The shoes tell the history tale

By Steve Estes

Monday starts the new school year.

Wasn’t yesterday Independence Day?

Since school is starting, we must all remember to be extra careful when we’re out driving around. There are actually kids who get excited to be back in school and you never know when a little one is going to dart out from behind a bus or parked car, or across the street, and it’s up to us to be careful.

The first day of school is also a treat for parents, because they get a break from day-long exercises in baby sitting, trying to keep an inquisitive child from being bored to death during the long, hot summer.

It is also a treat for the kids who get to dress up in their school duds and march off to do something without the watchful eyes of parents around every corner.

It was the last part that thrilled me the most when I was but a lad.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t dislike my home life. It was a typical middle class household in a typical middle-class area and my parents always made sure we got to go on our share of camping excursions and trips during the summer, even if they were to the local lake for some swimming and fishing.

But there was something about being away from Mom’s prying eyes when that first day of school hit.

And I can think back and see the changes in my life as I was growing up by the things that happened on the first day of school.

When I was but a little child, I would wait at the front window every day for the bus to pull up out front, toss on my coat, or sweater, or shoes, whichever the occasion called for, and race out the door to catch the bus for the short ride to elementary school.

Because we were a typical middle class family in a typical middle class neighborhood, the order of the day for school starts was new leather shoes.

I always had a wide foot that required special shoes, and there was never a first day of school during my elementary years when my feet didn’t hurt from those leather shoes until I had broken them in.

As I progressed into middle school, the footwear of the day was tennis shoes, with the occasional leather shoe, but again, they would hurt my feet until they were broken in well because I wasn’t allowed to wear my school shoes until school started.

Made sense.

Then came high school, in the early 1970s when protest was the name of the game and non-conformity was the watchword behind which every teenager stood.

I still got as new pair of shoes for school. But I would wear them until I hit the bus, then I’d change into the rattiest pair of tennis shoes I owned, switch my dress pants for a pair of torn, bedraggled blue jeans, and fit in like a well-worn glove when non-conformity would have been better served with my original clothes.

You see, it wasn’t non-conformity from everyone else, it was non-conformity from what you had. Made sense. Then.

As I got old enough to get my own driver’s license and my own car, I would keep my school clothes in the trunk, walking out the door with my school clothes from home on my back, and tossing them into the trunk on the way to school for elephant ear blue jeans, Nehru shirts and torn tennis shoes.

That made me one of the normal people.

And that was probably the last time I was ever one of the normal people.

Then came college and a campus that was four hours by car away from home.

My selection of school clothes was still packed in the trunk, and my Mom’s selection was in the suitcase in the back seat.

The suitcase never got unpacked.

But it was the shoes that defined the shift in attitude from high school to college.

On the first day of class, I, by rote memory, reached into the closet to get out my leather shoes.

I had them laced before I realized that they said everything about me one needed to know and all of it wrong.

I tossed them back into the closet and hauled out my ratty tennis shoes. Fall in Eastern Kentucky wasn’t cold.

I slipped on a pair of trashed blue jeans with holes worn in the knees and butt, and slid on a t-shirt with typical slogans of the 70s emblazoned on the chest.

In my first year, I shared a dorm room with a junior college transfer. And it was on that first day that I realized just how far I still had to go to reach that non-conformity plateau.

His garb for the day was ratty jeans, a baseball jersey and a beret.

But on his feet were a pair of freshly minted leather sandals. Open toes. And me a kid from the Midwest where only ladies wore sandals in public.

Now, I get up every day, slip on my flip-flops or my sandals, the former for every day wear, the latter for formal wear, and head off to do what I love to do in the Florida Keys.

But I’m still not the non-conforming radical we all wanted to be back then. If I wore leather shoes, I’d stick out from my peers.

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