Something that Ma and Pa called The Depression had come to Canton where Sarah lived. It swept through the flour mill where Pa worked, and when The Depression left town, the flour mill stood empty and many houses stared at the street with empty window eyes. The Depression forced Pa to work at the livery stable shoveling horse manure and it made Ma cry.
The Depression made Sarah and her sister Polly go barefoot all summer.
Sarah swished through the damp green grass to pick a bouquet of flowers for Ma. She squished the grass between her toes. She felt the warm dirt tickle her feet. Sarah didn’t want to wear shoes.
Then the leaves dancing in coats of many colors warned everyone in Canton that fall had arrived for its yearly visit. Ma looked at Sarah and said, “My, my, Sarah. We need to buy you a pair of shoes.”
Pa didn’t say anything. He just looked worried. Sarah knew he was thinking about the Depression. Sarah wanted to make Pa smile again, so she said, “Don’t worry, Pa. I have an extra pair of shoes to wear.”
She patted Pa on the shoulder. “I’ll wear them tomorrow, Pa, so you and Ma won’t have to worry anymore.”
Later that day Sarah crept out to Pa’s workshop in the shed. She had seen an old pair of boots behind the door. She would wear them to school so that Pa wouldn’t worry about her bare feet.The next morning Sarah slipped Pa’s old boots on her feet and started off for school. As she walked along she wrinkled her nose. “Something smells funny,” she said to the red and yellow autumn leaves.
“Something smells funny,” Elmer the play ground bully said as Sarah walked up to the swings. “Sar-ahah, smells! Sar-aah smells,” Elmer shouted.
Sarah played on the swings all by herself, and when the bell rang to go into school, she walked in by herself. No one wanted to get near Sarah and her smelly boots.
When Sarah sat down at her desk, everyone around her moved over a seat.
Her teacher Mrs. Bertram called Sarah up to her desk.
“One of last year’s students left a pair of sandals in the cloakroom, Sarah. They look like they are just your size. Hurry and change into them so we can have our spelling bee.”
Sarah slipped the sandals on her feet and she left the smelly boots in the cloakroom. She hurried back into class and this time everyone stayed in the seats around her. At lunch time when Sarah went into the cloakroom to get her lunch box, she saw that Pa’s boots were gone.
“Where did my boots go, Mrs. Bertram? Pa will be upset if I lose them!”
“I put them in the furnace room. Mr. Eagan will watch them until you’re ready to go home.”
After school, Sarah put the sandals back in the cloak room and hurried downstairs in her bare feet. She sat down on the furnace room floor and pulled on Pa’s boots.
Elmer and Spike followed Sarah home from school. Spike shouted, “Sarah smells like a frog!”
Elmer shouted, “Sarah smelly boots! Sarah, smelly boots!”
Sarah slipped into Pa’s workshop and put the boots back where she had found them that morning. Sarah hurried into the kitchen to help Ma peel potatoes for supper.
“What’s Elmer yelling about?” Ma asked. “I could hear him all of the way in here. It sounds like he’s saying Sarah Smelly Boots!”
“He’s just being a stupid boy, Ma. Let’s get supper.”
Pa and Ma and Polly and Sarah sat at the table eating supper.
Polly sniffed. “I smell a horsey,” she said.
Ma sniffed. “I smell coffee.”
Sarah sniffed. “I don’t smell anything.”
Pa didn’t sniff, but he smiled at Sarah and said, “I don’t think it’s horse manure that you smell. I know it’s horse manure!”
Sarah knew that Pa knew she had borrowed his boots. After dinner, Sarah followed Pa out to his shop. The boots were sitting on his work bench and he was rubbing something that looked like soap into them.
“The boots don’t smell like manure. They smell like your cherry pipe tobacco.” Sarah said.
"My boots smell like horse manure because I work in a stable with horses every day,” Pa said. He laughed. “They are an old pair and if you had told me you were going to wear them to school, I would have cleaned them up a little.”
“I don’t mind the smell, Pa. I’ll wear them to school every day.”
“Here, Sarah, help me rub some of this linseed oil into the boots. That will help get rid of the smell.”
Sarah helped Pa rub the oil into his boots. Then they polished them with some boot polish that Pa had in his storage cupboard.
“What are you doing to do with the boots when we get them cleaned up?” Sarah asked Pa.
“What would you do with them?” Pa asked. “I don’t use them anymore because I have a new pair and I can only wear one pair of boots at a time.”
“I’d trade them for something,” Sarah said. “Mrs. Bertram said that people are using the barter system a lot now because there’s not much money around.”
“That’s true,” Pa said. “What should a barter them for?”
“There’s a pair of sandals at school I could wear until it snows. Then I could wear the boots. I’ll ask Mrs. Bertram if I can barter the boots for the sandals,” Sarah said.
Sarah and Pa cleaned and polished the smelly boots, which didn’t smell at all by the time they finished. The next morning Sarah wore the boots to school again.
“Oh my, “Mrs. Bertram said. “You have cleaned those boots up enough so you can barter them.” She stared at Sarah’s feet. “They look rather nice and they don’t smell a bit.”
At recess, Elmer came over to Sarah his nose wrinkled for a smell. He shouted “Sarah smelly boots.”
Then he stopped and sniffed. “I don’t smell your boots.”
“That’s because I don’t have them on. I’m wearing my new sandals.”
You gonna put on the smelly boots after school?” Elmer asked her.
“No, I bartered the boots for these sandals and for a pair of girl’s boots for winter,” Sarah told him.
“Bartered? What do you mean bartered?”
“You need to listen in class a lot better,” Sarah said, sticking out her tongue at
Elmer. “Traded! I traded the boots that don’t smell anymore.”
“Oh yeah, who did you trade them to?” Elmer asked her.
I made a deal with Mrs. Bertram. I traded Pa’s boots and saved his pride and Mrs. Bertram helped me. I didn’t ask her who she traded with. “
Sarah stuck her tongue out at Elmer again and ran to the swings. Her new sandals were easier to run in than Pa’s old boots.
The next morning Sarah got to school early because she could run so fast in her new sandals. She jumped on the swings and was climbing into the sky. She could see all the way across the street from the school Elmer’s house.
The red door of Elmer’s house opened and Elmer ran out onto the sidewalk carrying his school books. He tripped over a crack in the sidewalk and fell flat on top of his bag. Sarah watched him pull up his boots and get back up on his feet.
“Sarah’s smelly boots!” she yelled at the top of her voice, but Elmer didn’t hear her.
Sarah smiled. He’d be wearing his bartered boots all winter so she had plenty of time to tease him!