Lately, I find my feet have become a problem as they are seen to be further away from me than they used to be. Putting on my socks is a major endeavor — darn, when did that happen? They are the same two feet that have been there for 95 years and look the same as the ones that I dressed in socks for as long as I can remember. Maybe I should just go barefoot like I did when I was a kid.
A strange sight was seen on the street in front of our townhouse. A boy about 10 was walking down the thoroughfare barefooted. Now that was strange because you seldom see that today. Sandals, shoes and even boots seem to be in fashion.
Things were much different in the 1920s and 1930s. Boys seldom wore shoes in the summer except to go to church or Sunday school — although even there some boys showed up barefooted. Shoes weren't required to go into a church or a café. The bottom of the youngster's feet became very tough after a summer of no shoes. The old poem of "barefoot boy with cheeks of tan" just about fit every boy during The Depression years. It wasn't until later that it dawned on us why kids went barefooted; no money for shoes. Even today while children are growing up, it is a task to keep them in shoes and very expensive. Their feet grow and grow and what do you do with the shoes after the children outgrow them? None of our three boys wore their older brother's shoes because they were either worn out or didn't fit.
The a drawback of going barefoot is that one can step on rusty nails and glass. I recall that one summer when I was about 5 years old I stepped on a rusty nail and the foot became infected. Those were the days before penicillin and the common procedure was to soak your foot in warm saltwater. If the infection became too bad then a trip to the doctor was in order. Recalling that trip to the doctor was something not very pleasant. The doctor needed to probe and clean out the wound and it took three good-sized men to hold me down. The only redeeming factor of the whole episode was that the foot was wrapped in gauze and tape. All the kids in the neighborhood envied it and they vied with each other as to who would have the honor of pulling me around in the wagon.
In the fall of the year when school started, many of the boys went to school barefooted. When the temperature got cold and the ground was not warm then they started to think about wearing shoes. Little did they know that their folks had been saving money to get those shoes! For many years during the 1930s it was the style for the boys to get and wear high-laced hunting boots. Those boots went past the calf of the leg almost to the knee. If a boy was lucky he might also get a pair of corduroy hunting pants that went inside the boots. The boots and pants were to last the whole winter. When snow arrived the boys got a pair of four buckle overshoes that fit over the boots.The combination of the two made for heavy footwear but it kept the feet warm and dry.
The boots wore extremely well but, toward late winter, the soles and heels started to wear out. They could be repaired several ways; put cardboard in the boots, buy a shoe sole repair kit and glue on a new rubber sole or one could go to the local shoemaker.
Milford had two shoemakers during The Depression years. One of the shops was on Main Street and the other on a side street. One of the shoemakers also repaired and made harnesses for horses plus selling and repairing awnings. Most stores in the downtown area of towns had canvas awnings that were raised and lowered to keep the sun from shining through the plate glass windows.
When my boots got so bad that they needed new soles I would go to the shoemaker and harness shop. It was always an exciting place to visit as some activity was always taking place. There was no luxury of leaving the boots to be repaired, as they were the only pair available so one took them off and waited while they were being repaired. The only times that were convenient for that operation were after school or on Saturday.
The shoe repairing operation was always fascinating to observe. The usual job was to get a new half-sole or to replace the worn heel. Getting a new heel didn't take a lot of time but if one had to get a new half-sole or sole, it took at least an hour. The old boot sole was removed, the area was buffed and a new sole was measured and cut. After the new sole was cut to the correct size it was sewed or tacked on and then trimmed down to the proper fit. It was a pleasure to watch the whole operation. With the coming and going of many customers, the time passed quickly.
In the summer of 1943 when World War II was going on, I enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps and went to Camp Dodge, near Des Moines. We were issued clothing, socks, and shoes. The shoes were sturdy and heavy and we were issued two pair. We spent lots of time shining and spit polishing those shoes to the satisfaction of the sergeant in charge. The socks the army issued were light and my mother sent me sweat socks all the time I was in the military as my feet sweat too much. We were also issued canvas leggings. The army shoes served me well. In the fall of 1944 while stationed in Calcutta one of my shoes wore out so I went to the supply sergeant for another pair. My size was 12 but he didn't have any American shoes. However he did have a pair of hobnailed British shoes in my size. I was reluctant but took them and they were the best shoes I ever had. I wore those hobnailed shoes the rest of the time I was in China and the end of WWII.
Today I wear rubber-soled canvas shoes but do have some leather shoes someplace. I remember years ago that I wore dress leather shoes while teaching school. Fashions change but you still have the same two feet! Take care of them because they have to last you all of your life.