Whack! Clang, clang, clang!
Whack! Clang, clang, clang!
I reared back one more time to send that can down to the corner. Wock! I missed the can and caught the sole of my shoe on a jagged piece of pavement. I felt my shoe snag, then give. My foot shot up high as my shoulder. My toes felt a cold shot of air through my sock. Whap! That sound startled me. It wasn’t the solid sound of shoe on pavement.
I bent at the knee and checked the bottom of that shoe like I always did when there was the suspicious smell of dog mess. It wasn’t the smell from a pile of dog doo though. It wasn’t a smell at all. It was my newly air conditioned shoe. The sole flapped as I touched it.
“Oh, no!” I said out loud. It was my brand new pair of loafers. The sole hung loosely like a lolling tongue. I had ripped it away from the body of the shoe with my last kick of the can, which I had missed.
I took it off and pushed my hand down to the toe. My fingers extended beyond and between body and sole.
“Oh, no,” I gasped. “I’m in deep doo doo now.” I had only had this pair of shoes for a week. It was my annual pair of shoes. Each year I got a new pair. They had to last the entire school year and some. Not now. Unless I wanted to walk around” step, flap, step, flap” for a year.
I looked around. There was no help for me. The houses were buttoned up and everyone was getting ready to eat supper. I was on my own. I stood there for a while trying to decide if I should go home, or not.
“Where would you go?” I asked myself. “You just gotta go home and face it. What in the world will you do for shoes now? The old pair have holes in the bottom. And you’d just broken these in. Broken in is right. Put it back on and go home.” I said all this to myself as I slowly bent over to slip the shoe back on my foot.
Step, flap. Step, flap. The sound mocked me all the way back to the house. I jumped the creek, as I always did, on the final stretch home. My toes caught the cool breeze as the sole bent down allowing air to whistle through. At the last minute I pulled my toes up to land on my heel or the sole would have bent backwards when I landed on the other side of the water.
I moseyed through the path leading to my back yard. The sun was going behind the marsh beyond the house as I grew closer to the back door and doom. I stopped at the step to pull my shoes off. Maybe I could hide them and just wear the others, but I knew that would never work.
With resignation I held the shoes in my left hand, stepped up and pulled the screen door open. As I edged through the back door I realized it was a mistake to carry the shoes in my hand as the almost brand new piece of leather, that had once been attached so firmly to my brand new shoe, hung like a gaping mouth facing my parents who looked up to say hello.
“Oy! What’s ‘at?” Dad said lowering the News and Courier.
“Oh, dear,” said my mother who was at the stove. “Your brand new shoes. What happened?”
Mom pulled a piece of chicken from the skillet with the two pronged fork and dropped it on a plate lined with paper towels. She looked again at my shoes, shook her head and turned back to the pan of frying chicken.
“Tell us what happened, son,” said dad putting the paper down and motioning for the shoes.
“I broke them,” I said shame facedly.
“I can see that,” said dad frowning. “How did you manage to do it to a brand new pair?”
I handed them to him as he had requested.
“Well, I was kicking a can down the road while walking home.” My mind was racing to find a reason for this but I was just never quick on my feet. “There was a broken place in the road and the bottom caught on it. I was trying to kick that can as hard as I could. I missed it though.”
Dad had stopped listening as soon as he had the shoe in his hand. He was studying it closely as he always did when diagnosing a problem. My voice just died out at the end.
Mom dropped the last piece of golden brown chicken on to the plate, slipped the skillet to a back burner then pulled the wire pan from the pot of boiling oil exposing golden fried potatoes that she had sliced in the form of chips. She could slice a potato with a knife so thin that they cooked in minutes. She never cut a potato into the fries most mothers did. They were always crisp and delicious. I stared at them as my mouth watered in anticipation.
“They just don’t make things the way they used to.” Dad’s voice brought me back to my footwear problem.
“Do you think you can fix them, dear?” my mother asked as she stood over him looking at the damage I’d done.
“I might be able to,” he said a slight smile on his face. He put the shoe on the table his smile growing. My mother shook her head and quietly removed them from the table.
“Well, supper’s ready. Let’s not do it now,” she said. “Rickey, you want to make the tea while I dish up the food?”
I put the kettle on while dad walked to the back room and the TV. My mother prepared the plates. While she walked back with them I poured the boiling water in the pot, rinsed it out, placed teabags inside holding the tags as I poured boiling water over them. I clapped the lid into the opening then grabbed my plate.
“Can you fix them?” I asked dad as I put my plate on the tray.
“We’ll see,” he said with that grin on his face.
When he grinned like that I knew it was done in his mind. I forgot about them and dived into my chicken while Lloyd Bridges breathed in air from the tanks strapped to his back unaware of the villain behind him slipping his knife behind the hose he was breathing through.
Lloyd got out of that fix and the Friday night fights came on. It was more fun watching my dad in his chair arcing a left into the air and blocking invisible blows from his unseen opponent as he watched the fighters in the ring. Dad had boxed in the Royal Navy and never quite got over the thrill of being ship’s champ. He was short by modern standards being five foot seven but he made up for his height with the width of his chest and the rock solid arms that pumped the air in an upper cut. His attention was just as rock solid in his moves to help the man in the ring on the tube. When the bout was over he settled back in his chair with a sigh, reach for his pack of Luckies, dug around for the last one and light up. That’s when I poured the last of the tea.
The next morning dad was up early. Mom came in to wake me so I could help dad. Well, that was what she said.
“Rickey,” she said leaning over me. The morning sun shining through the window brought out red highlights in her chestnut colored hair. It was early.
“Rickey, your dad is up and outside trying to figure what to do about your shoe. You might want to go out there and help him.”
