Recalled by John Healey, 1938, Lynn, Mass.
New England's rivers provided power for many factories, giving towns like Lewiston, Maine, an industrial riverfront. The term "ten-footers" refers to small shops where shoemakers worked on their own, being paid by the piece. (Library of Congress)
The girls in stitching room often had a gas plate hitched up somewhere near where they worked and they would always give a fella a cup of coffee to to drink with his sandwiches. Not many of us owned automobiles and almost no-one went home to lunch.
Some of the women even cooked a whole meal there. One woman made a dang good boiled dinner. We got a sniff all mornin' and at noon we'd get a plateful if we found out how to get on the right side of her.
She used to have her children come in from school for their dinner most every day. That way they didn't have to go home and eat a cold lunch on them days their mother was in the shop.
We was encouraged to have a good time in the shop, long's it didn't interfere with work. Always a big party at Christmas time. And baseball teams at every shop of any size at all. Uncle Jimmie gave me glimpses of recreation in the shop too.
A lot of men in the shop liked to read. I been a reader all my life. I learned my ABCs in Ireland 'fore I come here and I only went to school here 'bout four years. But I always wanted to know things an' I used to spend all my spare time in a library run by the Y. M. H. A. down on Monroe St.
Went to the public library, too, to look up the answers to questions I wanted to know.
The public library itself shows how shop men liked to read. It's a big library for this town and always was, and times when the shops is empty you'll always find lots a men in them reading' rooms.
First along, when I was a boy, I read stuff like Horatio Alger. He was a great hero a mine. And ya know, I think it's good for boys to have him as a hero. After I got tired a him, or growed up too much to enjoy him, I got hold of a magazine called Youth's Companion.
After a while that got like paper pulp to me too for I wanted something deeper. Well I kept on and after a while I got to reading Shakespeare. In the old days when a lot of of the "ten footers" was still standing - after the big shops was built - there was some of us cutters would take cutting" work into 'em. Maybe four of five would each rent a bench and cut piece work for some factory. We would take turns takin days off to read to one another. We read most everything there was found to read. Sometimes the newspaper. Sometimes something about religion or politics. That way cuttin' shoes was not only work to help us earn a living'. We was learning' something.
Before a man married in them days, nay say when a fellow was still in his teens, that reading' a Shakespeare helped us to have a lot of fun. Them was the days when the stage shows used to come to Lynn. But the managers wouldn't hire the hull company, just the main actors. Often we fellas - Irish boys are usually tall for their age -- would hire ourselves out to be soldiers or sentinels. We'd only be on the stage once or twice in a scene and say a couple of words. We didn't need much training' for we had learned our Shakespeare in the ten footers. They called us supers. Sometimes too we'd be the moon, for we would hold a candle behind cut out colored paper, or we'd be thunder by pounding' a piece a sheet iron.
We could see the show twice a day free for a week from the wings, we supers. Them Shakespearean plays was great things. Pity more a 'em are not on today. For that guy Shakespeare knows a mighty lot of human nature.
Another thing that we used to do in between times when we had to lay off for a few hours, and at noon and Saturday afternoon, was play cards. In the old days there was a game called 'Shoemaker's Lou.' Ya could play for pretty high stakes. I've heard some pretty durn good poker players say it was the slickest and fastest game they ever played. Why even when a man was playin' for low stakes, he could easy lose his whole pay on a Saturday afternoon if he didn't watch out.
Often times a bunch a card players would play with some one who would drift in from New York or Pennsylvania, say some shoe worker who come here looking for work while their places was closed down. After the game, one of the Lynn fellas who wasn't married would take them fellas home with 'em and stake 'em to eats and a place to sleep till they get a job or went back home.
There was that kinda feeling' in the shoe shops. Sort of like a lodge.
We always felt we had to help the other fella out. That's the way it was too, time a sickness or death. One time when a paper was brought round for us to put down how much we would give to a fella that had to quit his job and go in a hospital. I knew that fella had some money and I knew he was going' to get help from somewhere else. But I put down $1 and most every one else in the shop did. Would never turn a fella down if he got sick.
adaptation c. 2005, Mike Peterson