Some kids love it, some hate it and some are in between those feelings when it comes to the start of another school year.
I was far from a straight-A student but I always loved the first day back. You catch up with all your classmates, anticipate what the new teachers will be like, maybe show off a new wardrobe.
Part of that wardrobe was usually new shoes. Just about everybody had a nice, spotless, just-out-the-box pair on their feet.
Back then it was basically one pair of shoes, which would have to last you until they basically wore out. That's certainly changed over the years. I can tell as I look at my 13-year-old son Westley's collection of about eight or more in the corner of the room.
"I need all of them," he told me. "This is my running pair for cross country, these are my baseball spikes, this is for school, these are what I wear up to the barn, these are for hot days ..."
I pointed and asked, "What about those over there?"
"Those are to wear around the house," Westley quickly answered.
"Couldn't you wear any of those other ones around the house?" I responded.
"No, geez Dad," he said.
OK, I'm an idiot. Sigh.
When I was young it was basically a family adventure to go out and buy new shoes, the most anticipated trek was to prepare for the return to school.
We would all hop in the car and my dad would drive us from Masontown over to Republic where we'd go to see Charlie and Gene Angeloni. They were friends of the family and Charlie owned Angeloni's Shoe Shop, which sat on the first floor of their house. It was a place that seemed to be straight out of a movie set to me. There were shoes stacked all around and aisles that went back into the building with countless shelves rising up to the ceiling.
My brother, sisters and I usually had plenty of time to explore as my dad would always discuss current affairs and other topics with Charlie, who always had many war stories to tell (he was a WWII veteran), and my mom would often talk to Gene, a former teacher.
Charlie's laugh was one of a kind. An infectious, staccato, "Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha!" You couldn't help but laugh along with him when he laughed. Even now I smile when I recall the way he would tell a joke or a story.
Walking through and around the store was like a fun house at a carnival for us. Some corridors were dark and mysterious, others were bright, each had a slightly different shoe smell.
The wide variety of footwear in the place was incredible. There were shoes of all shapes, sizes and colors. Dress shoes, work shoes, sneakers, basketball shoes and boots, for men, women and children ... just about anything you could imagine putting on your feet.
My favorite section of the place was one you won't see at any shoe stores nowadays. It was Charlie's work area where he would repair or make alterations to old or new shoes. There were spinning types of abrasive wheels, an over-flowing container of glue, big shoe stretchers, leather and other materials, cutting shears and scissors, needles and laces.
It was fascinating to me.
When it was my turn to select my shoes it was always a long process. I wanted a comfortable, but cool looking, pair that the kids would envy, and my dad wanted something that would last a good long time without being overly expensive. We'd sort of barter with each other until we agreed on a pair.
Different trips ended up with different sneakers. There were mainly Converse when I was younger, but other big-name brands made there way into Charlie's shop as the years went by. Some companies came and went, others are still around today.
I was extremely excited one year to score a pair of Bart Starr shoes which I thought were really neat, plus I always loved the Green Bay Packers star quarterback.
I would become attached to certain brands or styles and seek them out on multiple occasions. One year I bought a pair of high-top Pony sneakers, one of the most comfortable shoes I ever put on my feet. I loved them and wore them everyday.
The tread eventually wore down drastically and on a December trip to Angeloni's for our annual Christmas visit with the couple and their daughter Rachel, I sought out a new pair.
Charlie told me he was out of those. The saddened look on my face must have caught his attention, because he looked at me then told me, "Let-ta me see those," and I took off one of the old pair I was wearing and handed it to him. "Hmmm. I tel-la you what, you leav-a them here, I fix-a them for you," he told me in his thick Italian accent.
Fix them, I thought. How? But I left them with him. My dad made a trip back there the next week and returned with my shoes, with an entirely new tread on the bottom. Charlie had removed the old sole and replaced it.
I was amazed and elated.
Eventually another place that sold shoes opened in Republic, Gus's Sporting Goods, owned by Gus Cardarelli, and it became one of the most popular stores in Fayette County for years. Countless boys would come to school proudly sporting shoes from Gus's.
I would shop there for other sports items, but usually stuck with Angeloni's for my shoes.
After awhile Angeloni's and Gus's and similar places faded away and were replaced by the name brand stores that dominate the market now.
Charlie died in 2001 and Gene, who was a an extremely intelligent former language teacher at Redstone High School, died in 2003. Rachel married Paul Lesako and the two own Paul M. Lesako Funeral Home in Carmichaels. They had a daughter, Gina Rose, who is a Geibel Catholic and Kent State graduate, and is now married and living in Ohio with her husband and a child of her own.
Time flies by, but I'll never forget those treks to Angeloni's for shoes and our annual Christmas family get-together there.
Now if I can only find another pair of Pony shoes like I used to have ...
Rob Burchianti can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter (@rvburch).