A remembrance by Don East
It was generally about mid summer when the Flappers came. Some summers they didn’t, but if it had been a hard and wet winter it was almost a sure thing. The first clue that this was going to be a year of the Flapper was when you weren’t paying attention and you would trip over something small. You’d be so busy doing your own thing that you’d probably ignore it. Then in a couple of days when you were getting dressed in the morning you might catch your finger on something. This part of the summer would always drive the mothers crazy. But us kids thought it was the greatest!
As I remember it was between 1947 and about 1953 those were amazing years in America. No wars, or at least that we were aware of, and the new American economy was in full swing. The great WWII general decided that we needed highways everywhere in this country and they were being built everywhere. I even lost my girl friend because her Dad had to move to the great state of Washington to help build one of the greatest dams in the world. We even saw a B36 bomber fly over our house one day. It was so large it filled the whole sky. And the sound of 10, yes 10, engines droning all at the same time. It so impressed me that it burnt a sound in my memory. I can close my eyes right now and still hear it.
Oh yea, the Flappers! As kids we didn’t dress to look like the latest fashion, or to impress someone. We just wore clothes because our Mothers told us to. I’d sit at the side of my bed at bedtime and slip my clothes off just so. First my shoes, next I’d let my pants slide off so they would be piled right on top of my shoes. I’d sleep in my shorts and T-shirt and socks. This all had a purpose. As soon as I woke up in the morning I’d sit up, swing around and slip my feet through my pants and into my shoes, bend down and pull up my pants. I could be out the door and into my days adventure in seconds. Let me digress to the shoes. We didn’t have Keds or Inverness or sport shoes we had shoes made of leather.
Some even had leather soles and heels. And the soles were sewn to the shoe tops. On a particular day in mid summer early in the morning I was putting on my shoes. As I ran my hand over the front bottom of the toe I noticed something. Ah yes! It was going to be a good summer. The sole on my right shoe had worn down enough that the stitching was coming loose. If I would spend the next couple of days dragging my foot I would soon have a Flapper!
A Flapper is a well-used leather shoe where the sole has come un-sewn from the toe to the center of the arch area, using the right walk performs Flapping. You can see a Flapper walking long before you can hear the sound, because of the style of the walk. It’s a toe drag with a sliding motion thru the middle of the stride with a quick kick out toward the front of the step. The kick action is similar to the use of a bullwhip. When done just right “flap slap” is heard. Well if you don’t have rhythm, you soon will. The maximum affect and rhythm tic style would be achieved when both shoes became Flappers.
The second part of this “art” is keeping the fact that your shoes have become Flappers from your Mom. I never understood why she didn’t like Flappers. If you had rhythm you were so cool. Keeping the Flappers form being discovered by Mom required the acquisition of a second walk. This one was more of a glide. The trick was to keep the loose sole in contact with the floor at all times to prevent any slapping noise. It required that one walked slowly with relative small steps. If you looked like you were ice-skating, it was a dead give away. The biggest problem with this technique was that once you had found rhythm it was too easy to slip into Flapping.
You guessed it. Flapping never lasted long. I don’t know what it is about Moms, but they seem to know everything. Even when they are in the other room and can’t see you. Once discovered it wasn’t all that bad, because you got to go to the shoe repair shop and get your shoes repaired.
The shoe repair shop was a place of magic. The first part was when you opened the door. The smell of leather and dyes would float out the door and be the greatest treat your nose had known for days. Then there was the shoe repairman. I’m sure that he was older than the shop he ran. His hair was gray and thin. It was so thin that it moved about his head with the slightest breeze or movement. He tried to keep it in place with the leather visor he wore. My guess was that he had to continually move it about his head, because it was covered with multiple colored fingerprints form all the different dyes he used. He also wore a leatherwork apron that had pockets for special tools. It too displayed many, many years of work. He would slump over his machines as he worked. But when he moved away and walked across the room he was still slumped. The machines filled the small shop. They were all run by great leather straps that came out of the ceiling, when he would start the machines the belt would flap and slap making the noise of shoes with loose soles. Not just one pair of shoes, but the sound of many. I think that he was really a wizard. And he was employed by Moms to steal the sound of flapping from small boys shoes.
The real magic was that he could take that pair of shoes you had worn for at least a year. He’d measure, cut, sew, buff, and do many other things that you couldn’t really watch. And then he would reappear at the counter. And wow they looked new again. They even had a shine.