There are words that become part of the vernacular, yet as time goes on become dated, and eventually, obsolete. Sometimes the words can immediately elicit an often by-gone era by their mere utterance. Mister Boomer’s mother regularly vocalized such expressions that immediately harken back to her younger years. Throughout Mister B’s youth she never got used to saying “refrigerator,” preferring the technically and era-incorrect “ice box” instead. So, too, “record player” and “stereo” were also not part of her vocabulary. Rather, she called the device what her mother did: the “Victrola.”
Even though Mister Boomer is older now than his mother was in his formative years, merely seeing snowflakes fall elicits visions of her speaking the phrase he did not want to hear. “Put on your galoshes!” she would admonish. Galoshes. The very word made weird shapes out of one’s mouth as its sound plopped up from the gut like so much verbal spew. Mister Boomer disliked the term and the footwear. Actually, he more than disliked them, he hated galoshes! But technically, this time she was using a term correctly, as the footwear in question was, by definition, an overshoe.
Made of nearly indestructible rubber and sporting four black metal clasps and buckles, these shin-high winter devices are what stood between boys’ feet and a Midwest winter through our pre-teen years. Girls tended to wear slip on boots without the clasps, but they could also be referred to as galoshes. The terms boots and galoshes could be used interchangeably, even though a boot is generally worn instead of a shoe.
After sliding them over our shoes — which could be a task in and of itself, with the unrelenting tightness of the rubber fit — we could tuck the long, tri-fold tongue flap in and grasp each S-shaped clasp to secure the appropriate slot in the accompanying buckle. An amazing method of securing one thing to another, the buckles were metal rectangles that sported multiple vertical slots so the wearer could slide the clasp into the slot that gave the best fit. The clasp itself was hinged. Once it was placed through the buckle slot, it could be flipped inward to secure the fastening. With the prevalence of Velcro® today, we’ll probably never see the likes of such a simple, yet elegant form of buckle and clasp again in our lifetime. In Mister B’s youth, however, he did not appreciate the beauty or the mechanics of the clasp system, or the practicality of the waterproof overshoe.
The term galoshes comes from the French, galoches, which indeed referred to a rubber overshoe slipped over shoes to protect them from getting wet. There is evidence of the term used as far back as the Middle Ages. The discovery of vulcanized rubber in 1890 paved the way for the galoshes of our parents’ years and, ultimately, the durable, pliable rubber galoshes of the boomer era. As a rubber product, warmth was not their strong point. And should snow or water enter the boot from above the top or through an incorrectly tucked tongue, you could guarantee the rubber would hold in the icy water to keep your socks and feet cold and wet as easily as it kept out the moisture under the right circumstances.
These were some of the reasons Mister B hated them. Despite what some children of boomers think of as an exaggerated cliché, we did walk to school, rain or shine. Consequently, we practically lived in our galoshes any time we went outside from the first week of December through the end of March. Once we traversed our route, which inevitably took us off the sidewalk trail, we’d arrive at the school for the next phase of galoshes annoyance. Beside the struggle to get them on and the prevalence of wet, cold feet, perhaps what Mister B hated most was that in his elementary school, the galoshes had to be removed in the vestibule that was the passageway between the church and school. It made logical sense, of course. Hundreds of children traipsing with their wet boots through the linoleum halls was not an acceptable scenario. But that logic escaped Mister B.
A low ledge of made of stone ran along the wall of one side of the large, slate-floored entryway. There, students would sit and the ritual would begin. Unclasping the buckles was the easiest part, though any ice and snow on them was immediately transferred to already cold, tiny fingers. The gripping power of the rubber made trying to get the boot off without pulling the shoe, or shoe and sock with it was nearly impossible. All the while the school’s nuns hovered over the group to hurry the proceedings and nip any dawdling. After the shoe battle had been won, the next step was to place the wet galoshes into the school-required boot bag. Made of fabric and lined with some sort of rubberized waterproof interior, the bag had a cord on the top to pull closed for hanging in a classroom coat room.
When the school day was over, the reverse process was engaged, only to be repeated yet again upon entering through the back door of the house. This time, however, the boots were set on a rag rug to dry overnight, and the boot bag set aside to dry in the ambient warmth as well.
There were other boot alternatives at the time, though none were offered to Mister B and his brother. A few years later they would both get the pea-green lace-up boots popular with outdoorsmen for hunting and fishing. Two or three pairs of socks were all that was needed inside these boots. As the boys aged, protection from deep snow was no longer a primary concern. Most of the time, snow above the ankle could be avoided by sticking with shoveled paths and taking buses and rides, especially once Mister B entered his high school years. On entering his mid-teens, he adapted the next phase of winter footwear that was popular with his peers: the suede, fleece-lined half boot that was meant to be worn all day. It was no matter that they required waterproofing spray and could be hot on the feet over a prolonged period indoors; they spelled the end of galoshes for Mister B. It was not a moment too soon for our intrepid boomer boy. He wears boots reluctantly to this day.
Did you have to wear galoshes in your pre-teen youth, boomers? What was your experience like?