Today, I tried to throw out an old pair of shoes. A scuffed, well worn, pair of runners, coated in the dirt of yesterday’s hill walk with the backs broken, just as my mother warned me they would, when as a child, she caught me pushing my foot into my shoes without opening the laces. They were in my bedroom, laying on their side, next to their replacement pair, which I’d bought yesterday in the sales. An almost identical pair, although you’d be pushed to believe that when you look at them side by side.
Having promised my walking companion I was ‘on my way,’ I hurriedly reached for the new pair, ready to take them on their ‘maiden voyage’. But instead of opening their laces and putting my foot into their well supporting interior, I paused, the words, ‘maiden voyage,’ reminding me of my father. This was an expression he would have used; everyday lingo linked to a life spent around trawlers and boats. And as I smiled, hearing his soft Donegal accent as if it were days not years since last I’d heard him speak, I was reminded of another pair of shoes, many moons ago.
I was about seven or eight, and the shoes in question were a rather tatty, brown leather pair, with a T-bar and a small heel. The toes, well scuffed from climbing walls and trees and acting as the brakes for my bike. Both buckles were loose and the heels well worn. I’d had them a few months but with the fast growing foot of a child, they no longer fitted. It was time for a new pair.
Getting new shoes, when I was a child, was a major event. They had to be Clarkes, as no other shoes were trusted for growing feet. And there was no such thing as putting a pair of shoes on and walking away. How would we know if they fitted correctly? So, to get my new shoes I had to be measured, in a shoe shop, by a specialist… in measuring. A long steel contraption was produced for me to put my stockinged foot on and a steel bar pulled down to my big toe. I waited for the number, wondering how much I’d grown and delighted when it was announced I was a whole half size bigger. A few pairs of shoes in my new size were brought out and I picked the pair I liked best. However, I didn’t dare get my hopes until I’d walked up and down the shop a couple of times. Then, swearing they felt great there was one final test to be passed. I had to stand still, squash my feet to the top of the toes of each shoe and pray Mum could push a finger into the back of each shoe. Only when this was done could know for sure the shoes fitted and I could take them home.
What shoes you may wonder did we buy that day? I apologise, but memory denies me. What I do remember however, is not wearing them and the tears I cried at my mothers insistence I take my tatty, beloved brown pair of shoes off as they had to be ‘thrown out.’ I was beside myself at the thought. Mum might as well have asked me to dump my favourite doll. There was no way I could part with them.
And then Dad stepped in.
He and I went into, what is now called, the small sitting room, in my home at 108. There he took up a couple of floor boards and I took off my shoes for the last time and gently placed them on the floor underneath. We said our goodbyes and he replaced the boards. I skipped off, delighted they were not ‘thrown out.’
Today, as I remembered those battered old shoes and my Dad I pushed aside my brand new pair of runners and reached for my old ones. In memory of times past and my mum, I pushed my foot into them without opening the laces and hurried off for my final walk of 2021.
Tomorrow I’ll begin a New Year, with my new runners… Maybe