I seem to have a hard time throwing away old shoes. I suppose that this is partially due to the fact that I buy sturdy shoes, ones I can hike in or in which I can at least walk comfortably, so their achievement of retirement age is not readily recognized. I have to admit that I have more shoes than can ever be imagined necessary…as our Claire would say, this is a First World problem. Yet it is so. I have walking shoes, hiking shoes, hiking boots, fishing boots, beach sandals, fishing sandals, garden sandals, “dress” sandals, dress shoes to match several suits, a pair of soft black shoes that are good for dancing, a pair of cowboy boots (circa 1969), slippers, running shoes, tennis shoes…..
I used to be the guy who could pack all of his earthly belongings in a single suitcase. I had a pair of low-cut Converse and some flip flops. Yet, when I left the service and deposited my uniforms and all that went with them in a dumpster behind my Mom’s place, I kept the boots. They were great boots and I wore them right through 8 years of college, construction jobs, hiking, until they just rotted off my feet. Still, I probably didn’t throw them away. More likely they got lost.
Shoes seem to have a life arc ranging from “new” (worn more on special occasions), gravitating to “daily work wear” which would not look too slovenly at the office, to “too shitty for the office, but still great to wear around”. Footwear seems to dwell for quite a long while in this last category, as new shoes are purchased, the old new become daily wear, and the old daily wear join the special pile of other kicking around shoes…until, at last I realize that this once great pair of shoes will never be worn again..But maybe I will save them for projects around the yard….I have a few pair of those.
A few years back, my feet inexplicably grew from size 11 to 11.5. This piece of news (like a great many other realizations in my life) came to me slowly, as a shoe salesman patiently convinced me that my new shoes hurt because I had purchased them too small. But I had always been an 11!! This was a boon for Help of Ojai, who no doubt distributed some fine walking wear to those in need. It was also a boon for Zappo’s and REI, as I had to repurchase new footwear for every occasion…except for the old riding boots that have hung in there.
Perhaps all this shoe business is part of some Irish genetic memory. When I was growing up, the value of taking care of shoes was set firmly in my head. New shoes were to be regularly polished and be only worn to church. After Mass, we put on our old shoes to play. Dress shoes were bought at least a size too large (which gave my stride an odd flap) and worn until a size too small. When the soles wore through, Mom would cut cardboard inserts to the shape of the shoes and I would squeeze a few more weeks out of them. Eventually, we would take them to the shoe repair man, who would re-sole them or perhaps put those very cool metal taps on the toe or heels which would make a magnificent sound when you walked the long marble aisle to get communion at church. As I write this, I am taken back to the wonderful smell of a shoe repair shop…a smell this generation may never know, for today most shoes are not made to be re-soled; they are made to me thrown away….or, in my case, collected.
So here I am, stuck with old world shoe sensibilities, wringing the life out of each pair, perhaps even enjoying the sense of luxury of having so many great pairs of shoes, yet feeling guilty all the same. I do get rid of shoes from time to time, but I can’t stand to throw them away. I polish them up and take them to Help of Ojai, hoping that someone will give them a fresh start in life. I want to put notes in them…”These are Gore-Tex, brother. Wear them in good health”. I’ll bet Imelda Marcos didn’t have Gore-Tex.