I’m contemplating a haggard and forlorn pair of Docker shoes that are sitting under the table of our patio furniture. They’re about 3 years old, leather, with soft rubber soles. The once dark brown tone is now sun-bleached and several shades lighter. The left shoe is missing the entire toe, which has allowed the sole to partially detach and flap freely when I wear them out in the yard. The right shoe, while intact cosmetically, is missing the padded insert and leather cover that had the Dockers logo branded to it. Currently, both shoes are soaking wet. They smell like…well, like old, wet, shoes. My wife throws them in the trash bin on a weekly basis, and I recover them on the same schedule. “Those things are just gross…throw them out!” she pleads with me.
“But they’re my yard shoes…” I counter, ” I need them to mow in, and work the grill, and take puppers out for her 3 AM potty-break.”
“I bought you a new pair of foam rubber togs for all that stuff! If the neighbors saw those shoes on your feet, they’d think you stole them off a cadaver from a shallow grave!” (I file that accessory gathering tip for future reference. Shoes are expensive. I’m a pragmatist.)
Her somewhat descriptive opinion of my footwear dissuades me not one iota. The shoes are indeed, very comfortable in that way that only old, familiar, things are…An old pair of blue jeans, a fishing hat, a coffee mug from a long-ago camping trip, its rim melted by an all too close dutch oven of blueberry-cobbler. Familiar, irreplaceable, artifacts of memories I refuse to surrender to oblivion.
This pair of shoes is different though. So many of such objects, are reminders of single events, individual nights around a fire. This pair of tooth-mangled loafers, resplendent in their saliva induced wetness, is a monument to a time of my life that I will cherish forever. These shoes will be somewhere near me for the rest of my life…
It’s late October, 2009. For whatever reason that good wives have, I have been given my marching orders to hie myself directly off to yon Designer Shoe Warehouse. Upon arrival, I am to peruse and purchase one standard issue pair of “Nice-Looking, yet casual pair of leather shoes” Apparently we have dinner plans with some friends at a local outdoor cafe’, and my wonderful, well-traveled Vasque hiking boots are NOT welcome. (Truth be told, my every-day bush-shorts and quick-drying, many-pocketed Ex-Officio shirt were not welcome either.)
I’m not a fashion conscious kind of guy, so the first pair that she nodded approval of, that fit, went to the register and out the door. The first actions of my now ersatz loafers.
I wore them that night, and the look was approved by my better-half. Little did I suspect that these shoes would become so important to me…
The very next day was Friday, a day we had anticipated for quite a while. We were to make a trip to Butler, Ohio, a bucolic breath of fresh farm air in rural Ohio. Our destination was Omorrow Farm Kennels, where we would be taking home our newly acquired German Shepherd puppy, now 9 weeks old. This is a real, working ranch, where my boots feel right at home. Loafers need not apply. (Shoes or People.)
After a wonderful morning of puppy activities, we took our bundle of black fuzz to his new home. He entered our home like he owned the place, and was trying to sell it to us. The first item at his eye-level was, you guessed it, my new shoes. At that moment in time, they were pristine, virginal. The next moment in time, they were not. Small puppy teeth are like needles, and leather is no match. The first wounds of many to come. I used those shoes to teach my German Shepherd, now named “Hans”, his first “Drop it” command. He picked it up fast, even though at first he’d look at me as though to “Do I haff Sumfing in my teef?”
As those shoes became more broken in, I used them when we took our evening walk together. They were comfortable, and easy to put on. I wasn’t yet allowed to wear my “nice” loafers out when it rained, but I wore them nearly everyday. We were training Hans in “socialization” at this time, so we went to stores, the airport, the senior center. I always dressed appropriately for these places, the loafers got a lot of mileage and still looked great.
Dogs become “aware” of our habits. I learned this early one morning as I sat in my office working. Hansie had been sleeping on the floor nearby for an hour or so. Suddenly he jumped up., walked to my closet, and extricated my loafers from inside. He turned, walked across the room to me, and laid that shoe on my lap. He then sat in front of me and just stared. “Are you trying to tell me something, Hans?”
It was obviously walking time, and he knew that those shoes were the vehicle of his desire. From that day on, when he was 5 months old, he would retrieve my shoe when it was time for a walk. Early in the morning, he would leave his crate, find my shoe, and place it ever so gently on my head. Time to go Dad…
As Hans approached 6 months of age, we began teaching him how to Trail human scent. We played “run away” with him at first. I’d leave him with another handler and run away and hide. Upon release, he’d charge after me until he could cover me with sloppy kisses of reunion. Soon, we advanced to finding an object that smelled like Dad. That pair of loafers, now approved for my use in the rain, became the easiest target in his collection. We didn’t tell Mom that we used my shoes…Meanwhile they took on a few more battle scars from maturing teeth. The color was beginning fade from…yucchhhhh! Dog slobber!
I started wearing those shoes out in the yard, for various things. Mowing, getting the mail, errands to the feed store. We all have shoes that become our “Go-To’s”, and these were mine. Hans grew, matured, and he still communicated with me thru those shoes. He loved to tease me by getting one of them and running around the house, daring me to chase him. I admit, I fostered these off-duty shenanigans, by doing just that. I admit it, it was joyous revelry! We played together with those now somewhat embattled shoes. We trained hard together, and we played hard together. One day, the big hairy scamp decided to run into the yard with my shoe, placing the wading pool between himself and my pursuit. When I approached, he dipped as though he was going to drop my shoe in the water. When I yelled out “No!”, he looked at me with complete knowledge of what must now be done. Into the water went my shoe…it sank completely. Hans ran around the yard like his tail was on fire, yipping and barking in delight! That particular shoe, the left, took on a wrinkled appearance from that day until now. Which is okay really, because my second puppy, a beautiful young lady German Shepherd named Holly would eventually eat the toe off that shoe.
I’m wearing those shoes right now as I sit on our patio typing away at this. When I look at them, I don’t see the scars, the discoloration, the missing tassels. (Note: Only one tassel is actually missing. About a year ago, the other was observed sticking out of a rather large, firm fecal mass. I scooped it all, and disposed of it)
No, when I look at these shoes, I feel my dogs presence. I feel his playfulness, his impish character. I see his development into a top-of-line Scent detection canine. I see his face take on the recognition of my scent, and his comfort in it. I remember all the training we’ve been through together. I see the time he had one of them on his big nose, and it got stuck there…He bucked around the yard like an unbroken young colt until he bumped into the garden wagon and it came off. Two nights ago, I saw him take my shoe into his crate, where he curled up and slept with it between his big paws, looking only for my scent in his dreams. His devotion moves me to write about an old pair of tattered, beleaguered, but much loved shoes…Nah…I’ll never throw them away…