When two pairs of shoes was enough
Walk a mile in my shoes
Nine chances out of 10, when I was going somewhere back in the Sixties, I was walking. And that “somewhere” was usually located about a mile away from our house. Walk a mile to church, a mile to school, a mile to the store, and a mile to the ball field to watch the Clarence Mounties play baseball.
People walked the roads then. It was not an oddity to look out your window and see someone walking down the road — it was perfectly normal.
Kids, especially, walked everywhere. There were no extra family cars to chauffeur us kids around; few kids had bikes, and no skateboards, either. So, if we were going somewhere, we were walking.
We put a lot of miles on our shoes.
Most kids had two pairs of shoes — our “play” shoes and our “dress” shoes. Play shoes were usually thin canvas sneakers. Dress shoes, for girls, were usually saddle shoes or penny loafers.
Penny loafers had a slot in the front of each shoe, where you could display your shiniest pennies. If you were rich, you used dimes.
Shoes were essential. Kids knew that, and so we took care of them and had makeshift ways of dealing with any shoe problems that came up. It’s for sure we weren’t getting another pair until we outgrew the ones we were wearing. When the laces broke, you just kept tying up what was left, until your shoestring got so short that you couldn’t lace up your shoes at all.
A hole in the sole of your shoe could also be fixed, at least for a while. Find a sturdy cardboard box and trace around the bottom of your shoe. Cut the cardboard pattern out and place it on the inside of your shoe to help cover up the hole.
Just be watching out for rain. Cardboard becomes soggy very quickly.
An old piece of linoleum was more substantial, but it was hard and cut the bottoms of your feet.
People came up with all sorts of ways to make our precious shoes last longer. Folks often carried them, and walked barefoot when they were walking through mud. Then they put their shoes back on when they reached the safety of the macadam road.
My husband, who was growing up far away in Clearfield County at the time, said his dad used a homemade mixture of rendered deer tallow and beeswax on their shoes to help waterproof them.
“It didn’t smell real good,” he said, wrinkling up his nose in memory.
A friend of mine told me that when her growing feet poked out a hole in the toe area of her sneaker, she used to cut the tongue off her sneaker. Then she’d put the tongue in the inside front of her shoe to help hide the hole.
Some kids with older siblings had the good fortune of wearing hand-me-down, outgrown shoes. In my case, I didn’t get shoes from my older sister, who was almost 20 years older than me and lived three states away. She related that when she was a kid and had to walk through mud, she protected her shoes by wrapping plastic bread bags around them, securing the tops with rubber bands around her ankles.
So, everybody came up with their own way of stretching out the life of their shoes. Shoes were important. Maybe that’s why parents used to bronze their baby’s first pair of shoes.
For shoe problems that kids, or parents, absolutely couldn’t fix, you could always walk to the shoemaker’s shop for help.
It was a mile away from our house, if you cut through the fields.
Mr. Kormanec had a little shoemaker’s shop on Clarence Road, out near 22 Mine. It was in the basement of his home. I remember walking down the sidewalk, alongside his house to his shop, to have him put a pair of new heels on my penny loafers. I needed the new heels because I had a tendency to wear my heels down on one side, and they were lop-sided.
Those new rubber Cat’s Paw heels that Mr. Kormanec put on my shoes sure were clunky. But they fixed the problem, and it was nice to turn over my shoes and see a little kitty’s face staring back at me.
Shoe polish was another thing. There were always a couple of flat round cans of Kiwi black, brown, and ox-blood paste shoe polish lying around the house. You found an old rag, twisted off the tin lid of the can, smeared the paste on your shoes, waited for the paste to dry, and then buffed your shoes into a shine — maybe even adding a little spit for a spit-shine.
Men always made sure their shoes were shined on Saturday nights, in time for church on Sunday.
Then there was the white shoe polish.
In the cupboard of every household was a bottle of white, liquid shoe polish that you used regularly on your white sneakers, or on the white section of your black-and-white saddle shoes.
That polish was like gold to high school majorettes, who had to keep those heavy white majorette boots looking good. You know, those big white leather boots with the homemade yarn pom-poms on the front.
You shook up the tall glass bottle of white polish, waited for the bubbles to settle, and carefully unscrewed the lid. The lid had a metal rod with a cotton-ball-like dabber attached to the end. Carefully, trying not to drip polish on everything, you applied the white liquid liberally to your shoes. With a little imagination, you could think they almost looked new.
This past summer, I was walking up in the woods behind where my old house had been. I came upon our long-ago junk pile, located on the other side of the back tracks. Buried under the leaves and moss, I spied one of my black leather shoes from so long ago. It was tattered and beaten, and the sole was disintegrated. The square metal buckle on the front was barely attached. I searched around a bit, and was able to find the other shoe.
Those 50-year-old shoes got me to thinking about shoes in general, and about the dozens of pairs of shoes, and boots, that people have in their closets. Heels, clogs, sneakers, cleats, loafers, golf shoes, water shoes, jellies, running shoes, rain boots, Crocs, chukka boots, sandals, slippers, duck boots, moccasins, wedges, wingtips, and Doc Martens.
Today, we never give our shoes a thought. People seem to be quite unappreciative of the many pairs of shoes in their closets, and take them for granted. Like it was always this way.
It wasn’t. That’s the reason I decided to write this column.
I dug those 50-year-old shoes out from under the leaves, and took them home.
Maybe those old shoes haven’t outlived their purpose yet. I’m going to fill them up with dirt and fertilizer and put them out in my flower garden. I’ll plant hens and chicks in the shoes where my feet once walked.
I think there just might be a few more good miles left in them.
Rose Hoover is a freelance writer for The Express. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 814-387-4016.