VanHaren: Seven-buckle galoshes were an essential winter accessory

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By: 

Roger VanHaren

Dear readers: Another busy week of appointments and health issues, so I’m offering another “oldie” from March 2008.

Do you remember galoshes?

Isn’t that a great old word? I don’t think I’d heard anyone use it for a long time. Then one day a week or so ago, I saw a reference to a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta I wasn’t familiar with (“Thespis” — anyone know it?), so I looked it up on the net. And there in a stage direction, I found this statement: “ [During chorus, enter Diana, an elderly goddess. She is carefully wrapped up in cloaks, shawls, etc. A hood is over her head, a respirator in her mouth, and galoshes on her feet. During the chorus, she takes these things off and discovers herself dressed in the usual costume of the Lunar Diana, the goddess of the moon.]”

“And galoshes on her feet”! Wow! All of a sudden, my internal VCR was on rapid rewind, and I was a kid again – wearing my seven-buckle galoshes and wading through the snow and slop of late winter/early spring.

It’s funny. I’ve noticed that many of the kids I see walking around in winter today don’t wear “protective” footwear. They’re wearing their Nikes or Reeboks with their jeans dragging in the snow and water, wet halfway to their knees. Aren’t their feet cold?

When I was a kid, we wore galoshes — “overshoes” – all winter. They were sort of ugly black rubber, about 10 inches high, and they had metal buckles. We seldom buckled the buckles because it was “fashionable” to walk around with them flopping open and jangling as we walked. Farm kids like me always had two pairs of galoshes – one for “good” and one for working in the barn. You couldn’t possibly wear your barn boots for “good” or vice versa.

The object of galoshes was to protect our regular shoes from the ravages of rain, snow, ice, mud, manure … Most of us had only one pair of shoes in those days, so we had to preserve them. So, we had galoshes. The guys, that is. The girls had “boots” with zippers and a woolly-looking fake fur or fleece cuff on the top. And most of the girls I knew had red rings of rash or chapped skin on their legs from the cuff (probably wet from the snow) rubbing on their calves.

We dressed differently back then, didn’t we? To walk to school in winter – about 2½ miles for my sister and me – we’d put on a couple of pairs of socks, our long-johns, flannel-lined jeans, wool shirt, parka, stocking cap, muffler (there’s another old word, right?), seven-buckle galoshes and a couple pairs of Mom-made hand-knit woolen mittens.

But the galoshes were great. They were impervious to water and cold. You could walk in snow or puddles as deep as 8 inches. Until a buckle broke, or you got a hole in the boot. Then it wasn’t nearly as much fun.

When you got new shoes, the galoshes didn’t fit anymore. But you could still wear them – just without your shoes. You could put on a couple of pairs of those old gray woolen socks with the red stripe around the top (remember those?), and you were in business.

Oh, yeah, I remember galoshes!

Contact Roger VanHaren at rjmavh@gmail.com.