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Harris Blackwood: If the shoe fits, thank Buster Brown and a certified fitter
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

One of the things I remember about going back to school was getting new shoes.

I usually got a pair of PF Flyers or Keds deck shoes. They had to be “fitted” by a person who usually had a certificate on the wall somewhere that they were certified in fitting children’s shoes.

My biggest concern was how fast I could run and jump in these new skids. I tried them out in the store. I think I hold a track record for the old Rich’s store downtown.

The brand names in hard shoes, as we called them, were Buster Brown, Red Goose and Paul Parrot.

Buster Brown appeared with his dog, Tige. Oddly enough Buster was dressed up in a less than fashionable outfit that probably would have gotten him beaten up in some schoolyards. He was a bit of a dandy.

I was happy to see that Buster Brown is still around. In my day, it was a cool thing to have a pair of name-brand shoes. They usually gave you a little metal clicker that made a noise that irritated many a parent.

My mother was convinced that if my shoes didn’t fit properly, I would become a poor walking failure in life.

My late friend, Bimbo Brewer, called those first hard-bottom baby shoes, “Frankenstein Shoes.” It was his contention that they looked like a smaller version of what the famous monster wore.

I was right on the tail end of the use of a device that would allow you to look into the shoes with an X-ray screen. There was one kept for years in the back room of Saul’s, which was the place to get shoes in Gainesville. I hope it will end up in some place of prominence.

Some guy determined the rays emitted from the machine weren’t good for you. It’s the same reason they cover you with a lead apron when you get X-rays at the dentist.

When my daughter, Ashton, was coming along, we were worried that she was not walking soon enough. We took her to McMahan’s Shoes and one of those certified fitters put her in a pair of Frankenstein shoes and it was like magic. She started walking right away.

I haven’t bought children’s shoes in a while. Waiting in the wings is my incredibly perfect grandson, Walt, who will be the finest walking lad in this state.

It frightens me to see people buy shoes now. Gone are most of the certified fitters. A doormat with cutouts of various sized shoes has replaced them.

The idea is that you put your child’s foot on the various shoes and figure out which one is the right size.

I don’t know what you do if you buy children’s shoes on the internet. Maybe you hold your foot up to the screen.

My mother, who grew up dirt poor, said her family used to trace the children’s feet on a paper sack. Someone would use the drawing to find a donated pair of shoes that might fit. It sounds a lot like that doormat thing.

One day, old Pa and Walt will set out on a journey to find Buster Brown and hopefully there will be one more certified fitter to make sure those tiny feet are properly shod.

We’ve got a little while, but I’ll keep you posted.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear Sunday.

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