Colleen of County Kerry
Even though she is "all grown-up" now, I still find that there is a special magic in sharing a story with her just before bedtime. No parent-child ego state hinders the relationship at this special hour, we are just friends. Sometimes a story arrives full-formed and I can concentrate on making the connection with the listener, without expending the effort usually reserved for the creative process. This is such a story that occurred just recently.

Many years ago in Killorglin Ireland, there worked a cobbler. Now, I know that you are old enough to know that a cobbler makes shoes in order to earn his living.

The little old man made the finest shoes in County Kerry in a shop just off the cobblestone lane a short walk up the hill from the river Laune. The man seemed to grow smaller with each passing year. His occupation had become easier as his once large hands were now more suited to his work and yet he had not lost any of his youthful strength or dexterity.

A young girl named Colleen fished for salmon in the river there at the foot of the hill. The best single word to describe Colleen was delightful. She was kind, helpful and her smile was as bright as the few precious weeks during summer when Ireland is blest with full sunshine. Her skin was fair and her dark brown eyes were flecked with gold. She would wrap her fish in a damp cloth and carry them up the hill in hopes a local innkeeper would give her a halfpenny for the prized catch. She provided fish to her neighbors as well; however, selling her fish in town provided the family with one of its few sources of real currency. It often confounded the local men that she seemed to catch the first fish that came up the river each year or that she would catch the most handsome fish of the day. They found it equally troubling that she would be the only person to catch a fish during a day when the large fish were not supposed to be present at all. Most troubling, were the days when the other men had a fish to sell and the merchants would gaze beyond them to see if Colleen might be coming up the hill with a better fish than the one still gasping for breath before them in the doorway.

Colleen would always take the money back home because Mommy needed so many things for the family and her Father couldn’t always provide in the lean years. After all, the rent went up each year and never decreased in years when the crops didn’t make well. Colleen often went by the cobbler's shop and gazed at the shoes through the window, dreaming of a day when she could afford a set of the lovely shoes on display. And then early one summer her dream came true. During the year she turned fifteen, her father and mother allowed her to purchase any pair of shoes she desired from the cobbler's shop. She knew immediately the pair she wanted. They were deep brown with delicate golden stitches across the front and around the top of the low-cut boot. The ancient man with the little hands had lined the boots expertly with the softest lambskin and Colleen could never remember experiencing such a luxury.

As she walked in them her chin was a little higher and it had nothing to do with the heel of the shoes. As she walked down the hill, her smile seemed to beam even brighter and it had nothing to do with the contrast between the dark brown leather and her fair complexion. As she walked she seemed to float lightly across the meadows like a fog and it had nothing to do with the soft lambskin lining in the shoes. Each time she wore the shoes--and she refused to wear them on two consecutive days--she could imagine that she was the princess-daughter of the king at the castle in Tara. Now, you don’t know as much about Irish history as Colleen, but Tara was a city on a pleasant hill in the center of Ireland where the ancient Kings and Queens once lived.

One day she happened to meet the old cobbler in the market during the mid-day. It was a rare day in late August when it was bright and clear. She smiled at the old man but he forced himself to hold his gaze on the ground in front of himself. She waited until his eyes caught hers and she smiled broadly.

Then, shyly she approached and said, "I want you to know that your shoes are the finest things I've ever owned."

"Thank you," he replied modestly.

She then continued, "Father always says, 'Humility is close to Godliness,' but when I wear them, I'm sometimes embarrassed because they make be feel so proud."

"I know," he replied, "I've seen you wear them."

"And," she said, "When I wear them, I don't feel like a farmer's daughter or a fishmonger. I feel as if anything in the world is possible."

"I know," he replied, "I’ve seen you wear them."

"And what does it feel like to be a princess at the castle in Tara?" he then inquired.

Suddenly she blushed and felt herself short of breath, but managed, "And how did you know they make me feel like a princess at the castle in Tara?"

"Because," he paused, "I've seen you wear them."

With tears on my face, I tucked her into bed and said, "Now, what you don't realize is that this story is true. You are Colleen and I am the cobbler, the fish are the joy you bring to my heart, and the shoes are my stories."

©Copyright 2006 David Ray Skinner/SouthernReader. All rights reserved.