Why I woke up thinking of Popham’s Shoe Store this morning remains a mystery. I haven’t bought shoes there since I left my hometown forty years ago. Theirs was the only shoe store in town. During my public-school days in the early seventies, their shoe selection for children seldom changed. I learned to tie laces in a bow by practicing on black velvet saddle shoes with leather detailing around the eyelets. From kindergarten to second grade, I wore the exact same shoe in incremental sizes. In third grade I chose big girl shoes and repurchased that style until fifth grade. The pattern continued until I graduated to adult sizes.

The arrangement satisfied me. I was content. No one at school teased me because, with the exception of a few well-off town kids, we were all in the same boat. I usually had three or four school outfits, and play clothes for at home. Hand-me-downs, let out waistbands (and shirt buttons removed then sewn on further to the right) were the norm not the exception.

People of a certain age know of what I speak. We grew up eating cornflakes for breakfast every day or maybe puffed-rice our mothers bought in huge plastic sacks. Our television sets, even with an antenna, could tune into a few clear channels. In ideal weather, we might get a fuzzy but watchable signal from a distant city.  

Our comfort with delayed gratification and doing without tempered our expectations. Uber consumerism hadn’t infiltrated the culture yet and the world wide web, which came into common use twenty some years later, hadn’t yet stoked #FOMO (fear of missing out). Philosopher and social theorist, John Stuart Mill once wrote, “I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them.” He purposefully chose contentment over acquisition.

I grew up in a rural area, isolated from other kids my own age. Plenty of us did. We learned to keep ourselves busy with made up games, reading stories, building models, doing puzzles, drawing pictures, telephoning friends. We’d lapse into boredom, then launch ourselves into a new distraction.

During the pandemic lockdown, our attention is shifting from the pursuit of things to creating moments of satisfaction. The ways in which we can spend our money and time are limited for now. We’re rediscovering old pleasures. I see friends posting how they occupy themselves. So many of the activities resemble—albeit more modern versions in some instances—what folks pursued in their youth: building miniatures, assembling large scale puzzles, sharing book picks, talking with friends by phone, Zoom or Messenger. We’re making do, each in our own way, as best we can.

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A widower and young mother struggle to overcome their tragic pasts in a dying mill town. The Last Hoffman is the story of a quiet man who is tested and discovers his courage. It will restore your belief in second chances.

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“For all the novel features characters that are alone, it is a story driven by human connections (…) With vivid descriptions, natural dialogue and in-depth characterization, Tuinman compels us to look beyond the surface. The ending is triumphant.” –Gail Murray, Historical Novel Society