When I think back to the 1960s, I remember a time spent going to school and having what seemed like years off for summer vacation. School was school, but summer was Christmas morning times a thousand. It was never too hot, never too rainy or never too dry. It was simply summer, and no kid in their right mind ever complained about a minute of it.
There were two things in particular that defined summer for me, and this was especially true since I was a Catholic schoolboy who spent most of the year wearing a necktie, stiff leather shoes, and heavy trousers. Summer was the time when I could finally swap the parochial sackcloth and leather clodhoppers for sneakers and shorts—and boy did that feel good.
On the first day of summer vacation, Mom would load us all into the Biscayne and head off to Thom McAn’s for a pair of new sneakers. There were only two choices for color and style—black or white, and low or hi-top. I always opted for white hi-tops, and immediately broke them in by walking through Methodist Creek (so named because it was next to a Methodist church) until they were suitably wet and muddy. New sneakers were cool and all, but one didn’t want them to look new. They were the most comfortable things ever invented, but the absolute moment when they finally developed the perfect blend of holes, dirt, and color, they fell apart. The only thing that barely held them together were laces that were more knots than lace.
Sneakers didn’t hold up long back then. By the time summer vacation ended and school started back up again, they looked as if they had been run through a wood chipper. The cotton uppers and vulcanized rubber soles simply couldn’t stand up to bicycle toe dragging, summer growth spurts or the rigors of street softball for more than a few months. Come September, the sneaks got tossed in the corner and swapped out for a pair of thick school oxfords.
I’ve never been able to shake my Mom’s cheap sneaker mentality, and for the most part, I’ve always opted for whatever sneakers fit from outlet stores with names such as, “Last Year’s Styles” or “Random Sizes—Try Your Luck.” Sneakers weren’t my primary shoes because that task was delegated to work boots, so I really didn’t care. I’d spend a lot of money on good work boots because they were tools, but sneakers? Those were temporary summer shoes. I didn’t care what they looked like or what brand they were so long as they fit, and didn’t cost more than $39.00.
A few weeks ago, Mrs. G. and I went out together while she bought a new pair of sneakers. Since she walks three miles a day, almost every day, her sneaks don’t last long but she’ll wear them until the inside of the heels are ragged, and the soles are almost transparent. After the shoeologist measured Mrs. G’s feet, she came out of the stockroom with several boxes of sneakers, all of them a full size larger than the size my wife has worn since high school. Mrs. G. was aghast. “They look enormous!” she said, but once they were laced up and she was able to walk around the store, her horror did a complete one-eighty. “Oh my God, they feel like pillows,” she said. She then did a little jog in place and declared them sold. Whether or not the sizing of footwear has changed or her feet had somehow grown, that didn’t matter. She loved her new sneakers.
A week or so later, my wife and I did an adventure hat trick, hiking up hill and down dale in three different places, as we tried to cram as much summer as possible into five days. As we were walking, one of my toes started to hurt, so when we got home, I had a look only to find that it was beet red and that the skin had been worn off the knuckle. Do toes have knuckles? Anyway, my toe had been rubbing on the inside of my sneaker.
“You need a bigger size,” my wife said with authority. Maybe, I guess. You mean it’s not normal to curl my toes in my sneakers? I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I had my foot measured by someone. Up until witnessing my wife’s experience, I thought that skillset went out with milkmen.
A few days after that, we went back to the athletic shoe store where Mrs. G. bought her sneaks, and a guy sprang out of nowhere to ask me if I needed help with anything. This threw me, and I wondered if he was trying to sell me something or perhaps wanted a donation. Then it dawned on me. Oh yeah, he’s trying to help me with sneakers. It’s been forever since somebody approached me in a store asking if I needed help, but geez—wear a bell or something.
“Yeah, hi—I need new sneakers. Nothing too fancy. Something for everyday wear. No bright colors. See those fluorescent orange Nike’s? Not those. And I’m not a big fan of lime green.”
He measured my feet, and my left foot was a touch over a size thirteen, and my right was a thirteen on the money, so this meant a size fourteen. This must be where clowns buy their sneakers because that didn’t even faze him. “We have shoes up to a size twenty-two,” he said. He also checked the wear pattern on my shoes for supination or pronation. I pronate, and they have sneakers that help correct this. Who knew sneakers did this sort of thing? Not me.
He came out with two boxes since the “not too colorful” parameters I gave him plus the pronation issue narrowed down the playing field. The first pair came out of the box, and I swear they looked rectangular, and I mean an actual rectangle. They could have put laces on the box and they would have looked the same, plus they were snow white. I tried them on anyway, but I’ve seen livelier shoes in nursing homes or perhaps on pilgrims. “Yeah, um, I know I said no bright colors, but these make me feel as if I should be driving an Oldsmobile to the straw hat and suspender store. What’s in the other box?
He showed me a nice looking pair of New Balance sneakers, and I tried them on. Cherubs began to sing. They felt as if
somebody laced clouds on my feet. Clouds wrapped around a really firm, yet comfortable mattress. They weren’t a blinding shade of white either, but not as bright as the hot red sneakers the kid on the treadmill next to me was taking for a test drive. “Sold!” I said.
I love them. Not as much as my wife loves hers because she begins each walk as if she’s Dorothy skipping off to see the Wizard. Me? I’m a little more reserved with my sneaker love, but they are pretty great. Almost summer-sneaker-from-Thom-McAn’s great, and the best part is; they look good clean. The next best part is they don’t resemble something the UPS driver wears, so this is what I’d call a win/win.