One day when I was a young boy I was at my Great Grandmother’s house down on 14th street between 3rd and 4th avenues.
Everyone in our family called her ‘Mom’.
Everyone loved her, I think?
To be honest, I hated going there.
First off it was a hike. We had to walk all the way down from Windsor and 9th. (Nowadays as an adult who enjoys walking it doesn’t seem too far but when you’re a kid, it’s a journey!)
On occasion, if it was too late at night, say 7 or 8 o’clock we’d catch a cab up on 4th avenue for the trip home. (Remember how fast the cars on 4th avenue would drive? It was like watching the Indy 500)
Sad to say I didn’t have much of a relationship with Mom. At the end of each visit, before leaving, my mother always made me kiss her good-bye. I tried to hide or run outside the house when I knew it was close to going home. I did my best to avoid Mom.
In Mom’s house I recall there was a candy dish on the coffee table, a breadbox in the kitchen and a giant stuffed turtle that someone had brought back from Korea.
There was a bird-cage with a parakeet or a parrot; it’s been so long I don’t remember exactly. But it was creepy.
Sitting on the couch one Friday afternoon, there was a soap opera on TV and my mother and mom were in the kitchen sitting at the table; I was bored out of my mind. Looking down at my sneakers I realized there was a hole on the bottom of one of them. The rubber had worn down and now you could see my white tube sock.
Friday’s always seemed like the day the adults were in a good mood. Not sure if it was because of the last work day of the week or maybe because it was pay-day. I asked my mother if we could go to 5th avenue and get new sneakers?
“No, I’ll get Pop to fix them.” she answered.
As a kid, I owned one pair, I did everything in them.
I would rock Pro-Keds, Converse Chuck Taylor’s or there was the time I wore a pair of ugly-looking yellow rejects. They didn’t even have a name! My mother had purchased them at the ‘Junk-Shop’ on the corner of 10th street and 5th avenue. (Do you remember Jerry?)
I used my only pair of sneakers to play baseball in the lot, football in the park, stickball in the schoolyard and of course basketball. In the winter, when it snowed, I used them as boots too. These days I see kids with multiple pairs of shoes.
That afternoon at Mom’s house I removed my shoe in the living room handing it to my mother who passed it off to my Great Grandfather whom everyone called ‘Pop’.
The hard-working, retired Ironworker took my sneaker down to the cellar where he had all sorts of tools spread out.
A few minutes later after inserting a piece of brown cardboard inside the sneaker and wrapping silver duct tape around it, it was good as new.
So I thought.
Pop handed me the shoe, had a few words of encouragement for me and I put it back on.
Walking around I felt like I had more cushion. It felt like I was walking on clouds. I even felt like I could run faster and jump higher…but just on one foot.
Forget Air Jordan’s, I had ‘Air Rejects’.
Reebok Pumps? Ha, I had Reject Pumps!
A couple of days later I was out in the boys schoolyard at Holy Name playing basketball. Late in the afternoon it started raining. Back in the day we didn’t pack up and run for cover, we kept on playing. After a few trips up and down the court, I felt my sock getting soggy.
I glanced down and saw some of the brown cardboard slipping out of the hole which had now become bigger.
Standing off to the side of the court I reached down and tried to stuff the soggy cardboard back inside my shoe.
Ten minutes later, the tape started to rip and the cardboard slid out.
I was losing the battle.
Frustrated as hell, I finally ripped the cardboard out of the hole and continued to play.
These days I don’t think you will ever see a kid walking around with cardboard stuffed in their sneaker wrapped up with tape.