I just watched a news story about the re-birth of Converse tennis shoes. Such things as this give me confidence that our country is still clinging to the goodness that has been around for years. Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch, but I did feel good hearing that a 98 year-old product is still hanging around, even though the new model is sleeker and more expensive. They served a generation of kids well before today’s bigger name brands existed.
Each year, Jim and I got a pair of orthopedic shoes to wear to school and church. Our feet were as flat as boards, and mine were wide, about a 4E size. At some point, we also got a pair of tennis shoes. They were canvas with rubber soles. Each day, we were to come home, change into our old clothes, and put old pairs of regular shoes or those tennis shoes on. They were our play shoes. Woe unto the boy who chose to keep his newer shoes on to play. One time, I clomped around a muddy area at school while Mother served bus duty. I walked into that room, and she zeroed in on my shoes. The next thing I knew, I was standing in front of a room filled with kids as Mother administered a quick spanking to my backside.
Those tennis shoes held up as we played baseball, football, and basketball, all in our yard. Grass stains turned the once white soled a septic tank-grass green color. Every so often, we’d dunk them in water and scrub the canvas with a brush and cleaner. No, the shoes didn’t look brand new, but at least they were free of stains and dirt, and that meant they didn’t smell like little boy feet anymore.
By the end of the school year, our old Keds or Converse shoes gave up. They were tired of the wear and
tear to which we boys exposed them. The soles were thin and sometimes filled with holes. Even the insoles were frayed or thin as tissue. However, no shoe ever left our house so quickly. In the summer, Mother took her scissors and reconstructed the tennis shoes. The toes were cut from the tops of the canvas, and Jim and I wore them as summer knock around shoes.
When my kids arrived, so did the beginning of the tennis shoe wars. Nike, Adidas, and Reebok all poured new models into the market. Kids begged for the latest pairs, even before the old ones were worn out. The prices also soared, and sometimes I worried that we’d have to take out a loan to afford the shoes that they needed, although the brands weren’t the most popular or expensive.
I wore new types of shoes as I began coaching football. The program purchased pairs for us coaches, and I proudly wore them on game days.  The only problem was that the shoes didn’t come in wide sizes, and by the end of a game, my feet hurt so badly that I could barely walk.
These days, I wear New Balance products. They are comfortable and, most important, they come in 4E sizes. Each year, I buy a new pair of discontinued styles. Just like during childhood, the old shoes go outside and are used to mow grass, work in muddy conditions, or walk around in wet, sloppy weather.
All of my life, I’ve called shoes like Keds, Adidas, and New Balance “tennis shoes.” I don’t know why so many people call them sneakers. They squeak too much to be quiet enough to “sneak” up on someone. The name “sneaker” comes from some section of the world other than the south. I’d also bet that those who wear sneakers never cut the toes out of them for summer wear or had only one other pair of shoes to do them for the entire year.

I might try to buy a new pair of canvas tennis shoes, but they must not cost too much, and they’d have to have that same new smell that the old ones had. I will never, however, own a pair of “sneakers.”