It had always been a thing. When dad worked on something either mom or I would stay with him through the job at hand to keep him company in case there was something we could do. Usually there was nothing we could do since dad was so deeply concentrating on the problem that he didn’t even know we were there. At least that is what I thought but my mother knew differently. He was always aware. My job inevitably was bearer of the flashlight.
“Hold it there,” he’d say and I’d put the light on the spot he’d point out. “No, here,” would be the usual response to my attempt to locate there.
“What can I do? The sun’s out. He won’t need a light holder.”
“You may be right but I’m sure he would like your company. Anyway, you might learn something.”
I got out of bed slowly. I took my time dressing and brushing my teeth. It wasn’t the way I wanted to spend my Saturday morning but it was my shoe, after all. It was my fault it was in the shape it was in. I owed it to him, didn’t I? It’s an attitude that I think all boys regret later in life but what did I know at that age.
I peeked outside after eating some cereal and downing a cup of tea. He wasn’t under the carport.
“Where’s dad?” I asked mom.
She looked around from the sink dropping a dish into the drying rack.
“I heard him in the outhouse a minute ago,” was her answer. The outhouse was the shed attached to the house that had his tools plus the odds and ends he saved for just the right job.
I opened the screen door. Stepping down I let is slam.
“Don’t slam the screen door!” I heard mom yell from the kitchen. I had paused for just a second knowing it would be shouted out. It was a comfort thing, I believe.
“Rickey, you want to get this?” dad said handing me a freshly cut trunk from a tree. It was just a few inches higher than his knees when he sat with it later.
“What’s this for?”
“You’ll see. Just carry it over to the step for now. I have to get the last along with the hammer and nails.
“Last what?” I yelled out to him, but he was already around the corner.
He came back to the step carrying the hammer and several other items.
“I thought you were going to fix the shoe I destroyed?” He just smiled that smile as he sat on the second step.
“Just wait a bit. You’ll see.” He had half a Lucky smoldering between his lips. His eyes squinted as the curling smoke licked up near his eyes. “Hold this,” he said handing me the hammer.
The tree trunk he held with his knees was about four inches in circumference with a hole chiseled out of the middle. He slipped a piece of cast iron that looked like a small flat foot into the hole.
“Not quite deep enough. I can’t chisel any further down…” He usually talked to himself as he worked out a problem. He sat there with smoke circling around his white hair that he’d neglected to comb in his eagerness to get started on this shoe. He sat very still. The only movement over the next few minutes was his inhaling on the stub of a cigarette followed by his exhaling a cloud of blue smoke. It took a few minutes then his face relaxed. He reached for the hammer, which I knew meant hand it here. I gave it to him. He had some bits of the wood from the tree trunk lying on the ground. He pointed at them.
“Hand me those,” he said.
I reached for the wood.
“No, that one there.”
Nodding my head I reached for the other piece I had not reached for first.
He took it and split it in half. He had some metal strips nearby that he wound around the stump between his knees. He shook his head. Getting up he laid it on the step and secured it with nails. After this he began to chisel into the new bit he’d attached to the portion with the previously chiseled hole.
“What are you doing?” I always asked. I always got that smile for an answer.
“Yes, that should answer.” And with those words the tension would fall from his face replaced by a smile and twinkling eyes.
He dropped the cast iron foot into the newly deepened hole. He tried to move it around but it was firmly in place.
“There you go,” he said. He looked at me as if I was bright enough to know what he had done.
“You want to go get your shoe, son?” He slid over to the left so I could get inside. He pulled his pack of Luckies from his breast pocket, stuck his finger into the pack to make room for the last smoke to come out. The cigarette popped halfway out as he flipped the pack. He grabbed it with his lips and crumpled the empty pack.
“Ask your mother to make a pot of tea, will you? We’ll have a cup before we get started.” He lit his Lucky and inhaled deeply. I slipped through the door.
“Dad asked if you’d make us a pot of tea,” I told mom.
“Of course, dear,” she answered. Her smile lit up the kitchen. “Would you get the milk and the cups?”
After I fetched those, I picked up my beleaguered shoe slipping outside. The screen slammed behind me followed by, “Don’t slam the screen door!”
Perfect, I thought.
“You really shouldn’t slam the screen like that, son. It’s annoying.” He frowned at me as he crushed the remnant of his cigarette on the side of the step.
He took the shoe and slipped it over the metal foot.
“You see this?” he said pointing at the metal holding my shoe.
“It’s called a last. It’s there to give this shoe a firm hold while I tap some nails along the sole to hold it in place. This is one of the things your granddaddy and I did after the war. He ran a boot repair shop and we took in the neighbors’ shoes for mending. I thought I could rig up something and I believe this just might answer.”
“Tea’s ready,” said my mother through the screen.
“Let’s have a cup, shall we?” he asked me.
“I’d like one,” I said.
My mother had poured two cups and was waiting inside the door when I opened it. She handed one to me.
“Don’t slam that door,” she said as she caught it mid-slam.
Dad reached up to retrieve the cup she held just beyond his reach. He stood to get it.
“Ta,” he said sitting down gently.
We drank our tea and I took the cups back inside. As I came back out he was tossing a handful of small nails into his mouth. The shoe sat on the last. He took one nail from his mouth, held it at the edge of the ripped sole and with his left hand, he was a lefty, pounded that nail with two quick hits. He repeated himself until the sole was once again firmly attached to the shoe. He spit the remainder of the nails into his hand. These he poured back into a jar beside him. He removed the shoe, looked at it from top to bottom and handed it to me.
“There you go, my boy. Try that on.”
I kicked my old shoe aside and slipped on the new one.
“How does it feel?” he asked as I walked up and down the carport.
“It’s a little tight but it works.”
“I’m sure you will have to break it in again but it should last.”
“Ha ha,” I said. “It should last.”“I could use a cuppa,” he said, getting up.