Of things from our youth, remembered with a smile!
When I was in junior high school, every Fall as school started, I got a new pair of shoes.
They were not just any shoes. They were Converse (all-stars, I think). And, with those new shoes, for a while … anything was possible.
I was suddenly able to run faster, climb any tree higher, leap like Superman –albeit shorter leaps–and generally peel out when starting to run and screech to a halt when stopping.
All of this because of the rubber’s newness.
When, I was in high school in the mid 60s, I actually worked in a factory that made such shoes; and, while I attended high school, I made the inside foam inserts and “vulcanized” the bottom rubber to the sides.
It was hot dirty work and hard physically. Lots of kids worked there during school because, once summer was here, we worked stacking bales of hay on trucks to make money. No one had–as yet–had heard of child-labor protection laws.
Two weeks ago, I walked by the Baja Star store, in La Paz centro, and my eyes were caught by a pair of new Converse basketball shoes. Like a child to the scent of fresh-baked cookies, I was drawn into the store.
As I stood there looking at the last vestige of an earlier America, I smiled. For just a moment I was standing again, in Delbert Wax’s General Dry Goods Store in Gillham, Arkansas in 1964. I could smell the wood floors, the sawdust that kept the ice blocks cold, I could picture the wooden book rack with the newest issues of Fantastic Four, Superman, Spiderman, Dare Devil, Batman, and the Blackhawks.
I could see the “old” men sitting around the pot-bellied stove, in overalls from the railroad, or from the County Roads Department talking about the unions.
For a brief second, I was 14 again. The second did not linger. But, my smile did, looking at those shoes.
The sales clerk tried to sell me a pair of white ones … that is not what I remembered. ‘Cause, even as a child I knew, white wouldn’t still be white by the time I got home. Dirt does not tolerate white shoes on a teenaged boy.
No, they needed to be just like the ones I had as a child. And, those were made from unbleached canvas. Like a classic sail, they were slightly off-white. You knew that–after a while–the sweat from your feet would make a stain where the canvas was joined to the sole. That is also where they would, inevitably, “blow out” when they were too old to keep you running. But, that was forever in the future.
As I walked up the dock to the boat I smelled the smells of my mom’s kitchen. The smells of Southern cooking–cake, cookies, and cornbread–were always in the air. We were poor but not dirt poor. She saw to it that we never went without food.
Then, as I stepped aboard, I realized it really did smell like cake. It smelled like carrot cake. When I got below, Carolyn (wife not mom … or wife and mom) was cleaning up from having just placed a carrot cake in the solar oven. The smell was as real as real.
So was the taste of the batter clinging to the sides of the mixing bowl and the glass of ice-cold milk.
And, so was the brand new pair of canvas Converse basketball shoes.