The other morning, Facebook filled with photos of children posing in new clothes and shoes and with the latest back packs and lunch boxes. The official first day of school for Knox County and some other area schools brought in hordes of kids and teachers. I still don’t understand why the school year begins in the hottest month, but most students don’t know of a later starting time. Looking at those little ones on social media conjures up plenty of memories of the good things of school.
Because Ball Camp was a small school, only two classes for each grade were necessary. We children were
1st grade--yes, I look like a toothless beaver!
interested in whose classroom we would spend the next year. Some teachers were caring and understanding; others were tired, fussy, and, at times, downright mean. A couple of times, I landed in the classrooms of the hateful teachers, and the years were long and hard. One of those ogre teachers did step in a hole and break her ankle during a fire drill, and that brought welcome relief to we second graders.
Although they were infrequent, new items at Ball Camp did arrive. Years when the county bought new textbooks were special. The smell of a new book and the feel of the crisp pages almost made learning fun. Desks used for years were replaced with newer ones. Seats were plastic, and the storage shelf underneath was made of metal bars. I always felt the disappointment of having to put my bottom in an old desk when a few lucky students got the new, sleek models.
The Ball Camp community consisted of houses spread out over several miles. I don’t recall a single subdivision in the area until 1962. Summer break meant not seeing most classmates for the next three months. Oh, a gang of boys rode bikes up and down the roads to join in games of baseball or to fish, but most of our school friends lived too far away to visit. So, the first day of school always meant renewing friendships and meeting a few new children at the school.
As unbelievable as it might seem, children were heartbroken when a large portion of the school burned. We
were sent home until a plan for holding classes in a nearby abandoned hardware store was finalized. The returning to school proved to be much like a second beginning day that year. We settled down in cramped quarters with one small bathroom for boys and one for girls. We spent our lunch periods in the rooms and ate sandwiches and other things we’d brought from home. To some it might have seemed a hardship; to us students, it was an adventure.
Back in the good ol’ days, schools consisted of classes from 1st through 8th grades. Our last year was a time when we could be the “big men and women on campus.” By then, Ball Camp had been rebuilt, and our class ruled new classrooms, cafeteria, locker rooms, and gym with parquet floors. The first day and every other day brought wonderful times when we were on top of the world.

By the time that we reached high school, the excitement had waned. Over the summer, our class had gone from ruling the school to being the lowest life form in the high school halls. By then, my friends were much
more interested in girls, sports, and cars than in new school items. Classes were something that most of us attended but never let them interfere with our education. For some, the excitement of a new school year never returned. Only when the first day of college came did those exhilarating feelings return for a smaller number of students.

I’m glad that kids still feel the excitement, mixed with just a dab of apprehension, at the coming of another first day of school. I’d like to have that excited feeling for the year to come, but these days, I experience those emotions for few things, none of which involve school, new clothes, or classrooms.  


Each day that I sit down at the table to eat, I am thankful for the bounty which God has provided. I realize that too many in this country, the place supposedly where abundant food is available, go hungry every day. Though we never went without food, Mother and Daddy had to make some adjustments as we three boys and our appetites grew.
Mother made our lunches for school. She’d spread potted meat or egg salad on slices of white bread, and the only way to tell that anything was on them was by the pink or yellow tint. She’d also include crackers smeared with peanut butter. The lunches were meant to fill us without breaking the bank; they were much cheaper to serve than school lunches, which we ate only on special days when turkey and dressing were served.
Like most every family in Ball Camp, we had a garden. The darn thing took up most of our back yard, and it was filled with standard vegetables: corn, potatoes, green beans, and onions. We boys pitched in to break beans under a shade tree in the back yard or around the kitchen table. My fingertips sometimes would be sore from the task. Mother cut corn from the cob and froze packages, and she canned dozens of jars of beans. She also canned tomatoes to use for soups in the cold weather months.
Daddy bought two calves one year. He installed an electric fence around a section of the back yard and put the animals there to graze. We boys named them Blackie and Brownie, not necessarily creative names, but accurate enough to identify them. For some time, the calves grew and would come to us at the border of the fence. We’d give them clumps of hay and pats on their heads.
One day, we arrived home from school to discover that Blackie and Brownie were gone. We ran to Daddy to find out where they were. He knew how fond we were of the two animals, so he let us down easy. He told us that he took them somewhere to trade them for an equal amount of frozen meat. The freezer was filled with packages of hamburger, roasts, and a few steaks. Over the months we feasted on the meat, never once realizing that what we consumed were our two former pets.
Every month, Daddy made a trip to the Merita Bread Store. He stocked up on “day-old bread.” The store’s
stock consisted of the loaves that had been returned from grocery store shelves. It was a nicer name for the items than “stale bread.” He’d bring home 10-12 big loaves of white bread and place them in the freezer. One by one, they were removed, thawed, and turned into sandwiches or ingredients for such things as dressing. Sometimes the stuff was dry and coarse, and I still can recall the taste of freezer-burned bread.
Daddy also stocked up on other items from the Merita Store. He’d buy fruit pies, usually apple or cherry. We boys sometimes would sneak some out and try to eat them. They were harder than a brick and impossible to bite until they’d thawed just a bit. We also had raisin-cream cakes and devil’s food cream cakes. Mother would toss them into our lunch bags still
frozen. We’d try to remove the wrappers at noon, only to watch the top layers of the cakes stick to the cellophane. Still, we were grateful for a treat like that.
On occasion, I still like to drop by bread stores, and yes, I purchase cakes and pies. However, buying a loaf of that bread is a different matter. Besides, these days, nutritionists tell us that white bread isn’t healthy for us. So, I pay a king’s ransom for a loaf of whole wheat bread at the grocery store.

