Many years ago I inherited from my dad an old cobbler's bench. It was well-used and rustic, and my daughter who lived in Columbus used it for a coffee table in her family room. Now, since she has moved to Minneapolis and doesn't have room for it, it has come back to me for a while.
Lots of memories go with my cobbler's bench. And you may be asking, just what is this bench? It is a low bench, not quite 40-inches long and 12-inches high. On one end is a low-sided shelf 160-inches by 20-inches. The other end is 10-inches wide by 20-inches long.
How many years this bench has been in the family, I'm not sure. But when I was growing up it was well-used by my dad to keep the shoes repaired for his four sons who could wear them out in a hurry. Dad would sit on the narrow end of the bench with his shoe repair tools and supplies on the other end.
In those days, shoes were made so they could be repaired. Soles were either leather or rubber and sewed and nailed on. Leather was the kind we liked and was easier to repair.
When holes would appear in one or the other of the shoes, it was time to "half sole" them. I can see Dad sitting on the narrow end of the bench with the sharp cobbler's knife cutting off the old sole. Underneath the bench was a drawer where he kept a supply of new soles of different sizes, along with new heels, nails and heavy thread.
Beside the bench was a metal stand about two feet tall with a shoe "last" on it. The last was a shoe-shaped piece of metal. He had different sizes depending on the shoe size he was repairing. He had some sharp, pointed tools with wooden handles that he used to punch holes in the new soles to sew them on. They were also nailed to be sure the would stand the rough and tumble wear of active boys.
Today in the drawer beneath the bench there are still some old leather soles and rubber heels that Dad had bought so many years ago. They have been in that drawer all these years along with the cobbler's hammer, the sewing tools, some nails and old thread.
When I opened up the drawer and took these dusty supplies out to clean everything, it was like a peek into the past. Memories of Dad sitting on that bench quickly came to mind.
When we would get a new pair of shoes, and that wasn't very often, we knew they would be with us for quite a while. Dad would put new soles, and heels if needed, on them and we would water proof them with neatsfoot oil, ready for more years of wear.
One of the ways we saved our shoes when we were quite young was by going barefoot in the warm summer months. Yes, it took a while to get our tender feet toughened up so we could enjoy the freedom of bare feet.
Are there still cobblers around who do shoe repair? Yes, but they may be hard to find. Locally, there are some in the Amish community if you travel in that area and do a little inquiring. Most of them are good leather craftsmen and do a fine job. Shoe repair shops are also found in most cities. Probably there is one or more in Warren.
Dad was one of those people who could fix most anything. Repairing shoes was just one of his talents. Many of you probably had fathers who were equally capable.
Parker is an independent writer for the Tribune Chronicle.