Thursday, October 26, 2006

Today's "Moment of Dad"..."J&M Shoe Service, May I Help You?"

My dad was always handy with tools. He could fix many things around the house. However, he also served as a "sole saver". He preferred the term "Footwear Maintenance Engineer".

It all boils down to one dad repaired shoes, and quite well, I might add.

Dad started up with shoe repair in the early ‘70s. I’m not sure how he got started or why, but he worked with another person for a while before he and Mom started their own business.

Many of my childhood/teen memories consisted of Dad being in the back of the shop, working away at the sanding machine or the sole stitching machine. It smelled of oil, leather, glue, and other things (dust, dye, etc). That was Dad’s “lair”.

Mom was in charge of sewing, but Dad could also do it. There was a picture in the paper from my dad’s time in the Army Reserve where he was sewing a canvas tent. He was concentrating on doing a good job, and it really showed on his face.

It wasn’t just shoes they repaired either…among the long list of things:

1. They fixed a camel rider’s whip (for the circus that came to town)

2. They fixed zippers on jeans for girls that were in denial about what size they really wore. When I found out who they belonged to, I could never look at them the same way again.

3. Getting back to circus stuff…Mom also fixed some of the costumes for the circus performers. She and I were surprised about how dingy the costumes were up close.

4. Mom fixed the leather straps on someone’s prosthetic leg, and the poor guy had to go to the bathroom to take his leg off because it involved removing his pants. It was the same process for putting it back on again.

5. They both fixed stage curtains – as in those heavy velvet jimsons. I know they were at the different school buildings at various times, with the HUMONGOUS sewing machine (they hauled it in the back of our truck). It was too much of a headache for the custodians to take the curtains down, so they would re-hem them while still hanging. Makes sense, right?

Dad and Mom worked together on some projects – they fixed tarps together, and also had to work together to fix the soft convertible roof on a former pastor’s Triumph convertible.

I think the reason Mom and Dad enjoyed this line of business is because they liked to know how things work. Dad liked to put things together and then take them apart. Mom liked to work from patterns as well as make up her own. With those sets of skills/interests, they made a good team.

I think Dad felt the most fulfilled when the repairs/creations he made helped people.

He made a pair of shoes for a distant cousin of ours whose arthritis was so severe that she couldn’t wear shoes anymore.

He did orthopedic buildups for customers so they could avoid the pain of having one leg shorter or weaker than another.

His most satisfying job, though?

There was a little girl in our town who lost most of her foot to a lawnmower. For some reason, she was never fitted for a prosthetic foot (I think it was because she was so young, and growing so fast, they'd have to refit her constantly), so Dad converted several shoes for her; that way, she could wear a matching pair of shoes with no problem.

Once, this kid wanted a pair of sandals really badly. Her mom bought her a pair, then took them to Dad to see what he could do with them. Dad was able to convert one sandal to fit her injured foot, and she could walk and everything.

He was so happy to be able to do that.

When Mom started delivering mail full-time, Dad hired another person to take up Mom’s void, but it was never quite the same.

As the years passed, he couldn’t spend as much time at his shop as before due to various obligations (parents, grandkids, etc.), but he did the best he could. Once the cancer hit, it was only a matter of time before he moved the business out of the building in town and set it up in his workshop at home.

A month before he died, he and Mom were in the process of selling the shop’s equipment. I wrote about it previously, and I feel the same way now as I did then…another part of my youth is gone, and another part of Dad’s life had changed.