Winter in Maine and the annual Clam City Ball is again crowded with rhinestone sparkling women and top-hatted men. Boas drip off shoulders, and a fox grins its last grin coiled around a swanlike neck. Taffeta skirts swish, and gloved hands keep time in softened claps. We are all decked out, and loving it. This ball has been going on annually for over one hundred years, with the same set of songs, and never varying intermission sandwiches provided by the men. The food is crab rolls, egg salad and chips, and I am glad I ate before I came. The dances are circle and line dances, and I would rather hike up my skirts and swirl and twirl. But I am not here for the food or dance. I am here because I can dress. I have ringlets in my hair, elbow length gloves, paste earrings, a full flowing skirt, and my soft leather lace-up boots with thirty-six eyelets.
These amazing boots were given to me by an antique dealer friend of my mom when I was a sophmore in high school. How I had the patience to lace them up then I cannot fathom, but I did, not everyday, but when the mood struck. I wore them with frayed bell bottom jeans or long Indian print dresses. The soft leather molds itself to my foot, the short heel gives support, and these are about the most comfortable shoes I own. They are over one hundred years old.
I treasure them, although I do not care for them as I should. But they are forgiving. They have trudged through snow, gotten soaked in puddles, the laces have been replaced several times, and they are still in fine shape. At one point I decided to retire them thinking I did not have the right to wear out these fine historic specimens, but I could not resist donning them yet again. They just never seem to show abuse, and now I wear them without guilt. I do not know what adventures they had before hooking up with me, but I am sure they danced, went shopping, visited friends, and raced through a rainstorm or two. I am also pretty sure they will outlast me, and go on more adventures when mine are done.
I don’t like to think I have a shoe fetish, but I do own a rather large number. In addition to the thirty-six eyelets I have rain shoes, garden shoes, swim shoes, comfy shoes, rhinestone studded heels, silver, gold, red, lots of black, sandals, flip flops, pointy toes and squared. Red suede flats, turquoise beaded pumps, and my mother’s alligator kitten heels sit side by side with my white leather Jill Sander ankle boots, a steal at Marden’s discount store. These last were originally marked $678.00. My entire shoe collection couldn’t be much more than that, and I am not sure I know anyone who would spend that on one pair of shoes.
Oh, and boots, I have red Hunter boots, and a pair of furry white goat boots I have named Schwani and Snowflake after the goats in Heidi. There are zippy ankle boots, lace=up work boots, waders for fishing, thigh high seven league boots for fencing, and fins for swimming. There are Sorel Joan of Arctics in which I can stand on the ice for hours in cosy-toed comfort. I have snowshoes, too, of course. So many choices, and I do wear them all now and again, but I tend to rely on a few core pairs.
For comfort, my Merrells come a close second to the thirty-six eyelets. I am on my second pair. The first, classic brown jungle mocs, have worn out to the point they are saved for dirty work, and not worn in public. They are close to fifteen years old and I have no complaints, but they will clearly not live to be one hundred. They are the kid’s version, since I have small feet, and designed to be tough. I wore them hiking, gardening, and just out and about. They went to the horse barn to visit my daughter, forded streams, hopped rock to rock keeping up with my fly fisherman husband. They were with me stacking wood, and foraging for mushrooms. They biked, since even with all those shoes I have not yet opted for fancy bike shoes. They got stuck in the mud, and stepped in something stinky more than once. My socks are now peeping through cracks, and they have a few spatters of paint and house stain, but they sure are easy to wear.
They will get tossed out at some point, though. This is what happens with most of my dress shoes. They just do not have the stamina to keep up with me, or with anyone.
It would be expecting a lot from a scrap of leather or synthetic to go the course, and I tend to run when I could walk, walk when I could ride.
At some time I may pass them on, or they may end up in an estate sale or thrift store. But whatever their next destination, these boots have a lot more walking to do.
So how is it I am still wearing shoes from the 1890’s? I do not know the answer, and they aren’t telling. They do not look tough. The leather is thin and soft. The soles are hand-stitched and also a seemingly soft leather. They have endured more and lasted ten times longer than my next toughest shoe.
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