Thursday, April 8, 2010

Shoes To Slingshots

Friday, April 9, 2010. What fun to hear from so many of you who sent feedback on my first blog last week. Some said they tried to add a comment and couldn’t figure out how. Others said they wished to receive it but couldn’t figure out how. I’m still learning, but here are the directions:save my blog in your "Favorites" and you can check on it whenever you want. If you wish to add a comments, click on "Post a Comment" box, write your comment, and click on "post comment".

My goal is share something each Friday. I wrote this story for my creative writing group last week. Read on:
Last month when my family were visiting, my niece’s husband, Alvey, shared this true childhood memory:

Today when Alvey and the other Westling kids get together they talk a blue streak, laughing. cussing, and at times sharing snuff, and maybe a snort or two. It was not always so jovial in their growing up family of six hungry offspring, living on the edge of poverty in chilly Western Washington. Fifteen years separate the oldest from the youngest, but they remain devoted to one another, like young green peas in a pod. This memory takes place at the end of the forties. Living as they did in what was once just a garage, the boys bedded in two double bunks in one end of the kitchen, while the oldest girl always slept on the couch, with coats for blankets.

Dad Westling, as soon as he’d had a couple of beers (which was every night) became a miserable, ornery, monster, ranting at his wife and six kids. Mom Westling screamed back, but took his abuse, as did the children, for there was no way to avoid his rage. He mostly hallucinated in his dreams all night, but then, to his credit, would get up and pull his shift at the lumber mill the next morning. Stopping at a tavern on the way home was habitual. That’s where most of his wages went. The siblings grew up eating a heck of a lot of oatmeal and beans, beans and oatmeal: almost every kind of beans imaginable. Occasionally some bacon or squirrel would add a little protein. Amazingly this scenario and diet produced four healthy strong young men, and two sprightly daughters, each of whom eventually made a good living in the trades.

Now you can imagine the children had little in the way of amenities, including clothing. All summer they went barefoot, of course, owning no shoes. But miracle of miracles, each fall the mill deposited some money at the local Sears Roebuck in the form of script, thus allowing families to buy school clothes for their kids. Like a ritual, Dad Westling would drive the clan to the store the day before school started, all barefoot of course.

Then he would go in alone and buy six pair of socks, for customers were strictly forbidden to try on shoes without socks. Once they had pulled on the socks, he would hoist them to his arms and carry them in, one at a time, to the shoe department, where they would each get a pair of shoes, usually high tops boots. Then the boys would get two pair of pants, two shirts, and one jacket, the allotment for the year. Its not known what the girls got, but girls being less important, probably got less. The shoes were donned for school the next day.

Things went ok for two or three months, when the shoes would begin to be outgrown, or worn out. The soles would become loose; heels would fall off. Dad Westling blamed the kids, saying they had kicked too many stones, their complaints sometimes ending with a cuffing, but more often the woodshed. By January the soles would be worn through, and cardboard would be layered inside.

One can imagine the teasing from other students at school, as spring wore on, and the shoes were reduced to shreds. Finally, with relief, the last day of school arrived. Yippee! Debarking from the school bus off would come the leavings of the shoes. Thus emancipated the children would head for the shed, where with sharp knives, the leather shoe tongues became pockets for slingshots, nesting small stones or marbles. Maple branches growing nearby became the Y shaped crutch, and thin strips of red tire inner tube became the sling: a source of great summer entertainment for the whole gang, inventive indeed in making their own amusement.

Perhaps it’s no surprise how resourceful these kids grew to be! Sadly, in high school they were denied participation in P.E. Why? The rule was that to participate a student must have gym shoes and shorts, and that eliminated the Westlings, of course. Still, most of them completed high school, or if not, made a successful career with their ingenuity. One might say that growing up taught them the skill of compromise and accomplishment.

Regretfully no photos exist of Alvey’s high top boots nor of the slingshots, for that matter. So for amusement I’m adding a painting I did a few years ago of Lee’s favorite well-worn boots, also full of character and memories. I’m suspecting all old boots have yarns to tell, don’t you?

1 comment:

Morella said...

The resiliency of human nature... So beautifully told !

Bonnie, Keep blogging. I'll be looking forward to your next story next Friday.
Love, Morella