Blue Suede Shoes
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 by Frank Shortt
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When Carl Perkins wrote the song about blue suede shoes, he surely did not have poor coal miner sons in mind. We were lucky to have the heavy brown brogans we worked in, went to school in, and with a little spit and polish, we wore them to church. Elvis made us yearn to have the latest in styles and hairdos!

Garden High School , where I graduated, was fourteen miles one way from my home on Shack Ridge at Shortt Gap, Virginia.. With all the side trips the school bus made, up Levisa Creek, up Contrary Creek, up Bill Young Mountain, with another side trip up Clifton Fork, the ride to school seemed endless. The trek probably ended up being thirty miles instead of fourteen! Then there was the constant haranguing from the driver to “shaddup!, keep your seat!, get your feet in out of the aisles!” Needless to say, the trip was not a joyful occasion.

A lot of times after getting up at 4:30 a.m., lighting the fire in the cookstove, greasing mom’s bread pans, making coffee, and making sure the fire was going in the Warm Morning Stove, I was now ready to go outside to do my other chores. There were cows to milk, wood to cut and carry in to the wood box, water to carry, (Yes, I had to carry water from a distant spring), and, I had to feed the chickens and pigs, if we were blessed enough to own any! Did I get a nice hot shower after all this work? Not on your life! I sponged off the chicken residue, the cow smell, and whatever else decided to cling to me the best that I was able with Ivory soap in a small wash pan, and finished off by putting on my school clothes. By this time it was usually too late to catch old bus 17 for the long journey to school.

So then the ½ mile walk down to Rt. 460, a two lane road until the 1970’s, and pray that some Good Samaritan would come along and give me a ride to Garden Creek. It was usually a coal truck, covered with dust, with seats covered with whatever trash the coal truck driver decided to throw upon it, and after all this, he usually turned up one of the creeks before arriving to Garden Creek. This meant I had to hitchhike another ride the rest of the way to school. One of the teachers at Garden Elementary School, adjacent to Garden High, was Burt Addison, a first cousin to my mom. He was usually running a little late, so most mornings I was able to hitch a ride with him. Our talks mostly consisted of “how are all the cousins up Shortt Gap way?” Or, we would discuss deaths in the family! The only difference between us was, he did not have to go to the office to get a tardy slip. He was the principal of the elementary school.

Thursday afternoons was ‘teacher’s meeting’ time. All the students who rode bus 17 had to wait until Mr. Brown, who was a teacher, to get out of the meeting. This meant lollygagging around at the school, going to Hagy’s Restaurant across the creek, or in my case, trying to hitch a ride home. Sometimes, I would stop at my uncle’s home situated between Garden Creek and Shortt Gap. They always seemed glad to see me and never refused me a place to sleep, even though they were not the richest citizens of Buchanan County. Aunt Beulah made me feel at home and seemed to like having a boy around to do chores. They had three girls who were not that adept at chopping wood, carrying water, and doing other manly chores around the place.

One Thursday evening I arrived at Uncle’s home, footsore and weary, as I had to walk most of the way to their home. No one seemed anxious to give me a ride. After the usual amenities, a short snack, and resting for a few minutes, I offered to do any chores that needed done. By this time Uncle Fulton had arrived home from the coal mine. When he saw me he greeted me kindly and commenced to eat his supper. After supper, he went into his bedroom and came out carrying a familiar box for shoes. He handed the box to me and asked, “do you think these might fit you?” I noticed that the size on the box read 8D. Just my size! When I opened the box I was flabbergasted! It was a brand new pair of Blue Suede oxfords.
This was the quickest a pair of shoes ever got out of the box and on a pair of footsore feet! Boy, was I proud! Had my uncle been an affectionate man, I would have hugged his neck! Instead, I just said, “Thanks a lot” and let it go at that! He understood.

I always wondered where he had gotten the shoes so one evening I ventured the question. This was his explanation:
“Billy Jones was a resident of Mountain Mission School. He hated being all cooped up there, so sometimes he would break away and wander around until he found a place that would take him In. Most times he would end up at our house. One day he arrived with some pretty nice articles that, unfortunately, he had probably filched from one of the department stores in the lower county. Among this stuff was the pair of Blue Suede Shoes, and when the school finally found him, they just took him back, no questions asked. Their income depended on the amount of young folks they had as residents. They didn’t even want the articles he had stolen, so, we kept them as partial payment for his room and board while he stayed here!” My uncle told this with a very straight face, so I believed him.

I wore these shoes until I had worn the suede off by brushing the coal dust off with a brass brush, but did I throw them away? No sirree! About this time, Pat Boone became the heartthrob of the teenage set. So what did I do? I bought me a bottle of Griffin All Wite, daubed the Blue Suede Shoes with a thick coat, and presto, I was the hit of the school with a great pair of white bucks. They were great until the All Wite began flaking off, but by this time the shoes had cracked anyway and I threw them away and went back to my brown brogans.