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Getting New Shoes

“The light is green, I can see my toes and all the bones”. Sister Molly was looking down into a four-foot box, called an X-Ray Shoe Fitter and could see the bones of her toes wiggle in the eerie green light.

We didn’t get off the island much as many of our classmates in the 1940’s would tell you. Helen Puz lived to be a hundred and hadn’t left the island until she was 18 years old to go to Tacoma to have her high school pictures taken, so the trip to Nordstrom’s for new shoes was a big occasion.

Old Dan Murphy was six-foot-six, skinny as a rail and the shoe salesman who kept us in shoes all through grade school. We put our feet in his ex-ray machine to make sure we had a good fit and then he would give us his business card for a free shoeshine down the street. When summer came, off came the shoes so we could run around the lawn in our bare feet, feeling the rich grass between our toes. Stepping on a rusty nail raised the specter of blood poisoning from the puncture wound and Mom made is soak the wounded foot in Epson salts in case of infection. Cutting your foot on a barnacle on the beach got the same treatment as the barnacle is poisonous. Every Spring our grandfather, Papa Jim, would gather 8 or 10 of the cousins and have us clean the beach, raking and picking the barnacles up to be piled and moved away from our swimming area. Without the barnacles, we were free to run and cavort in the tide.

Our tennis shoes were US Keds when we weren’t running around in our bare feet. They were rubber and canvass with a white border around the sole. We wore them until the soles started coming off, to reveal our toes or flapping against the ground. Our feet were always dirty, so dirty that when I took off my shoe for swimming class one day, I found a slug between my toes. Mom made us leave our tennis shoes outside and far from the porch.

Being insular and isolated from the mainland which we seldom visited, gave us kids a unique perspective of the world we grew up in.

Take the ride up the Heights Hill, where everybody guns it to get home quick, the fresh smell of the greenery coming through the car windows, like a welcoming home.

Our old Philco television was as big as a house and had a ten inch screen and a test pattern that we would watch for hours waiting for Howdy Doody, because he had Buster Brown commercials which we would sing along with: “My name is Buster Brown and I live in a shoe. That’s my dog, Tige, he lives there too.” If someone said they had Buster Brown shoes, we would make them prove it and take a shoe off to show us the picture of Buster and Tige in the heel. If the shoe was too old and the picture rubbed out, we called them liars and yelled, “Liar, Liar, pants on fire, nose as long as a telephone wire.”