Jenna opened the small box at the bottom of Oma’s closet. She began to cry when she saw the pair of bright pink sneakers, which she had loved as a child, was embarrassed by as a teenager, and respected her grandmother for wearing as an adult.
They smelled like the beach that Oma loved so much. After she retired from teaching and her children were grown, she bought a house right on the beach in Ocean View, New Jersey. Every summer, it was the gathering place for Jenna, her four cousins, and their families.
Jenna was the youngest of the four cousins, and the only girl to boot. The boys didn’t always include her, but Oma did. She took Jenna for walks on the beach to look for seashells, and they would go out into the ocean while her cousins surfed, snorkeled, and swam farther out. They also built big sandcastles. No matter how sandy or dirty her sneakers became, Oma never took them off.
“Oma, pretty pink!” Jenna would say. “I want shoes like yours!”
Oma would smile and say, “Maybe you will someday.”
Another beach activity was parasailing. Oma looked forward to it all year. She took one ride over the ocean, and the cousins rotated rides from oldest to youngest each summer. Jenna loved waving to Oma as she watched her flying like a kite drifting in the breeze, her pink sneakers as the tail.
Jenna’s first turn to go parasailing came when she was six years old. She had been afraid to go up so high in the sky. What if she fell in the ocean and drowned?
But Oma reassured her, “You won’t fall into the ocean. I’ll hold tight onto you. We’ll be like birds flying in the sky. You’ll be safe in my arms, I promise.”
As she and Oma began to ascend over the ocean, the parachute opened up and they flew! Jenna wasn’t afraid anymore.
“We’re birds, Oma!” Jenna yelled happily.
After they came down and were unhooked, Oma told Jenna how proud she was of her for facing her fears. She was right. It had been fun, and Jenna couldn’t wait for her next turn to come!
Jenna had another turn when she was eleven, and again at sixteen. By then, she was embarrassed that Oma was still wearing those bright pink sneakers.
“Oma, can’t you wear something else please?”
“Jenna, why are you so worried about my sneakers? I like them, and I don’t care if people stare at me.”
Back then, Jenna had rolled her eyes and dropped the subject. But now, those words came back to Jenna as she sat on the bed holding the shoes. She had nothing but respect for Oma for not caring what people thought all her life. This past summer had been Oma’s last at the beach, and Jenna felt thankful that she had been the cousin to take the last parasailing ride with Oma at twenty-one. While no pictures had been taken of them, she knew she would always remember it.
Aunt Rachel stood in the doorway. “Jenna, it’s time to get on the road to go home.”
“Okay.” It had been a long day cleaning out Oma’s house. Jenna’s mom, Aunt Rachel, and Uncle Rob had talked about selling the house, but in the end, they decided not to. It would always be Oma’s house, and they would continue to spend the summers there.
But Jenna knew something was missing, and she had an idea. She ran down the porch steps and onto the beach as fast as she could, carrying the shoebox. She looked longingly at the sand, the ocean, and the seashells scattered around. She stopped when she came to a fence enveloped in green grass and tan sand. She opened the shoebox and pulled out Oma’s beloved bright pink shoes, hanging one on a thin middle fence post and the other right next to it. Oma would like this. Her spirit (and sole) would always be on the beach that she loved forever. Jenna couldn’t wait to come back next summer where Oma would always be watching over her family.
“Bye, Oma. I love you. See you next summer!”
Ashley Kauffman is from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and is employed as a teacher with the Mechanicsburg Learning Center. She has enjoyed writing since she used her imagination to bring her first story to life in second grade. Ashley received her B.A. in English, and is currently working to obtain her M.A. in Children’s Literature through Penn State University. She is an avid collector of vinyl records, Golden Books, and vintage typewriters. Ashley is legally blind and considers herself to be a differently-abled person who has spent her life envisioning the world with the turn of each page.