Archive for January 21, 2019

In my childhood home, the bedroom closets were so small, the one in my parents’ room was too diminutive for my mother and father to share. It held only my mother’s clothes and shoes. My father claimed for himself a closet downstairs in a room that had been converted from a garage by the previous owners. My father’s closet with its sliding door became one of my favorite hiding places. In my mind, I am back there now, standing under the clothes rack, half hidden by corduroy and gaberdine, eyeing the pale sneakers nestled among the other shoes. Those sneakers on the floor of my father’s closet were my first glimpse of Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars and my introduction to a part of my father’s life that ended, for the most part, before mine began.

The white, low-cut All-Stars in my father’s closet were ones that he’d worn playing rec-league basketball. Though I hold one brief memory of him on the court in his Piggly Wiggly jersey, those days of his mostly predated me and my older sister. Our father played basketball only rarely after he became a father and left his job as a junior-high biology teacher to operate a marina on a lake near our hometown.

That former life of his that I could never truly see remained a source of fascination for me. The man I saw most often wearing a uniform that resembled a gas station attendant’s, complete with an oval chest patch with Dave stitched in script, had once been a multi-sport athlete. He was a first-generation college student whose baseball skills had won him a scholarship to High Point, an opportunity that my grandparents approved of only because it was a Methodist school. Though he never wore his Chuck Taylors on the baseball diamond, those shoes were an emblem of his years as a student-athlete. 

In 1921, ten years before my father was born, Charles “Chuck” Taylor, a travelling salesman who’d played farm-league basketball, was hired by Converse. Wanting a basketball shoe for himself that wouldn’t hurt his feet after a game, he recommended design changes that Converse adopted in 1922. In 1923, to honor his contributions, Converse added Chuck Taylor’s signature to the ankle patch (Dalesio par. 8, AP par. 3).

I bought my first pair of Chuck Taylors at the Salvation Army when I was in high school. My then-boyfriend had introduced me to thrift-store shopping, much to my parents chagrin. They didn’t mind when my boyfriend and I combed the local flea market and thrift stores for vinyl records, but buying clothes there was a different matter. We’ve worked hard so you don’t have to wear clothes from thrift stores, they said. My parents continued to repeat those words until I was in graduate school. That’s when they began to remark on the quality of my consignment-shop and thrift-store finds. For me, in those years as a graduate teaching assistant, used clothes were my creative solution to a problem: how to assemble a professional wardrobe on a meager grad-school stipend. But I digress.

The first Chucks that I bought–navy high-tops from the Salvation Army–weren’t just a retro fashion statement, they also proved ideal for my summer jobs in factories. With their thick rubber soles and ankle support, those navy Converse saw me through eight-hour days of standing on cement floors, two summers in a furniture factory and one in a glass plant.

In 1972, a few years after I first glimpsed my father’s All-Stars on the floor of his closet, Converse leased an old rubber factory in Lumberton, North Carolina. From 1972 until the factory closed in March 2001, all Converse were finished or made entirely at that factory (Dalesio par. 12), including the navy high-tops that I wore for three summers. Back then, when I was a student, I had no idea that All-Stars were made in North Carolina, just 136 miles from my hometown. I still didn’t know it in 2001, two months after the Converse plant closed, when my husband’s newspaper job found us relocating to Virginia.

In a thrift store in Richmond, I happened upon my second pair of Chuck Taylors. When I spotted them on the shelf, my mind traveled back to the navy ones that I’d worn years earlier. I’d forgotten how comfortable they were and have since acquired several more pairs, none of which I bought new. As a woman with small feet, I can wear the size six Converse that teenage boys have grown out of.

My older nephew, now beyond his teenage years, wears Converse, too.

How many more generations will rediscover them?

Works Cited

Associated Press. “Who the Heck was Chuck Taylor Anyway?” Kentucky New Era. 28 March

  1. A7. Google News. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=Fv4rAAAAIBAJ&sjid=

         M20FAAAAIBAJ&pg=1717%2C8232748. Accessed 21 Jan. 2019.

Dalesio, Emery P. “Converse Closes Chuck Taylor Plant.” Kentucky New Era. 28 March

  1. A7. Google News.https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=Fv4rAAAAIBAJ&sjid=

        M20FAAAAIBAJ&pg=1717%2C8232748. Accessed 21 Jan. 2019.