Boomers Chose Their Summer Footwear Carefully

For a good many boomers, their choice of summer footwear fell into two categories: casual or dress, and generally speaking for boomer boys, at least, there would be one pair for each. Some boomer girls might have more than one pair of summer sandals, depending on a range of factors that included their families’ economic class.

For Mister Boomer and all the boomers he grew up with, casual summer shoes were the very pair of canvas sneakers that had been worn the previous school year in gym class. Some boys had high tops, while others preferred the low rise (like Mister B). These shoes served triple duty during the summer, getting wear from everyday walking to playing sports, or going shopping or to drive-in movies with the family, but never to Sunday church. The shoes could often end up torn and tattered by summer’s end, so a new pair would be purchased for the upcoming school year. Many boys chose to wear their sneakers without socks, but Mister B did not; he always wore gym socks with his sneakers.

Boomer girls wore sneakers as well, but often wore sandals of various styles. Usually, they were made of leather with flat bottoms and a strap of some kind that wrapped around the top of the foot, with or without a buckle. There was usually a heel strap and buckle as well. Flip-flops, the ultimate in casual summer footwear, were not worn anywhere but the beach in Mister B’s area — by girls or boys — at least until the late sixties.

Some boomer boys and their fathers wore leather sandals, which often had thick leather straps to distinguish a manly shoe from the thinner-strapped feminine counterparts. Mister Boomer recalls two fathers of his neighborhood boomer friends who wore sandals with socks, the nightmare of every son or daughter. One of the men wore his usual socks with his leather sandals, which could be navy, black or olive green color. The other wore the proverbial knee-high white tube socks with his dark brown sandals. It was not the sartorial preference of boomers. However, some of the boomer boys in Mister B’s neighborhood had leather sandals. They might have simple (but thick) leather straps of a lighter or darker color, or be gussied up with gold-toned metal rivets that harkened back to gladiator days.

Mister Boomer tried a pair of leather sandals once, but found them immensely uncomfortable without socks, the leather digging into multiple locations on his foot. Wearing socks, of course, was not an option, so he abandoned the idea. Then one day one of the neighborhood’s older boys came back from Vietnam, with tales of how the Vietnamese made sandals from old tires. The boys were enthralled with the homemade factor, including Mister B and his brother. The Army vet gave the boys instructions of how tire treads were cut to foot size, then pierced on either side of the toes so strips of rubber inner tube could be slipped through the holes and knotted underneath to create a strap over the top of the foot. The process was repeated for a heal strap. Since the rubber stretched, the homemade sandals could be adjusted to suit the size of every foot. He said the Vietnamese wore them constantly, and they were very durable.

There always seemed to be plenty of junk material in Mister B’s neighborhood for building projects, from underground forts to treehouses, go-karts, to now, tire-tread sandals. As several boys in the neighborhood attempted to make their own Vietnamese-style sandals based on the neighbor’s instructions, Brother Boomer secured a chunk of tire for his pair, and for Mister Boomer as well. He retrieved his father’s hunting knife from the basement and, in the backyard, traced his feet with a pencil on roughly-cut pieces of tire tread. He brandished the hunting knife to trim the tread along the outline, then placed four piercings for the straps. An old tire inner tube — Mister B thinks it might have been from a bicycle tire — was sliced to a close size. Brother Boomer slipped one end through the hole and knotted it on the sole, repeating the process for the other side and heel. By leaving one side unknotted, the rubber strap was adjusted until it provided a snug fit. Then the straps were knotted completely underneath, with excess rubber getting sliced off with the knife.

Wearing his newly-made sandals and looking out for the safety of his younger brother, Brother Boomer cut tire tread for Mister B. After slicing the strap holes, he let Mister B complete the process to make the straps. While the DIY project was great fun, Mister B found them completely impractical and for him, unwearable. Brother Boomer wore his for more than a week before giving up, while one or two of the neighborhood boys continued to wear theirs well into the summer.

