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Section 26

Its People and Institutions as I knew them about Sixty Years ago.


Wednesday, September 15th, 1897


An institution of renown;
But not peculiar to this town;
Here in the years of Long Ago,
Where wheels of time turned very slow,
And most were poor, and few were fat,
Was called the "whipping of the cat."

The cobbler with his bag and kit,
Who went from house to house to fit
The boys and girls with boots and shoes,
And peddle out the gossip news;
While on his cobbling bench he sat,
Was said, in this, to whip the cat.

Then in the summer, as a rule,
Here on the farm and in the school,
Or traveling on the public street,
The boys and girls with unshod feet,
Were honored for their frugal care;
But must have shoes for winter wear.

So in the autumn’s early days,
The old folks prudent in their ways,
Prepared the leather and the pegs,
As well as little feet and legs;
And then the artist of the awl,
Snug in their kitchen did install.

Close in a corner snug and warm,
And sheltered from the driving storm,
He sat upon his cobbling seat,
With scraps of leather at his feet,
A heap of lasts upon the floor,
Of large and small, perhaps a score.

And while he sits with lordly airs,
And badge of office proudly wears;
His spectacles astride his nose,
So heavy with their old-time bows,
Behind his ears are held in place,
Secured by strings of leather lace.

And when the measure he would take,
A pair of boots or shoes to make,
He placed the heel against the wall; -
And this he did for large and small, -
And at the toe, a mark he drew,
Which gave the measure of the shoe.

Now hard at work, with greatest ease,
He holds the lapstone on his knees,
And strikes the leather with his might,
As if it were his chief delight,
Till it is hard and fit to use,
And ready for a pair of shoes.

Then with the leather on the last,
And to his knees with stirrups fast;
The work supporting on his legs, -
He strikes the awl and drives the pegs;
And sure to make it neatly pass,
The sole he rasps and scrapes with glass.

But most of all he makes a spread,
When sewing with the waxed thread,
Both hands at once he sends abroad,
And gives each stitch a grunt and nod,
Exulting in his self-esteem,
That he can sew a perfect seam.

NOTES. – Economy was necessarily the order of those early days. It was not an unusual practice for the farmers to tan their own leather and some of them occasionally to mend and even make their own boots and shoes. In my boyhood I witnessed all of this in and about the "old homestead." Manufactured pegs were then not invented. The shoemaker made his own pegs from wood selected from the wood-pile, and often made, also, his own lasts which were seldom rights or lefts, so that one served for both feet. As there were no rubbers then, the old folks to keep their feet warm and dry, wore galoches or galoshes, and called by them, gloshoes. These were made by putting the last into a shoe and then building the galoshe about it, and as they were often lined with cloth their size was suited to a giant. The shoemaker was installed in the kitchen sometimes twice in a year and often remained more than a week, and was noted, not only for making "waxed ends," but also for "spinning yarns."