Last week I promised that I'd share the inspiration behind my second book, Sam Bennett's New Shoes. Here's my rambling tale...
As I mentioned in my Door Day post, my family lives in an old colonial farmhouse that was built around the year 1720. Did I mention that it was a total disaster when we bought it, and that the realtors thought we were nuts? (In fact, we heard that a builder had wanted to buy it as a tear-down... don't get me started on that rant.) The house had sat vacant for over a year and our kids were very, very young. In hindsight, we were nuts! But the house had so much history. And we loved it.
So-- one day, my handy husband was hanging a chandelier in the dining room. He cut a hole through the plaster and put his hand inside and came out with... this boot. No kidding! Of course we wondered-- whose was it and what on earth was it doing there? 18th century hide-and-go-seek champion, perhaps? We filled it with dried flowers, put it on the mantel and pondered.
A few months later it was wintertime. And having nothing better to do, hubby was rummaging around in the basement. Mind you, when I say basement I don't mean the wall-to-wall carpeting, finished basement/rec room kind. I mean old house basement-- bulging stone walls, dirt floor and spider factory. But it is one of his favorite spots in the house because, seriously, an old house basement has tons of information about the age of a house and how it was constructed. So it really is pretty cool.
He was in a crawlspace section that had once been an outside porch, but was enclosed not long after the house was built, judging from the beams. As he was rummaging through old rocks and spoons and shards of pottery (since in the olden days people usually buried their trash outside) he found... this shoe. No kidding! It's hard to see in the photos, but there were still pegs holding it together. The leather was almost petrified. Now we were really curious!
As serendipity would have it, around that time Early American Life magazine ran an article about finding just these sorts of shoes hidden in old houses. They were called "concealment" shoes-- well-worn shoes that were past their useful life hidden on purpose, probably to protect the houses from malevolent spirits.
This set us off on a lot of research and, of course, sparked my imagination. Who wore the boot and the shoe? What was life like for them? Living in an old house naturally leads you to wonder these kinds of things anyway, but somehow the boot and shoe made it so much more immediate. They had taken on the shape of their owner's feet. They seemed so personal.
I thought about this for a few years, and eventually Sam Bennett came about-- a young boy growing up on a farm in colonial times gets his first pair of new shoes, and learns about the tradition of hiding old shoes from his papa.
In case you're wondering, through the years we've hidden our own children's shoes, too. After all, who couldn't use a little more luck?
Here's some more information about concealment shoes.