I am thankful that my children have always had food to eat. Maybe we didn’t serve steak every night (unless hotdogs are known as tube steaks), but Amy managed to serve good things that we all ate. I also am thankful that my parents loved us enough to make sure we had food on the table, even if it came from the garden out back or from the day-old bread store. 


This world doesn’t look too familiar to some of us older folks. From music to technology, the dramatic changes leave us puzzled and asking, “Huh?” Even relationships between boys and girls are different. In another century, teens who liked each other began dating. This is how we used to do it.
Boys were the ones to make initial moves for girls. After spotting the right females, we agonized over garnering enough courage to speak to them. Many guys would wait until no one was home to use the phone
in the kitchen or den. On hearing the phone ring, some of us would panic and hang up. We’d again dial the number and hyperventilate when the girls answered. Our hemming and hawing made conversations awkward, but with just a little encouragement from girls, boys would eventually ask them to go out.
With a little luck, dates were set, and the boy would prepare. That meant washing the care and cleaning the inside. Long hot showers calmed nerves, and “peach fuzz” beards were shaved and followed by splashes of English Leather, Canoe, or Jade East colognes. The stuff almost choked anyone who came too close to the vapors.
Knocking on the doors also brought on nervousness. Fathers who opened the door struck fear in boys.
Dads didn’t trust them because they, too, were once young teens and they know what things were on their minds. If the situation worsened, the fathers might ask the most dreaded question: “What are your intentions toward my daughter?” Only the daughters could rescue their dates and sweep them out of the houses and away from such interrogations.
Date destinations back then usually were ballgames and movies. Couples would struggle to converse at first, but eventually, things thawed enough to let the teens feel a bit more comfortable. After events, they went some place to eat. Either drive-ins like the Copper Kettle or restaurants like Shoney’s were popular places. Males ate to settle nerves while girls refused to eat or picked at food to give the impression that their appetites were small.
At some point in the dating cycle, boys would drive from restaurants to deserted areas. There, maybe half a dozen cars lined the sides of streets in subdivisions like Crestwood Hills or Camelot. The windows of the vehicles were fogged, and everyone knew that some heavy “necking” was going on. Girls might announce
that they would prefer to go home, but most often, the two had been dating long enough so that a little hugging and smooching were acceptable acts.
Boys would eventually decide that their girls were special. They would want to have an exclusive relationship with them That’s when class rings were offered and the proposals for going steady were spoken. Those pieces of jewelry always looked monstrous in female hands. Girls would put wax around the inside parts of the rings
so that they fit delicate fingers,or they would put them on chains and then wear them around their necks. If the boys played sports, their girlfriends suddenly took possession of letter jackets.
Relationships became much more relaxed. Dates might occur at the girls’ homes where the teens watched television or listened to music. For some reason, couples became comfortable with each other, and they stopped being quite so polite or thoughtful.
Before long, the excitement of the relationship fizzled, and one of the couple decided to “break up.” The pain was almost too much to bear. Personal items were returned. The phone calls stopped, and meetings in halls of school or at public places were awkward.
Males and females were once again free, not something they necessarily liked. The dating game began once again. Individuals acted slowly to jump into other relationships for fear of being hurt once again. Before long, however, old memories faded and new adventures were waiting. Teens again jumped on the dating carousel and hoped for better results.

With a little luck, high school couples held on tight to each other and developed a strong love that lead them to marriage. My brothers and their wives dated and went steady in high school. Dal and Brenda stayed together until he passed; Jim and Brenda have been married for 44 years. It’s nice to know that sometimes “love lasts.” That’s how we did it, and in many instances, it seemed to work out just fine.