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Lou Charloff: A Pair of Shoes

Lou Charloff
January 15, 2012

by Lou Charloff

I was 11 years old, it was the depths of the Depression, and I was living at 888 Fox St. That neighborhood was described a couple of decades later as the most crime-ridden neighborhood in the Bronx. However, when I was a kid, the neighborhood was very respectable, although very poor.

In the final days of the sixth grade, I was advised that I was being transferred to James K. Paulding Junior High School for its rapid advance program. In that program, we would do three years of study in two years. This was very important because it meant that I would end up leaving high school a year earlier and being able to get a job a year earlier, since the family could certainly use the money.

We had two math teachers in the school. Math is never a popular subject and kids complain about its difficulties. We never stopped to realize that it was equally difficult and frustrating for the teachers who had to impart that knowledge to us. Mr. Strassner was one of those two teachers and he periodically gave vent to his frustrations by shouting sentences along the lines of, “The combined intellect of this class is on a par with that of one dead cow!”

Mr. Kirschner was the other math teacher, and never raised his voice. He wore a small smile, and was a gentle person at all times. He was also my home-room teacher. That class met in the last fifteen minutes of the day and was devoted to announcements from the principal’s office and similar business.

One day during home room, Mr. Kirschner pointed his finger at me and shouted, “Charloff! You will remain after school!” I was utterly astonished. Mr. Kirschner never used that tone of voice and I had no clue as to why he was angry at me. When the other kids left, Mr. Kirschner closed the door and turned to me and said in his natural, soft voice, “Charloff, I apologize for having shouted at you. I have a gift for you and I assumed that you would prefer that the other boys thought that you were being punished for something.”

At that point, he handed me a box, and when I opened it, I found lying in the box a pair of brand-new shoes. Mr. Kirschner had obviously noticed the deplorable condition of my shoes and had bought a new pair out of his own money.

Astonished as I was, I nevertheless remembered to thank him before leaving. To have given me those shoes was, on its own merits, an act of great kindness. A far greater act of kindness, however, was his sensitivity in shouting at me in front of the other boys, and I will remember Mr. Kirschner for the rest of my days.