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Tennis shoes are signs of change
The Back Forty
By Roger Pond

Tennis shoes have come full circle. We’ve gone from the days when tennis shoes were the cheapest thing we could buy, to a time when they were the most expensive shoes on the rack, to today when they could be dirt cheap, again.

A recent news report says New York Knicks guard Stephon Marbury is endorsing a line of basketball shoes called “Starbury” that sells for $14.98 a pair. Marbury is doing this for “the kids who can’t afford $200 for the shoes that were being put out.”

Good for him! That’s the way it was when I was a kid. Tennis shoes were cheap, but that’s all some of us could afford.

Famed humor writer Patrick McManus wrote that some of the kids at his school couldn’t even afford tennis shoes; so they painted their feet. That way they could have Converse or Red Ball Jets, or whatever they wanted.

I can remember when most of the farm kids had three pairs of shoes. We had our Sunday school shoes that were made of leather, laced up the front, and were cut below the ankles so folks could see what color our socks were.

These were called Oxfords and only went to special events like church or Saturday night wrestling. If we wore them to the barn, Oxfords would fill up with stuff that made us real obvious in Sunday school.

Then we had our clodhoppers - whose purpose was obvious. These were the everyday shoes that got us to school, out to the fields, or kicked off the gym floor. They were multipurpose.

Clodhoppers had high tops, big, heavy soles, and loop-style laces so we could get into or out of them in a hurry. The laces were rawhide or buffalo gut, or whatever was considered tough.

All of these shoes were made of leather. To wear shoes that weren’t made of leather was a sign of poverty, or weakness, or a “who gives a darn?” attitude.

Then we had our tennis shoes, and these were ugly. They were not only homely from the way they were made, but tennis shoes were ugly in a social way, too.

Tennis shoes were embarrassing because they were cheap. If you wore them anywhere other than the gymnasium everyone knew those were the only shoes you had. Nobody wore tennis shoes all of the time like kids do today.

No, I take that back. Farley Moffit (not his real name) wore tennis shoes all of the time. We made fun of Farley.

We’d see some kid walking down the street in tennis shoes and say, “Hey, I see you’ve got your Farleys on.”

And he’d say, “#$@&%, &%$##, %$#&#@$&!”

Little did we know that Farley was ahead of his time. He had his own endorsements way back then.

It took them 30 years, but the shoe companies finally figured out what Farley knew when we were kids: Tennis shoes were embarrassing because they were cheap.

If these shoes were expensive nobody would make fun of them, and kids wouldn’t need those stupid Sunday school shoes or the big, ugly clodhoppers. So that’s what they did: Shoe companies made tennis shoes the most expensive thing on the rack.

Now Stephon Marbury is promoting tennis shoes at $15 a pair, but I don’t give them much chance. It’s only a matter of time until someone sees him walking down the street and laughs, “Hey Stephon, I see you’ve got your Starburys on.”

This farm news was published in the Oct. 18, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

10/18/2006