Doc's new horseshoe is a real stretch

On rainy days, in the 1950s, we all wore over-the-shoe galoshes. My dad's were big, utilitarian, and black - almost shapeless, until he stretched them to fit over his well-polished businessman's shoes. Mom, as I recall, had more contoured and fashionable pull-ons. We kids tugged round-toed red, yellow, or blue galoshes over our loafers for the three-block walk to and from school. It seems to me they served their purpose well if we resisted meanders through over-the-ankle puddles. After coming home, we'd peel them off onto our vestibule mat and step dry-shod onto the living-room carpet.

You can't just walk into a corner store and buy galoshes anymore, something I first realized when I recently needed a pair - not for me - but for one of our draft horses recuperating from a nasty hoof infection. The hoof needs to be kept dry and clean, and I thought an extra-large stretchable galosh might do the trick.

For a couple of weeks now, Doc has needed daily attention. We tie him to a barn post, encourage him to lift his massive rear left leg, and position a five-gallon bucket to catch his downstep. If we stay right there, talking to him and feeding him premium hay, he'll leave his foot soaking in the bucket for 20 minutes or more. Eventually he lifts it out like an erupting geyser, but by then we're ready for the next step. Charlie lifts the hoof and balances it on his knee as I get to work, applying gauze and wrapping great quantities of self-adhesive tape around and around. Equally liberal amounts of duct tape follow.

I have to work at a good clip. Charlie, bearing the weight of the horse's hoof and lower leg, is in no mood to chat, and we never know when Doc will decide to put that leg on the ground. Fortunately, with some heroic workouts on Charlie's part, I've generally managed to finish the job and tape the hoof before it hits ground again.

The duct tape serves as both the dressing adhesive and as a barrier to dirt and moisture. But an over-the-hoof galosh - the big, stretchy kind my dad used to wear - would offer better protection longer, and so I began to search for a pair. I started with area discount stores.

"I haven't seen them for years," one clerk answered wistfully, eyes wide with nostalgia. (I might as well have asked for paint-by-numbers.) I tried thrift shops, antique malls, and when I talked to my mom long distance, I wondered aloud if there was still an old pair of my dad's lying around. No chance - Mom has never been a preserver of humble family artifacts.

I told myself that the idea was questionable to begin with. It would take a mighty large galosh to stretch around Doc's hoof. But by now, I wanted to find a pair more than ever, not only to put one to the test, but to satisfy myself that not everything from my childhood had been lost to history or relegated to antiquedom.

It was then that I turned to the search engine right under my nose. My teenage son, Tim, has a keen shopper's eye, a gift all the more remarkable, given his slim wallet. His attitude: "A guy can look, can't he?" He can walk, bike, or bum a ride (and now, drive, with me in the passenger seat) to the mall and to a variety of area retail stores. He not only looks, he manages to keep an inventory of saleables in the very head that regularly forgets simple household chores. If you describe something you want, he'll generally know just where to go to find it.

I didn't hold high hopes for galoshes, but it was worth a go. I told him about the overshoe rain gear of my childhood, so inexplicably absent from his own. (When exactly had they lost their nubbly-soled grip on store floors?) Looking at him as I talked, I felt a brief stab of regret that I'd never had the chance to pull a pair of colorful galoshes onto his once-smaller feet. I asked him if he'd ever seen such things for sale.

"Oh, yeah," came the amazing, yet oh-so-casual reply. "I tried on something like that just the other day. They were huge; I was just clowning around."

SURE enough, they were just where he said they'd be, at the end of the aisle he described in the one discount store I'd overlooked. They're called overboots now, but they are, by any other name, still galoshes, as gloriously supple and re-shapeable as any of my dad's. I snapped up the only pair of extra-large, one of which amply swallowed both my feet. I couldn't be sure, but they looked as if they just might accommodate Doc's hoof, and at $12, it was certainly worth a try.

It was the back left hoof, so we prepared the left galosh, making strategic cuts to widen the opening another few inches. This morning, newly cleaned and bandaged, Doc's leg rested heavily on Charlie's patient knee, awaiting the moment of truth. His hoof was not exactly Cinderella-like, but a glass slipper popped into my mind as I gingerly pulled the galosh over it. Would it fit?

Indeed, it did - at least well enough to stay on with a few rounds of duct tape. As Doc ambled away, I kept an appraising eye on his floppy footgear. I had to admit that it gave my big, noble, hard-muscled Belgian a whole new look. He seemed a little less regal with that black, round-toed appendage. The word that suddenly came to mind was ... nerdy. Maybe that's what happened to galoshes.

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