Five Buckle Overshoes
“Make sure you fasten every buckle” my mom called as I headed out the door. “And don’t cut your finger this time”. Overshoes with five buckles in front. You know the ones I mean – High, high topped, rubber inside and out with double thickness toes. The adjustable buckles with little slots on one side and a metal tab you threaded through and folded over with a guillotine click. Bottom treads like a truck mud tire – same thickness.
My first pair was a hand-me-down from a cousin, twice removed – chicken manure vulcanized to the bottom, cow dung streaks on the sides. Two buckles were bent at sharp angles, hence the warning from my mother. A slit up one side covered with electrical tape – still let in water. Three sizes too big. No problem, just stuff an extra sock in the bulbous toe, and buckle every buckle to the last notch. Took me a couple of days to remove the chicken litter with a sharp bladed screwdriver – never did get the cow streaks off. I had this same pair for four years starting with sloshing around to eventually feeling like the boots had been grafted onto my feet.
In the mid 1950’s, as a member of the great lower middle class, I was required to have a pair. My friends and I called them by various names – galoshes, mukluks, overboots, gumshoes, and boots. Every kid hated them. Think about going outside in the snow or ice without them, or out in the fields – the wraith of Mom would fall upon you. All regular shoes were leather in those days – soles and uppers absorbing water like a sponge. After a good soaking in snow or rain, they would curl like a chameleon’s tongue – even rubbing with saddle soap would not get out the stains or soften the leather. Show up with sodden shoes and a lame explanation of why you weren’t wearing your Mucks. You were done for. A cheery “Wait until your Dad gets home” was the prelude to a physical punishment session – hand, belt, or stick.
It was impossible to not look like a complete Idiot clad in a pair of these rubber brogans. Several items of clothing completed the goofball appearance. First, you tucked your corduroy pants into the boot tops. The cords, of course, were ideal to soak up snowmelt. Add metal spring loaded earmuffs, a wool coat of faded blue, a scarf to wipe your nose, and left over work mittens – also moisture absorbing. You were now ready for outdoor chores, school, and evening sleigh riding. Hidden beneath the black rubber and your shoes were White Tube Socks – made from the lowest grade cotton on the Mississippi Delta. One Size Fits All. They generally reached up to just below your knee – or course after a week of wearing and a couple of washings, they lengthened to the point you could repel off a two-story building. A really good pair would last a week before getting holes in the toes and non-existent heels. And, of course, they stretched all out of proportion and the upper part fell down around your shoe tops.
Most kids had two kinds of regular shoes – one pair for school/church and the other – a pair of high topped “ work shoes” for outside drudgery. These shoe kinds were generally hand-me-downs and so were different sizes. Which compounded the irregular fit into the galoshes. While your shoe sized changed over the years, no one even considered buying new overshoes. Either they were so big that you sloshed, or stretched so tight that extraction was nye impossible. There was about a year where the overboots fit about right. During the sloshing phase, running was rewarded with stumbling shuffles and many a Face Plant. Escaping from tough guys (the Duvall’s and the Mallinson’s) in the neighborhood, or running from adults after a harmless prank (such as throwing rock filled snowballs at cars) was fraught with danger and usually ended up badly if anyone gave chase.
During the undersized period, the rubber clogs were much worse. To get them on, you shoved your toe in, liberally greased with Crisco, and began to pull. The initial tugs rarely worked so a double-handed grip was employed to gain an inch or so. Finally, after warming the booted foot over the heat register, you could pull on the heel and stomp toe first. Those actions put you about 90% there. That was about as good as it got – not exactly a flat surface to walk on.
To pull off, you started with putting the front toe of one boot on the back of the other and then pushed down – this was always futile, but was an honest attempt. Next, you pulled one leg up high on your knee – one hand on the toe, the other on the heel. Even this additional leverage never worked, so you peeled down the rubber, got a death grip on the heel and the turned down upper, and strained your guts out. Sometimes your shoe came out – sometimes the overshoe won – your shoe residing there until another day. There were weekends where I never saw my shoes. Why not just step out of the shoe and reach in to remove it with your hands? I can tell you that the shoe felt like it was welded to the inside rubber, and without the leverage of a strong leg you were just wasting time.
Depending on how long a shoe had been lodged in the Gumboot and under what circumstances -including the amount of Crisco used- there would be a strange odor wafting from the rubber. Sort of a refinery, asphalt plant, stagnant oil smell, mixed with undertones of sweat from a decaying sock. You only changed socks once a week, which, from my view, was way too often. And of course, the use of the boots out in the corral or chicken coop seemed to attract permanent droppings, which remained stuck in the treads – emitting ammonia and other noxious fumes.
Wearing these Godzilla Boots was definitely un-cool. All of my buddies had the same problem – we were from the northeast (rural) part of town and the people there were used to seeing us – happily clad as Gum Shoed Dofusses. But in the other more gentile parts of town we were looked at as inbred barbarians.
Tromping to Jr. High, the real question was where to hide the boots once you got within shouting distance of the school. Girls took one look at those rubber brogans and remanded you to the Dork List forevermore. Everyone had some sort of boots, but the middle class preferred ones with zippers up the front. Move up a class and the zipper was on the side or, at huge expense and limited use, a thin low cut galosh that just barely covered the shoe. Way out of our price range and station in life.
Most of us hid our boots at our friend Dave’s, just a block from the school and then did our damnedest to not get any moisture on our shoes. This entailed walking on the sides or tiptoes, and on one particularly wet day removing the shoes and Tube Socks and running like greased lightning through the foot deep snow.
Finally the 9th grade arrived. My parent’s life ending threats were ignored, since I had to buy my own shoes. I merrily trudged through the snow and ice with unpolished, cracked, misshapen, galoshesless shoes. Feet got wet, but my school shoes looked just like all the other guys. No more taking two minutes just to get the buckles fastened, no more chances of losing a fingertip in the process, no more wrenching of the back during extraction, no more hiding the boots. No more girls whispering behind my back about cow manure encrusted brogues. Finally, I was just a cool regular guy fitting in with the rest of the herd. I was happy.
Never had a pair on since!