By Joe Rector

I just watched a news story about the re-birth of Converse tennis shoes. Such things as this give me confidence that our country is still clinging to the goodness that has been around for years. Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch, but I did feel good hearing that a 98 year-old product is still hanging around, even though the new model is sleeker and more expensive. They served a generation of kids well before today’s bigger name brands existed.

Each year, Jim and I got a pair of orthopedic shoes to wear to school and church. Our feet were as flat as boards, and mine were wide, about a 4E size. At some point, we also got a pair of tennis shoes. They were canvas with rubber soles. Each day, we were to come home, change into our old clothes, and put old pairs of regular shoes or those tennis shoes on. They were our play shoes. Woe unto the boy who chose to keep his newer shoes on to play. One time, I clomped around a muddy area at school while Mother served bus duty. I walked into that room, and she zeroed in on my shoes. The next thing I knew, I was standing in front of a room filled with kids as Mother administered a quick spanking to my backside.

Those tennis shoes held up as we played baseball, football, and basketball, all in our yard. Grass stains turned the once white soled a septic tank-grass green color. Every so often, we’d dunk them in water and scrub the canvas with a brush and cleaner. No, the shoes didn’t look brand new, but at least they were free of stains and dirt, and that meant they didn’t smell like little boy feet anymore.

By the end of the school year, our old Keds or Converse shoes gave up. They were tired of the wear and tear to which we boys exposed them. The soles were thin and sometimes filled with holes. Even the insoles were frayed or thin as tissue. However, no shoe ever left our house so quickly. In the summer, Mother took her scissors and reconstructed the tennis shoes. The toes were cut from the tops of the canvas, and Jim and I wore them as summer knock around shoes.

When my kids arrived, so did the beginning of the tennis shoe wars. Nike, Adidas, and Reebok all poured new models into the market. Kids begged for the latest pairs, even before the old ones were worn out. The prices also soared, and sometimes I worried that we’d have to take out a loan to afford the shoes that they needed, although the brands weren’t the most popular or expensive.

I wore new types of shoes as I began coaching football. The program purchased pairs for us coaches, and I proudly wore them on game days.  The only problem was that the shoes didn’t come in wide sizes, and by the end of a game, my feet hurt so badly that I could barely walk.

These days, I wear New Balance products. They are comfortable and, most important, they come in 4E sizes. Each year, I buy a new pair of discontinued styles. Just like during childhood, the old shoes go outside and are used to mow grass, work in muddy conditions, or walk around in wet, sloppy weather.

All of my life, I’ve called shoes like Keds, Adidas, and New Balance “tennis shoes.” I don’t know why so many people call them sneakers. They squeak too much to be quiet enough to “sneak” up on someone. The name “sneaker” comes from some section of the world other than the south. I’d also bet that those who wear sneakers never cut the toes out of them for summer wear or had only one other pair of shoes to do them for the entire year.

I might try to buy a new pair of canvas tennis shoes, but they must not cost too much, and they’d have to have that same new smell that the old ones had. I will never, however, own a pair of “sneakers.”