News and Tribune

December 20, 2013

NASH: The shoes

By MATTHEW NASH
Local columnist

— In the annals of Nash family lore there is a story that I have been told about from as far back as I can remember. The story was passed down to me from my father when I was a young boy. Some of the stories that I have heard seem a little outlandish, but someone, somewhere claims that they are mostly true.

Part of the story I am about to tell you are facts that I have heard second hand years after they occurred. These are the facts that I remember and may or may not have been embellished over the six decades that the legend has been passed down. I cannot officially corroborate the credibility of these stories, but I have been assured that many of the things that I have heard are true.

Years before my birth one of my uncles was admiring a certain pair of shoes that his brother-in-law had in his possession. The two families were visiting from different parts of the country, at the time. The admiration was sarcastic in  tone for the shoes, from what I understand, are not something that an adult male would wear out in public in the time period without facing certain ridicule.  

Later that year, as my uncle and his family were opening their Christmas gifts, something odd occurred. After every present had been opened, there remained one more unlabeled. This present came without a tag so no one knew who it belonged to, or even who it was from. When the present was opened, the package contained “the shoes.” This started a tradition that continued for decades later.

As a youth I imagined that shoes were wooden, similar to Sabot, the infamous

Dutch shoes. Later I imagined that these shoes may have been similar to the white patent leather with gold accent shoes that cousin Eddie gave to Clark Griswold in the original “Vacation” movie.  I have never seen the shoes first hand and no one has admitted to me that they have seen them in my lifetime.

Over the next several years the shoes would pass back and forth between the two families in some very extraordinary ways. Some of the methods of transfer have been quite unique to say the least. Years and years would go by before anyone knew whether the shoes were conveyed or if they had been re-returned at all. My immediate family was never on the receiving end and I have wondered if anyone had been part of the transfer process.

One time one of my aunts was looking for something for dinner. She reached into her deep freeze and pulled out a package wrapped up just like you would expect a package of meat that you had planned to store in your freezer. After thawing out their evening dinner they opened the package to find they had received the shoes.

My uncle was an avid gardener and really prided himself on his tomatoes and green beans. One spring while tilling his garden to plant the summer crops he came across something he didn’t expect. Buried within that soil was the pair of shoes. He had no idea where they had come from or how long that they had been there.

 One time they were said to have been found on the top of one of the families’ campers, having been thrown there presumably earlier that year as the families camped together. They had been out in the elements for most of the year.  

The most interesting story I have never confirmed was true. I had heard it many years ago and just thought it was an urban legend that any of this would have occurred. The story was told out loud in public earlier this year at my uncle’s memorial service so I feel comfortable repeating it here.

My uncle was an employee of the Louisville General Hospital, the predecessor to University of Louisville Hospital. One day he arrived at his desk to find an unmarked package that no one knew the origins of. At the time that this occurred the hospital was said to have had several recent bomb threats and an unexpected package was taken very seriously. The authorities were called and the package was eventually deemed safe and opened revealing the shoes.

Over the years I have thought that one day I would open up a secret package to reveal the shoes.  I have imagined ways that I could try to transfer them to one of my cousins in an effort to continue the tradition. It would take a special plan in order to avert suspicion away from me. It would take a lot of patience and planning in order to perpetuate a scheme that could live up to the legend of “the shoes.”

Earlier this year the Nash family lost the man who had served as patriarch of our family for more than 30 years. His jovial style made knowing Wilbur Ray Nash Jr. something special. I have found several pictures of my Uncle Jr. in the few months since his death and each one he has a huge smile on his face. I imagine he is busy thinking about where he had hidden the shoes, and who might discover them next.

Matthew Nash can be reached at dmatthewnash@gmail.com