It might seem trite to say that every item has a story, but surely, some items have better stories to tell than others – and for a writer, this is a magnetic pull that wants to be drawn out.
So it is with a little shoe I found at an antique shop in Prescott, Arizona. Truth is, this isn’t a shoe but a wooden shoe mold, style 600, size 6 ½ E – most likely intended for toddler feet.
In that Prescott was a lively ranching and gambling town at the turn of the century, I sensed that this mold shaped shoes for the children of local farmers and homesteaders, shop keepers and adventurers– children who no doubt grew up being part of the nation’s historic fabric.
Prescott is home to “Whiskey Row,” the 100 Block of Montezuma Street that at one time, as I recall, boasted 18 saloons… establishments with names like the Bird Cage, Hooligan’s and Jersey Lilly. This shoe mold may not have been crafted there but perhaps transported from Lynn, MA, where the shoe industry began.
That’s another piece of history lost to most of us: Jan Matzeliger, born in Dutch Guiana (Suriname), invented the shoe-lasting machine which could produce 150 to 700 pair in a day. This innovation forever changed the industry and turned Lynn into the “shoe capital of the world.”
But I digress…
Regardless of origin, this little shoe carries mystery with it, and for writers, mystery means intrigue, and intrigue means good reading.
I’m currently using “concealment shoes” in a book I’ve been writing for the past 12 years. This is the kind of manuscript that’s complete in my head but requires a vacation by a lake or solid block of time to be typed out.
In this context, old shoes were sometimes entombed in Colonial homes to ward off evil spirits. Perhaps it was thought that they contained the essence of the people who wore them – a human quality that would surely scare away ectoplasmic intruders.
The point here is that we writers should be aware of our surroundings and nurture the ability to look at everyday things with a sense of curiosity.
An old door key is one item that stands out. Ditto for a letter from a soldier. A seashell can conjure up images of pirates landing on a beach; grandmother’s sewing kit brimming with jet buttons and souvenir needle cases from a World’s Fair certainly tells of another time; that gnarled piece of roadside metal might well have fallen from a space ship or a car wreck that changed someone’s life.
Imagination is the lifeblood of writers, and just as a ‘medium’ is said to be a conduit to ‘the other side,’ intriguing objects can be a path to a plotline.
My little shoe makes me think of a small grave on a grassy hillside where the Great Plains spread out to accommodate Conestoga wagons. I see a tow-haired boy in patched overalls; I feel the dust in his throat and behind his neck. But I also hear the squeals of a little girl in gingham as she scampers after her siblings, unaware of a danger about to befall.
This little shoe suggests hearth and home; a hard life, simple joys… but perhaps it is just the beginning of a bigger story that tells of celebrity or crime. Perhaps it is literally “a first step.” Who wore this shoe – and what ever happened to the other one?