Come June 25th of this year, my wife and I will have been married for thirty-two years. After that length of time together, you’d not think there would be many surprises left in our relationship. We should know one another about as thoroughly as any two people might. But even so, to my surprise, we discovered that I had a secret. A dark secret that no one knew or suspected about me.
A secret named Kinney.
Every evening, before we go to bed, my wife and I take our dog for a walk around the block. We live in a quiet and peaceful neighborhood and we enjoy the time together after our children are tucked away in their beds..
I was sitting in my office putting on my shoes while my wife was chatting with me and the dog was bouncing up and down in anticipation of his nightly stroll. Suddenly my wife’s eyes went round and she asked: “do you usually use a shoehorn to put on your shoes?”
I looked at the shoehorn in my hand, looked at her, and commented, “Well, yeah.”
“I never knew you used a shoehorn.”
I let it dangle from one finger. “I keep it right there all the time.” I pointed at a shelf next to my desk.
“Yes, I’ve seen it there.”
“It’s from Kinney Shoes. I think I got it when I was a teenager. Maybe even before that. I’ve been using it every day of my life for—” I thought quickly “Well…for over forty years now.” I paused. “Longer than I’ve known you.”
My wife gaped at me, as if I’d suddenly grown an extra arm.
My shoehorn is a simple object, made of thin steel, about four inches long, and stamped with the words “Kinney Shoes The Great American Shoe Store.” It is still shiny and smooth, even though I’ve used it daily for most of my life. Kinney Shoes used to stick them in the shoebox whenever you bought shoes from them, as I recall. It was both an advertising gimmick as well as good customer service.
My wife was flabbergasted to learn that I had carefully carried the shoehorn with me when I left home at 18 to come to college, and then had moved with it after college, through apartments and two houses before we took up residence in our current home. I suppose it’s somewhat remarkable that I could keep track of such a minor and small item for so long. But then, it’s something that I use every day, sometimes more than once a day (since I take my shoes off whenever I get home and only put them on when I have to go somewhere). Apparently I’m somewhat fond of the simple little device.
My wife does not use a shoehorn and in fact never has. I pointed out that if you wear men’s dress shoes a shoehorn is nearly a necessity; otherwise the back end of the shoe will tend to get crushed down and ruined from putting it on. A shoehorn makes it much easier to get one’s heels into a tight pair of dress shoes. Of course I don’t wear dress shoes very often anymore; mostly it’s just tennis shoes or sandals. But I’d feel funny putting on shoes without using a shoehorn now. It’s become an established habit. And I’m quite the creature of habit.
My wife remains puzzled as to how she could have missed the fact that I use a shoehorn, especially since she’d seen it on the shelf. She said she’d just never put it together in her head.
The Kinney Shoe store chain no longer exists. The G.R. Kinney Company was an American manufacturer and retailer of shoes. George R. Kinney had founded the company in 1894. By 1929 there were 362 stores across the country. In 1963 the company was sold to the F.W. Woolworth chain and remained a wholly owned subsidiary of that corporation. The Foot Locker division was begun in 1974 and as the Kinney Store brand declined in popularity, eventually the remaining stores—about 400 by then—were all shuttered in 1998. Foot Locker remains in business and the Woolworth Company changed its name to the Venator Group, Inc. and has since closed all their Woolworth stores, too.
Shoehorns have probably been around nearly as long as shoes have been. They were originally made from animal hoofs; most of the ones you’ll find today will be made of plastic. The metal ones, like the one I use, are not so common anymore.
Jerry Seinfeld, the comedian, reportedly collects shoehorns. As did the author, Mark Twain: he owned more more than 3000 of them. I have no particular interest in shoehorns myself, really. I’m perfectly happy using the same one I’ve always used. It works, and that’s all I really care about.
And my wife is slowly coming to grips with my, till now, deep dark secret.