The Soul of an Old Shoe

At the Fairbanks House we learned about another superstitious practice of the early American colonists. For some reason, they saved their old shoes in the wall by the chimney. That is, they did not discard old shoes, but kept them. Inside the wall, by the chimney. For some reason.

It’s not exactly clear to me whether they felt it lucky to save the shoes or unlucky to discard their old shoes; or, whether they saved shoes selectively, saving some and discarding others. It wasn’t clear why they stored them in the wall near the chimney, but apparently that is what they did.

This is the shoe that was in the wall, near a chimney, in our old Ipswich house.

whole shoe.JPG

It is not exactly clear to me who discovered this shoe. John remembers the carpenter who worked on our restoration project (Bob) reaching into the wall and pulling out the shoe. But when we showed Bob the shoe this past January, he said he didn’t remember finding it. So let’s just say this: that shoe somehow appeared in the room during our restoration work, and it is a colonial shoe.

That is, we believe it is a colonial shoe. Here is its sole:

old sole

The shoe is entirely hand cobbled and handstitched.

hand cobbled

handstiched 1

handstitched 2

The top of the shoe has two notches, which appear to be intentional, and are probably eyelets.

eyelet 1

eyelet 2

eyelet 3

One might conclude that these holes were created to hold some kind of buckle or other clasp or cord. We don’t know.

Rant du jour

As I mentioned earlier, I’m writing a book about our extremely old house adventure. I’ve been a professional writer for many years, having worked as a technical writer and having had a novel published commercially (in the UK). I’ve also had a novel published in an Icelandic zine and poetry published in anthologies. (These days I’m busy writing a new novel and I’m collaborating with an old friend on his musical.) But expository writing – in this blog and in my old house book – is a bit new to me.

Years ago, I read Tracy Kidder’s book The Soul of a New Machine. I’d planned to follow his model for my old house book, but it isn’t easy. Kidder’s style is journalistic, and has a certain detachment. I’m trying to remain detached and objective in my narrative, but I’m so close to the project and to the process that this isn’t always easy.

I’d read The Soul of a New Machine many years ago because I’d been employed as a technical writer for a company whose president (Allen Kluchman) was mentioned in the book. Allen had previously been the director of marketing at Data General. Part of his great success there was his ability to create ads and strategies that were considered somewhat “brazen.”

Although I worked at Allen’s company for about five years, we had only a few conversations. He was quiet. I’m quiet.

When I left the company to accept a new technical writing position, Allen came to my going-away luncheon, which surprised and honored me. He never knew it, but he was an inspirational force in my life, leading me to know that even quiet people must sometimes be somewhat brazen in order to get attention.

If you’re new to this blog, here’s a recap: Ipswich, Massachusetts has the largest number of first period (earliest) homes in the United States, but in one part of town (where my home is located, which I’d assert is the oldest part of town) these homes are at great risk (from seriously heavy truck traffic and seriously heavy truck vibrations, much higher than necessary speed limits, and a lack of stop signs or any other kind of traffic calming strategies).

The fact that the town is quiet about this does not make this untrue.

Let’s just say that pointing this out to the rest of the world might be considered a bit brazen.

Alea iacta est.



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