Spike Soles Do the Do-Si-Do

THIS was (let us hope) a peculiar winter along the scenic coast of Maine, and here at Back River we went well into February before we had more'n a cat-track of snow. The snow turned to rain, and we've had a glare of ice when up-state they got some drifts. I took down my creepers and used them to go between the house and my workshop, making out fine to and fro, with extra help from a staff with a steel point.

My creepers are old - they estivate on a nail over my joiner's bench. One pair stretches into place with elastic tapes, and the other goes on with straps and buckles. The sharp metal thus keeps my feet from slithering off into infinity, and I have wintered. Once in awhile one of the things will come loose and hide somewhere, but thus far I've found it in a few days. I long for the day in June or July when I can hang the things back on the nail and venture forth without them, maybe for a week or two.

Creepers are a boon outdoors but are hard on Persian rugs and parquetry. So I keep some slippers at each end of my journey and slide off my creepered boots to keep things unchewed. Using creepers stirs up thoughts of the good old days when spike-soled boots were common amongst Maine folks, and served on slippery going.

Spike-soled boots were used by the river drivers. Herding the winter's harvest of logs downstream to mill on the spring freshet called for sure-footed agility along the still-icy banks of the river, or from log to log in the turbulence of the water. The river driver was the elite of Maine's high society then, and he walked tall in those high-cut leather boots with their truly life-saving metal spikes.

But as with my less-lethal creepers, the spike-soled boot was hard on the refinements, and there came a day the Maine Legislature actually passed a "stat-toot" forbidding the river driver certain privileges when he was wearing his spike boots. This was an insult, and clearly deprived the gentleman of constitutional rights made and provided. Railroad cars and steamboats were off limits, as were hotels and restaurants, and it was suddenly illegal for a river driver to go into a dance hall.

Holman Day, Maine's Rhymester Laureate, elevated this up to a life beyond life in his lovely lines about the spring ball at Rappogenis Dam the year the men in Murphy's Crew first learned "partent-leathuh" was de rigueur for the do-si-do and the promenade all.

The men in Murphy's Crew walked from Churchill Depot down to Rappogenis Dam for this annual festive event, a matter of some 20 miles, wearing the usual black-and-red checked shirts, the Sweet-Orr double-seam woolen pants, and their high-status calked boots. Having been seasonably isolated for some time, they were not aware that a law had been enacted. When they arrived, they were stopped at the pavilion door by a man in a $7 suit and ballroom shoes who said a new gentility prevailed, and Murphy's men wer e not welcome until they removed their boots.

Murphy, himself, was a mild-mannered, soft-spoken fellow accustomed to the better usages, and he expostulated pleasantly about the absurdity involved - saying a change in the rules should have been called to his attention, and he would have forewarned his men accordingly. It was late, he asserted, to be introducing new rules of etiquette in this manner.

Murphy pointed out that his men had no dancing pumps with them, and because of the advancing season, they would not care to appear in their stocking soles because of holes. But the gentleman at the door was adamant and paid no heed when Murphy quoted the poet, thus: "For angels can just as well shed wings, as a driver his spike-soled boots."

Murphy's men said they had come to dance. So Murphy nodded at Finnegan, the boss, and Finnegan yelled, "Open the sluice!"

Discretion suggests we close the curtain for a moment.

* * * * *

Suffice that the introduction of new and more genteel rules was postponed at Rappogenis that season, and a good time was had by all. But the law is the law, and since that memorable evening at Rappogenis, the spike-soled boot has been wanting at Maine's more elegant social functions. Even creepers.

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