen, “Bob! Something’s wrong upstairs. It sounds like marbles rolling across the floor. Go see.”
Dad walked past us, opened the door, and started up the stairs. “Fire!” he yelled. His heavy feet raced back down. “The house is on fire! Get the kids out!”
“Lee, Connie, help me with the girls,” Mom yelled as she grabbed coats, hats, and mittens from the hooks by the door. “Take them to Schaufield’s. Tell them to call the fire department and come help us.”
I looked at the bobby pins gripped in my left hand and the hairbrush held in my right hand. I needed to put them somewhere. Let go of them. But where?
“Hurry, Connie,” Mom yelled. “Come help.” Her words brought me to my senses. I dropped everything and ran to her.
As I helped Donna with her coat, hat, and mittens, Dad threw a radio and some chairs into the snow bank from the open doorway next to me. I heard thumps and bangs as things hit the floor upstairs. The smell of smoke became strong. “Come too,” I pleaded as Mom pushed us out the door.
“I have to get things out,” she said. “Run fast!” As we left the house, she yelled to Dad, “Get the sewing machine!”
The cold morning air stung my face as we ran down the driveway to the road. Lee carried Judie, I carried Irene, and Donna hung on to my coat as we ran through the snow. I had forgotten to put on my winter boots and the snow and subzero temperatures seeped through my open-toed shoes and anklets. Soon I could no longer taste the salt from my tears because the frigid air crusted them on my cheeks.
At the end of the driveway, I turned and looked back at the house. Dark gray smoke seeped out from under the roof, and I heard the crackling of wood. Mom’s sewing machine sat tilted in the snow among other scattered items a short distance from the house. After we got around the curve in the road, Irene’s weight in my arms prevented me from turning to look again, so I kept running.
Mr. and Mrs. Schaufield lived only a short distance across the road, but when we got there, they weren’t home. “They’re probably milking cows at Grandpa Schaufield’s,” Lee said.
No one locked doors in rural Minnesota in the 1950s. We could have walked into the warmth and safety of their home. But we knew better than to go into someone’s house uninvited, so we began to walk to Grandpa Schaufield’s farm. I could no longer feel my toes.
I heard windows exploding and looked back toward our house. Dark, angry, black smoke rose high into the air, and bright orange flames shot out of the window of the upstairs bedroom I shared with Donna and Judie. I squeezed my eyes closed against the image of our beds and clothes being burned. Mom! Dad! “Father in Heaven,” I whispered to myself. “Help them! Keep Mom and Dad safe.”
I shifted Irene’s weight in my arms and ran faster to catch up with Lee. When I did, both Lee and I stopped, put the girls down, and rested our arms. Irene was three and Judie was five. In only a few moments, we continued in a slow, jerky jog. None of us talked except Donna, who pleaded to be carried.
Later Mrs. Schaufield said they had heard what they thought were calves bawling when they saw all five of the Duncan children coming down the driveway crying: “The two oldest carrying the two youngest; a mile down the road behind them, a thick cloud of smoke telling their sad story.”
All four of the Schaufields ran to meet us. Grandma Schaufield picked up Donna; Grandpa took Irene from me, and Mr. Schaufield took Judie from Lee. They ushered us into the warmth of the kitchen and took off our coats and hats. I sat as if deaf and dumb. Lee stood by the door refusing to remove his coat and cap, even after Mr. and Mrs. Schaufield and Grandpa went to our burning house without him. “Mom and Dad need me,” he kept saying. “They need me.”
Grandma stayed with us, and took off my shoes and frozen stockings, and put my feet into a pan of warm water. Lee moved to the stove but refused to remove his coat. Irene climbed onto my lap, and Donna and Judie sat on the floor close to me. Nothing seemed real. I felt as if I were looking at myself from outside my body—not feeling anything, just observing. Then the pins and needles began prickling my feet as they began to thaw.
Mr. Schaufield soon brought Mom to us. She smelled of bitter smoke. Soot and tears streaked her face. Her hands shook as she held Irene tightly on her lap. “My saddle?” Lee asked. “My fishing rod? Did you get them out? They were upstairs.”
“Everything upstairs burned,” Mom said, her voice breaking.
Lee turned away and cried, his face against the door, thin shoulders jerking inside his jacket. I cried for him too. He had trapped gophers all summer for the fifteen-cents-per-tail bounty, and he had saved his money to buy that rod and reel. The saddle, a recent birthday gift from Uncle Marsh, the man who had raised Dad, was old and scruffy, but Lee cherished it as if it were new. He hadn’t even used it yet.
“I got your Tinkertoys out,” Mom added. Santa had brought them just a couple weeks earlier. I wondered about my own Christmas gift—a rag doll wearing a dress of the same flower-sack fabric as the pajamas that Mom had made for Donna a few months earlier. My clothes were of more concern. Mom had made me two new dresses for school this year. They were upstairs.
Later, when Dad and the men came back from putting out the final flames of our home, Dad stood by the door, his cap in his hand, his eyes apologetic. He and Mom were only able to pull out family photographs, Mom’s treadle sewing machine, and a few other personal belongings before flames consumed the house. “It’s not your fault,” I wanted to say. But here stood a man who never did well enough for his family to begin with, who had now lost all the possessions he had ever accumulated. We had no insurance. Unemployed, unable to replace anything we had lost, he looked like an accused criminal who no longer believed in his own innocence.
Dad took off his coat but kept his eyes downcast. He accepted coffee with a nod of thanks and sat at the kitchen table with shoulders slumped, saying nothing as he lifted his cup with trembling hands. Our strong, handsome father had become a tired, sad, old man.
What will become of us?
Connie Lounsbury has earned numerous writing awards including first place in the inspirational category of the 2001 Writer’s Digest Writing Competition and winner of the 1998 Guideposts’ Writer’s Contest. She is author of Quit Your Job and Make Ends Meet and co-author of Reaching Past the Wire: A Nurse at Abu Ghraib. Connie lives in rural Minnesota with her family.
Cover photo by Chris Lommel, Lommel Photography, Big Lake, MN
Hairstyle by Christopher Baker, Going in Style, Monticello, MN
Makeup by Victoria Sazama, Sazama Institute of Color, Minneapolis, MN
Perfect Bound Softcover