Society had structural rules for practically everything in the fifties and early sixties, and that included going barefoot. If boomers weren’t in the backyard kiddie pool or running through the sprinkler, they would be wearing some type of footwear. By the end of the sixties, rules were relaxed or demolished as boomers wore sneakers in places that were unheard of earlier (like to church) and flip-flops were worn in public by both males and females. Mister B had flip-flops for beach and vacation trips, but rarely wore them. He never got used to having that thing stick between the toes.

What memories of summer casual footwear do you have, boomers?

Boomers Watched as Transplants Saved Lives

The list of technological, engineering and medical marvels that were introduced during the Boomer Years is truly incredible. We bore witness to true history in the making. A case in point is human organ transplants. It was a subject hardly on the radar of boomers and their parents after the war, yet by the end of the Baby Boom, advances in procedures and treatments were in the headlines.

Human skin grafting experiments were conducted as far back as the 16th century, but experiments in animal and human organ transplants didn’t begin until the 18th century. It took until the mid-twentieth century for breakthroughs that resulted in the first successful transplants.

During WWII, the U.S. Navy saw a great need for donated tissue. Beginning in the early 1800s, tissue grafting was generally accomplished by transferring a portion of skin tissue from one part of the body to another. Battle wounds and ship fires didn’t always allow for that contingency, so in 1949, the Navy established the first tissue bank. But organ transplants were a different story.

The heyday of medical breakthroughs for organ transplants came in the 1950s and ’60s:

• 1954 saw the first successful kidney transplant
• 1963, the first liver and lung transplants
• 1966, the first successful pancreas transplant

In 1967, the world watched and held its collective breath as Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first successful heart transplant in South Africa, though the patient ultimately lived only another 18 days. Coverage of the operation was akin to that of a space launch, with boomer families becoming familiar with all the involved parties before, during and after the historic operation. For the first time, there was a ray of hope for chronically ill heart patients. The first U.S. heart transplant followed one month later, in January of 1968. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. heart transplant, boomers.

As can be expected, the reaction around the country ran the spectrum from excitement at the scientific breakthroughs to condemnation that doctors were “playing God.” Boomers and their families watched as the drama unfolded.

In the 1970s, the discovery of immunosuppressant drugs — in particular, Cyclosporine in 1978 — greatly assisted in stopping patients’ bodies from rejecting transplanted organs, extending life.

As the legal, moral and ethical questions of human organ transplanting became more contentious, Congress passed the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act in 1968. The bill was meant to clarify and supplant the various laws that had cropped up on the state level. It permitted any adult to become an organ donor, and, in lieu of a will, any deceased person’s surviving spouse or remaining relative to make that choice. The bill covered the donation of organs, tissue and eyes. All states adopted the original version. It was amended in 1984, at which time the buying and selling of human organs was banned; then again in 1987 and 2006 to streamline the process of donating to address the growing needs for human transplants.

It seems quite remarkable to Mister Boomer that as a generation we watched human organ transplants begin at an experimental stage to where we are today. That is not to say the operations don’t carry a high risk or that they have become routine, but from the trickle of transplants that began in the 1950s, today we see more than 30,000 organ transplants per year.

Traditionally, especially during the Boomer Years, organ donations came from deceased individuals. In 2001, however, for the first time living donors exceeded that of deceased donors. The U.S. allows for living donations of one kidney, one or two lobes of the liver, a lung or part of a lung, part of the pancreas, or part of the intestines.

Transplants are indeed extending and saving lives, and boomers watched its progress happen in real time. The demand for organs to transplant is continuing to increase as the number of donors lags behind. Many states, such as Mister Boomer’s state, make the donation of vital organs after death as easy as a checkbox on a driver’s license renewal form. Mister B urges every boomer to take a look at what the process is in your state.

Did you know anyone who had a transplant during your boomer years? Are you listed to become a donor now, boomers?