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    Countless times, throughout my lifetime of reading, I have encountered sentences that have included the term “formative years.” I’ve always assumed those were the developmental years from birth until one graduates from high school or reaches the age of majority, which is 18 in all but three states. It’s that period of time when we are formed into adults, I had always believed.

    Not so.


    From “The formative years are the time period between 0-8 years when the brain and neurobiological development are the fastest after birth. What happens to a child in these years can affect their physical development, mental development, and success in life.”

    Further research informed me that the first eighteen years of our lives are clinically divided into three separate periods: the formative years (0-8), middle childhood (9-11), and adolescence (12-18). So as to not offend any clinicians among County 10 readership, I will use those boundaries herein.

    I offer this information only because I had planned on using the term in this column, given my own mistaken definition. However, it has been my practice when writing to make sure I was using words correctly in whatever context was needed at the time. 

    Given the title of this column, I wanted to write about my experiences with foot coverings used throughout the years from my time at South Elementary all the way through junior high school, which if you are doing the math are nine of those eighteen years needed to reach majority. But now, thanks to, I can no longer use “formative years” to describe that time. Disappointed by the internet again. 


    In my formative years, my parents made sure my feet were shod with essential footgear for any occasion I might encounter. Which is to say that I owned, or more precisely, my parents owned but let me wear out or grow out of, three pairs of shoes each year, each pair designed for much different purposes.

    By far, the pair most often covering my feet were described then as “tennis shoes”, although I doubt anyone in my family knew anything at all about tennis, except maybe how to spell it. The two most common brands of tennis shoes were P.F. Flyers in my formative years and Converse in middle childhood and adolescence. Those, I would wear out because they were pretty much everyday shoes. In fact, by the end, they were more or less holes held together by shoelaces.

    As a kid, tennis shoes were best described as all-purpose. They were worn to school every day, of course; but they also could be found on the basketball court, in the middle of a stream, on a hiking trail, and countless other places. Even in winter, after the snow became packed on the streets and sidewalks, we were well served by wearing tennis shoes.


    Growing up, my mother was a devout Methodist, so of course I had to have a pair of dress shoes for that purpose, but they also served as footgear for the occasional wedding and funeral. I generally hated wearing them because doing so was as uncomfortable as acquiring a tooth filling, apparently designed that way so folks would not run out of things to pray for in church each Sunday.

    Therefore, they were the least used shoes found in the closet I shared with my older brother. They were generally outgrown before becoming worn out because they were worn the least. But nothing in our house was ever thrown away. They were kept (…somewhere, I’m not sure where) to be passed down to the next younger brother who apparently needed more discomfort in his life so as to grow into a productive member of society.

    If I had had my way, I would have worn tennis shoes to church, but that possibility didn’t exist in our house. I’m sure when my younger brother’s feet became too large to fit into any given pair of dress shoes after they had been passed down at least twice, they were given to a more unfortunate family to add just a little more misery to the upbringing of the male children in that household.


    I’m pretty sure dress shoes never wore out. The ones I wore as a kid are probably still out there somewhere, cursing the life of some other muchacho, a young man to whom I undoubtedly owe an apology.

    Overshoes were the third style of shoe for a young male in our family, particularly in our formative and middle childhood years, and were always worn over the top of another pair of shoes. I still see them occasionally, but not often. Made of rubber, they were only worn in the winter and were meant to be a barrier between snow and the other pair of shoes, usually a pair of tennis shoes. They provided only the illusion of warmth, but they did keep the inside shoes, and one’s feet, dry.

    Overshoes were worn in stages throughout the winter. They were always worn immediately after a snowstorm, when the snow was deep and likely to soak the tennis shoes we always wore. Then the snow would soon become packed and the temperature would plunge to somewhere around 20 degrees below zero. Until the next snowstorm, our daily walks to and from school could be accomplished wearing just tennis shoes. When we would arrive at school in the morning or at home in the afternoon, our shoes would be dry, but our feet would be frozen. 

    At school, our feet would thaw out slowly, the way they were meant to. Somewhere around 9:00, I would suddenly realize my feet were unfrozen, just in time to go out for recess about 10:00 and refreeze them. This process would continue throughout the day, during lunch and afternoon recesses, so that the continual freezing and thawing would become mundane and the discomfort tolerable. 

    But in the afternoon, upon arriving at home, we would take our tennis shoes off and immediately thrust our frozen feet onto the heat vents spaced every so often along the bottom of the interior walls of the house. This process caused our feet to thaw out unnaturally fast, and for reasons I cannot explain, our feet suddenly felt like they might explode, the pain severe. I’d like to say that I learned from the first such experience so as not to repeat it. Nope.

    Later, as a teacher of adolescents, I felt testing different procedures to help avoid or alleviate that pain would have been a great science fair project, but of course purposely freezing the feet of young children would not have been a great career builder, so the idea was discarded.

    Overshoes were also worn to school in the spring when the hard packed snow of winter turned to soupy, sloppy slush. But they were only needed on the way home from school in the afternoon. The walk, or skate to be more accurate, to school could be accomplished wearing regular old tennis shoes because the slush from the previous evening would freeze overnight and would still be frozen while we walked to school in the morning. However, on the walk home in the afternoon, without overshoes, our tennis shoes would be a miserable, cold, sloppy mess long before we walked in the back door of our home on Smith Court. Misery is not something we needed more of, so we gladly went to the trouble of wearing overshoes both to and from school during the slushy days of spring.

    Sometimes, additional measures were needed, or so my mother thought, to ensure our feet stayed dry. Each year in November, my father, who was not a great wing shooter, would gain permission to hunt pheasants on some private property near Ocean Lake, and he would take my older brother and me along as witnesses to his occasional success; but one season, a day or two prior to opening day, snow had fallen on the hunting fields to the depth of about 4 inches, overshoe territory for sure for Bob and me.

    To provide another barrier between the snow and our feet, my mother insisted that we also wear plastic bread sacks, which my mother saved for a variety of other purposes, between our tennis shoes and our overshoes. The bread sacks, of course, ranged higher than our overshoes when worn as my mother suggested, almost up to our knees, and looked ridiculous to my 9 year old eyes. But, I did not anticipate encountering any of my classmates out in the corn stubble. Had that possibility existed to even the slightest degree, the bread sacks would have somehow disappeared before we ever stepped out of the Bronco for our first morning hunt.

    My feet did stay warm that day as long as I was moving, but not so dry. They were literally swimming in sweat that had nowhere to go.

    Over the years since then, I have acquired many more and varied styles of footgear, each pair meant for a specific purpose. As an example, I recently counted no less than four different pairs of boots that I wear hunting, each pair meant for different terrain and weather conditions…and none of them, according to their manufacturers’ literature, were designed to be worn with plastic bread sacks. Thank goodness.


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