Hay’s Daze: Ahhh, gumboots – we loved ‘em them, we love ‘em still

  • Apr. 22, 2017 12:30 a.m.

So I went looking for some rubber boots the other day. I mean it’s been that soggy runny watery mucky sort of springtime off and on for what – about four months now? And of course when spring finally does, more or less, arrive, I always think of one thing and one thing only: allergies. Also: rubber boots.

I think a little bit of the kid comes out in all of us when the snow finally melts (around the middle of June) and the riverlets run down the gutters, and your eyes swell up from snow mould. And that’s when the kid in us has a hankering to put away the Sorels and dig out the Wellies.

It’s a rite of passage, really – pulling on those iconic tall gum boots with the orangey-red soles on bottom, already imagining the puddles you are going to step in, the mud you are going to happily slog through. Ahh, gumboots – we loved ’em then; we love ’em still.

Everyone would have their names marked on the inside, at the top of each of their rubber boots with thick inky letters. They would be lined up in rows like little soldiers in the boot room at South School, leaving our own personal puddles. Most of us could just walk up, stick each foot in without bending over or using our hands and keep on walking with waders comfortably in place, without missing a step. Without missing a beat.

And in our era, back when you had to be very careful to avoid the roaming dinosaurs on the way to school, it somehow became cool (also known as “radical” or just “rad”) for boys to permanently fold down the tops of their rubber boots. The tops are supposed to go way up your shin, almost to the knees, to facilitate such important aforementioned activities such as wading in deep ponds, engaging in general splashing, and kicking mud puddles at classmates. But in an act of neoprene haute couture fashion completely contradicting the purpose of Wellingtons in the first place, it became de rigueur to bend down the tops of the boots to exactly the right length – two inches (12 decameters) above one’s ankle bone.

That whitish inside of the boot now became a really rad sort of collar – a stylish border around to the top of your gum boots. Which, of course, rendered the entire raison d’etre of rubber boots essentially useless. But we didn’t seem to care that our newly trendy folded-down rubbers constantly filled with icy cold water, mud and small fish. Rubber boots and ironic chilly, soaked feet were an important part of our springtime joie de vivre ritual.

You’re probably wondering right now: “How many French phrases does this guy have??” Also: “Wouldn’t folding the boots down at the top ruin the rubber?” Since we were essentially making a square hole out of a round top there were corners where they were folded which would inevitably tear so that your waders were not only inoperable, there were holes in your boots if you ever wanted to fold them back up the way they were supposed to be in the first place.

So in the name of spring and nostalgia and all things hole-y, I purchased some classic black and red rubber boots the other day, and I wrote my name inside. But so far I’ve resisted folding the tops down, because when it comes to leaky boots at my age, I already have cold feet.

Harley Hay is a Red Deer writer and filmaker.

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