Remember your first real pair of sneakers? I’m not talking about the PF Flyers or Keds from my childhood. Or even the shoes with lights or rollers on them for our younger readers. I’m talking about the first pair of “can’t live without ’em, just gotta have ’em” tennis shoes that required equal amounts of begging and perhaps some parental persuasion to finally make it happen.
My best memory of such a moment took place about the eighth grade. I wanted a pair of Chuck Taylor Converse All Stars.
They were made of canvas and though I was merely trying to make the junior varsity team at North Charleston, no self-respecting player from Park Circle would want anything but a pair of high-top Converse.
At the time, there was only one store where those shoes were sold. It would require a trip all the way to downtown Charleston.
The store was called The Sportsman’s Shop, and all the high school and college teams shopped there.
Putting those shoes on my 14-year-old feet in that store was an experience. All the men who waited on me talked with a Charleston brogue that was foreign to a kid who had only moved to the Lowcountry barely a year earlier. And when my parents heard how much those shoes would cost, they thought there definitely was a foreign language being spoken. “That’ll be ayut-teen dollars,” Mr. Eiserhardt said at the register.
There was a place on Rivers Avenue called Miracle Suit City where my father one time paid $20 for suits for each of his three boys. Now I was asking for a pair of tennis shoes that cost almost as much as a three-piece shiny suit?
I proudly wore those shoes out of the store and headed straight for basketball practice. At the time, that was the most my folks had ever paid for a pair of tennis shoes.
Little did we know that in just a few years, not only would tennis shoes undergo color and style changes, the prices would skyrocket way beyond the $20 threshold.
Parents everywhere soon realized an entire “sneaker culture” was dawning. Athletes and rappers would soon dictate how an entire generation of young people would want to dress their feet.
As a college freshman, I worked at a new athletic store in North Charleston called T&T Sports. I spent the summer stringing tennis rackets and using my paycheck to buy tennis shoes. In the summer of ’71, new colors and new styles seemed to hit the store every other week. Those new boxes of shoes seemed to arrive just about the time I got paid, as I recall.
As soon as T&T’s owner, Mr. Thrash, would give me my check, I would start trying on the latest models. In retrospect, this was probably not the best place for somebody to work who had such a fondness for footwear.
To watch the evolution of tennis shoes through the decades has been enlightening. As a parent, it also lightened my own wallet. The options and colors and logos, oh my! With each passing year, the shoe weighed less, but cost more.
Nothing will ever equal, though, the feeling of that first pair. My parents bought those for me without ever once indicating it might make circumstances with the family budget just a little tighter that month.
My parents weren’t the first to make such a sole-rendering decision.
Here’s hoping the back-to-school sales offer a bargain or two, but more than that, maybe one or two “thank yous” from children who appreciate a parent who tries to stretch the budget even beyond the capacity of a sweat-soaked high-top canvas sneaker.
Reach Warren Peper at firstname.lastname@example.org.