Reflections – Leonard Sullivan

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Rotary Reflections
By Leonard E. Sullivan

Shoe repair
A man working in a men’s clothing store told me recently that he had never had a pair of shoes half-soled or repaired. This was difficult for me to grasp. There was a time when everyone had their shoes and boots repaired. If you wore only one pair of shoes, you could wear out the soles rather quickly.
When my brother and I went to Shawnee for our new school shoes in the fall, we usually wore them home. My shoes were usually still intact, but my brother’s shoes were worn out, lost or thrown away. Many boys as they exited school the last day threw their shoes on top of the school building. They were freed of the burden of shoes for the summer.

Some adults had two pairs of shoes: work shoes and Sunday shoes. If you look closely at old family portraits, the men and boys will have on suits and ties, but their shoes are obviously the ones used for the farm work.

I recall at least three shoe shops on or near Main Street in Shawnee in the 40’s and 50’s. We visited the one on West Main. This shop was operated by an albino midget German cobbler who lived in back of the shop. He hardly spoke English.

There was a bench and a couple of elevated chairs in the front of the shop by the window, much like the waiting area in a barber shop. Those of us with only one pair of shoes took a seat and waited our turn for repairs. The cobbler could hammer on a new pair of soles in just minutes with the nails he held in his mouth or sew the shoe tongue back in with the big foot-powered sewing machine. In no time we were back on the street. For another dime, we could let everyone know we were coming with new metal taps on our heels.
If you couldn’t afford the repair shop, most stores, even small country grocery stores had shoe soles hanging on the wall with other household items. There were usually three sizes of soles: small, medium and large. After being nailed to the shoe, the excess sole was trimmed off to fit the shoe. I have the stand and shoe lasts that have been in my family over one-hundred fifty years. As a boy, I remember watching my dad use the last on occasions when a sole became partially detached and needed to be re-nailed.
Most of my shoes and boots have been re-soled and heeled more than once. Doc at the repair shop in the stockyards knows me on a first name basis. I now have a row of shoes in my closet and a shelf full in the garage. I still have both pair of boots I received in 1957 at Ft. Hood Texas for ROTC summer camp. They are almost sixty years old.

I know what you are thinking. Why not give the old shoes away? When I am finished with them, they are beyond Goodwill’s standards.

If the trend of wearing canvas and polyester gym shoes in public continues, shoe cobblers will disappear along with real leather shoes. The next time you are at a mall or a Thunder game look around, you will see very few shined leather shoes. The few young people that wear leather shoes never shine them. The shoes look like their jeans, tattered and worn out. I recently shined my hunting boots before a hunting trip. Old habits are hard to break. Take a pair of old shoes to the repair shop then give them a good shine. This will give you a nice warm feeling and your parents or great grandparents that lived through the Great Depression will be proud of you.

2 Comments for : Reflections – Leonard Sullivan
    • Pat Rooney
    • March 3, 2016

    Leonard, very well written. Thanks, Pat

    • John Frost
    • March 5, 2016

    Shoes, of all things, are supposed to mark us as civilized people. My father was a union foreman at Brown Shoe Company in St. Louisa. (Remember “Buster Brown” shoe brand for children who sponsored Saturday cowboy shows with host Andy Devine who would start with “Pluck your magic twanger, Buster Brown!”) My father was a pattern maker. He worked with his hand and his eyes to cut the “blue-board” pattern for the inner soles of shoes from the smallest to the largest shoes, both men and women. Women shoes offered the greatest challenge to him as the toes and heels varied greatly with the changing styles. The factory has since closed down but the building remains–deserted. The jobs have gone to Mexico, the Far East and Eastern Europe. In my Aunt’s house in Saint Louis, in the attic, is a toolbox with all sorts of cobbler tools from curved knives to extra large needles and hammers. I am sure it was my father’s. I often wonder who taught him the trade. Was it a family member who immigrated from Poland, or was it an apprenticeship at Brown Shoe or was it a trade school in St. Louis? There is no one left in my family to ask. All have passed on.

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