Still on the Cobbler’s Bench

Scuffed and worn by the weight and pace of getting by and getting there, luster long lost, barely recognizable against their former new out-of-the-box perfection, there’s nothing like a pair of aged old shoes the way we used to wear them.

My oldest memories of shoes have them of leather, bought in an old-fashioned shoe store in the middle of the thriving downtown, back when downtown was where everybody shopped.

We polished them every Sunday, and wore those same shoes until they started coming apart at or getting holes in the soles, or the lining wore out or the stitches at the toe started splitting.

We would toss them in a paper sack and carry them down to the shoe repair shop in Woodlawn——a place whose  smell I remember as well is that of the store where we bought them.

A few days later, we picked them up looking practically new, and the only reason we stopped wearing a pair of shoes eventually was that our feet outgrew them.

Not lost to the metaphor as I remember where my feet have been, here I sit at the beginning of a new year of life–scuffed and worn but serviceable, with new stitches, and life left here beyond the repair shop——not quite good as new. But then, not in need of breaking in, either. I’m as comfortable as an old shoe with my lot, a good fit in my time and place, with a few more miles left in me, at a bit slower pace,  and taking a little more care with each step.

But I’m fortunate. A lot of old shoes simply get pitched into a bin when they show wear, ignored, housed together anonymously, with other marginalized old shoes. The pity, since so many are still worthy of good life with a little love.

I’d like to think I’m an old Red Wings boot of a guy, still nice to have sitting ready at the back door, improving with age, new stitching and all.

This “old shoe” video from Redwing is inspirational. Watch.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Fred, we certainly hope you have a more than just a few more miles left in you !!! 🙂

    KIWI shoe polish………. now that brings back memories of when I was a kid. My mother’s nephew (like a brother to me) would come and stay with us, on leave, while in the Navy. The house would smell of KIWI shoe polish the whole time…….. had to keep those boots and shoes shiny and clean, and that uniform pressed and ready to go back to base.

    Take care Fred, and remember, a good walking stick can help while plodding around in those mountains !! 🙂


  2. I’ll bet the new stitches on the old shoes never itched like the new stiches on “old” you…Funny about the Kiwi. I just tossed out my cans of old dried polish a month ago as I cleaned out the closet. Came across my old polishing kit and realized I hadn’t used it since I couldn’t remember when. Dress shoes arn’t what they used to be, and the pair that hangs out under the end of my bed for those rare occasions when I have to leave the flip-flops and hiking shoes just won’t do, just require a quick wipe to renew the shine…Of course they’ll never last very long either.

  3. Great analogy! As a kid I always outgrew my shoes before I wore them out. Once I hit size 14 at age 13 and my feet stopped growing I learned to love old shoes. Never knew how comfortable they could be. I still treat my leather on my boots. Snow seal with beeswax is what I use these days.

    My older body has had several serious repairs, although I’m not as good as new, I’m still pretty darned functional. Good luck with the recovery!