Peggy Keener: A knotty kind of a problem

Published 1:01 pm Saturday, October 31, 2020

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I, a semi risk taker, have just done something gutsy. After prolonged anguish in which I weighed my actions back and forth ad nauseam, I finally did it. I tossed out my stash of orphaned, fossilized shoelaces!

But, I am torn. Should I not be feeling lighter, free-er? Instead I am wrought with trepidation. Have I committed a sin? Does anyone know the expiration date on keeping widowed shoelaces? Like poor Hester Prynne and her scarlet letter, will I also be branded forevermore?

To understand my disquietude, let’s reflect back on how crucial and angst ridden shoelaces used to be. Like the cars of yesteryear that frequently got flat tires, shoelaces frequently broke. It happened all the time, leaving us with one shoe flopping on the end our legs. Shoelaces were temperamental and required us to gently tug on them to avoid shredding their fabric, a common and most dreaded result.

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When the laces did break, we were faced with a distressing repair. More often than not, this happened in a sensitive social setting. We began by clandestinely, but profusely, spitting on our fingers to create a gummy substance with which we could twirl a point out of the fringe of shredded threads that we now had to somehow poke back through the holes. It tested us, the afflicted, often finding us lacking. Clearly it was a skill beyond our years.

Next a knot had to be constructed. It usually turned out gnarly and unlovely. But more crucial than its appearance was that the lump had to be strategically positioned to not block the holes above and below it thus obstructing us from tightening or loosening the laces. Sometimes the resultant knot was so tight, we couldn’t get our foot back into our shoe.

But, there was more. If you were a teenage princess who was obsessed with appearances, the hurdle of how to stylishly hide the unsightly protuberance from other harsh judgmental princess eyes became acute. It was all so embarrassing … and complicated; indeed, a fashion cross we girls had to bear.

This is, of course, why the orphaned shoelace stash was so vital. Back home, we dug through our collection, prying the laces apart like a tangled plate of spaghetti in search of the one lace that matched the still intact one. The length, color and width of the lace were crucial, as well as the state of its hygiene. (Icky laces were so, well, icky. I didn’t like to touch them, although my brothers didn’t seem to mind.)

High top basketball shoes required really long laces. It was not unusual to see boys with bunches of ratty looking clots all the way up and over their ankles. It makes one wonder what prehistoric folks did for footwear. Like the cavemen, for example. But, then, I suppose cavemen didn’t need basketball shoes because they didn’t dribble basketballs. Rocks didn’t then—and still don’t now—bounce.

Such smarty pants the cavemen were. I wonder if they ever came up with a kind of footwear? And were they actually the ones who invented the wheel? You see, it wasn’t the one caveman who invented the wheel who was the genius, it was the one caveman who invented the other three!

Archaeologists have traced shoes back 5,500 years. Interestingly they look eerily similar to our shoes today …. other than, of course, the plastic rhinestone-encrusted slingback which came later.

The original shoes were made from a single piece of animal hide with a leather cord lacing system on both the front and back seams of the shoes. Such fitted shoes were especially necessary for nomadic tribes as with them they could travel faster and farther.

As early as 2000 BC, Greeks and Romans made moccasin-like, open-toed sandals with laces made of hemp rope. They were designed to wear on either foot. It didn’t matter. This begs the question of whether or not these shoes made them better dancers because no one could, with certainty, identify the left foot?

Brogues were first seen in Ireland and Scotland in the 1500s. They were popular with men who had to trudge through wet, muddy bogs in search of food. The brogues were designed to drain and dry faster. That is precisely why they perforated the sides of the shoes! And here you thought they were just decorations for dudes who liked fancy footwear while trudging through wet, muddy bogs in search of food!

Not to be overlooked was the brainiac who invented the aglet. This was not a baby bird, but rather a plastic or metal sheath that protected the end of the shoelace. This invention was like light coming out of a long, dark tunnel. It made electricity, penicillin and girdles appear incidental.

In 1968, Puma became the first shoemaker to sell sneakers with Velcro fasteners. They caught on like wildfire, especially with parents of little children. But, it’s popularity soon waned when folks got tired of their bulky appearance. Instead of a no-tie shoe, people wanted no-tie laces!

Enter the Lock Laces in 1999. They tightened and loosened with a sliding lock which kept the shoe perfectly fitted the whole live long day. It might even be said that Lock Laces changed the concept of shoelaces forever.

Giving credit where credit is due, down through the ages shoelaces have been a gift from heaven. They even inspired one grateful soul to utter these unforgettable words:

“Shoelaces of the world, untie!” Unite?