When it’s 15 below zero and the sheet of ice still encasing the earth from the pre-Christmas storm lurks beneath a three-inch layer of snow that squeaks when you walk on it, you’d better be wearing the right boots.
Fashion is not the watchword on the tundra that Maine has become in the past couple of weeks. Forget the cute ankle boots and the quasi-shoe/quasi-overshoe combos. Stylish kicks mean frostbit toes. You need a pair of big, honking, insulated, ugly boots.
Take mine, for example.
(Not literally, of course. They are my most precious possession this week and if you so much as lay a finger on them, I may have to kill you.)
Super-duper Keens they are, with lots of Thinsulate, a rugged sole that scoffs at ice and a layer of Gore-Tex in case it ever warms up enough for slush to be a thing again. When I slip my wool-socked feet inside, my feet are warm, dry and stable on the earth.
Sure, they make me walk like BigFoot, but that’s the de rigueur gait this winter. Haven’t you heard?
I am actually an expert on New England winter footwear. In the olden days when I was a child, winters were long and cold and pack boots had yet to be invented. Did this keep us indoors? No ma’am. We used a little ingenuity and created our own super-warm boots.
The outside layer was red rubber, with a buckle on the side you had to cinch tight to keep the snow out. They had be a couple of sizes bigger than your shoes, because not only did you wear your shoes inside them, you had to account for homemade insulation, too.
In my family, that was a pair of ragg wool socks, cast off by my high-school aged brother after my mother darned the heels one too many times for his comfort.
But the lumpy heels didn’t bother us little kids. We pulled those warm woolies over our own socks and shoes then gave them a layer of waterproofing in the form of a bread bag.
That’s right, we in the Buchanan household were reduce-reuse-recycle pioneers. Nobody threw away a perfectly good plastic bag when the loaf of Butternut cracked wheat or Kasanof’s pumpernickel was gone.
Over the too-big wool socks the bread bags would go, which eased the slide of the now gigantic foot into the oversized red rubber boot.
You think I walk like Bigfoot now? Imagine me at six years old, clad in hand-me-down snow pants and parka, with feet half as long as I was high. Laugh if you must, but it worked. My sisters and I were able to play outside for hours, and nary a whine was heard about having cold feet.
With the onset of early adolescence came the desire for a pair of shoe-boots, or at least that’s what we called them. Whoever came up with the idea of winter boots into which you directly slid your thin-stockinged feet and only your thin-stockinged feet had never walked to school or stood around at a cold bus stop on a January day in New England. (In my town, those were the only two ways to get to school, and most of us hiked it. I cannot remember anyone being given a ride by their parents. Ever.)
A few kids managed to convince their Moms to buy them a pair of groovy shoe-boots, then spent the winter hobbling to and from school with popsicle toes. Shoe-boots were sleek all right, and slick, too. Nothing but a thin layer of leather between ankle and sub-zero air, and soles devoid of any useful tread.
We set aside the red rubber monstrosities when we reached junior high school in favor of what we called “shitkickers,” bright orange boys’ construction-type shoes that offered traction in the snow and if you bought the right size, room for a couple pair of thick socks. They were not sexy, but everyone wore them, putting us on equal footing, as it were.
In college I graduated to Bean boots, but in those days they didn’t sell 100 varieties like they do now. The old standbys were great in wet weather, less good in the cold, and so began my adult quest for something with the comfort of my childhood winter attire that didn’t look quite as dorky.
Have I succeeded? You be the judge. But whatever you do, keep your mitts off my boots!