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April 28. 2012 7:22PM

John Harrigan: No mean feat for these feet in L.L. Beans


 

MY BEAN BOOTS hang on a peg at the farmhouse in what's always been called the Fish and Game Room, because that's the repository for most of the hunting, fishing, hiking, canoeing and camping gear, and when I see them, which is every day, I think about pack baskets, cast-iron skillets and camp.

A lot of things in my life, including me of course, began with my mother, as did my lifelong relationship with Bean boots. She got me my first pair, a pair with 10-inch uppers, when I was 16 or so. They were waterproof, comfortable and light and replaced the cumbersome, cloggy old Red Ball boots I'd long been accustomed to around camps at Clarksville Pond. They smelled great and felt great and became like a second skin on my feet.

I cleaned them and oiled them and took the best care possible, but along in my early 20s the instep ridges on the rubber bottoms began to crack, and I remembered what the little packet had instructed when they'd arrived new, which was to send them in.

I did so, with a little note that said something like “Dear neighbors way down there at L.L. Bean: My boots are leaking and I can't be without them, so please fix them up and send them back pronto.”

In three or four weeks, an eternity, my boots came back with the original leather uppers all cleaned and greased and sporting new oiled lacings and neatly stitched onto a brand-new brace of rubber bottoms. I pulled them on and immediately went fishing, carrying with me a mental reminder that the company had neglected to enclose a bill.

I dropped a note to report this omission, and then another, and finally called and asked for the boot repair department.

“How come no bill?” I inquired. I was politely informed that L.L. Bean had received a batch of less-than-up-to-snuff rubber during one generation of boot-making and thus was replacing cracked bottoms gratis. “I'm supposed to say something like Bean boots don't have cracked bottoms,” the man on the other end of the line said, echoing the famous line about Rolls Royces never having defective transmissions, “but the bad batch of rubber bit is the straight skivvy.”

Funny thing, the next time I sent the boots in, having worn the soles to faint nubs of their former selves by clambering over ridges and slogging through swamps all over creation, they arrived back with a note explaining that there was no bill “on account of these here soles wore out before they should have,” or something like that.

Thus, L.L. Bean and I like to think old company founder L. L. himself, have been friends of mine ever since. I've done my share of business with them and will as long as there's a breath to draw.

A spinoff benefit of this is that I can sometimes use it for leverage. Once, as I was preparing for a trip to Labrador that required extra care in protecting the epidermis from extreme elements there that are always trying to kill you, a special light-weight rain suit was late in arriving. When it did, it was missing its bottom half. “We're leaving for the Far North three days from now,” I said sort of jokingly (but really not) over the phone, “and my old friend Leon L. isn't going to be too pleased when I tell him I had to go up to such a God-forsaken place with half my carcass exposed to the elements,” and the missing piece arrived the next day, special delivery.

Your feet are the foundation that supports the magnificent structure that is you — and are among the first things to go — or threaten to go, after 65 years of pounding yourself around the planet. Thus I found myself under the care of a foot doctor who was showing and telling all about the latest whiz-bang, heated up and jellified, formed-to-the-foot in-soles.

“How are those things going to work in my Bean boots?” I cried, mortified that I might never again be able to feel a dry stick under my foot and back off before it snapped and sent whatever I was trying to sneak up on fleeing into oblivion.

He gave me an extremely direct and knowing look that asked, “Like when you're hunting?” and we immediately got to working on a solution, which I will try out in a sneaking, stick-snapping experiment this fall.

L.L. Bean is celebrating its 100th birthday and there is not enough room here to say much more than a whit of what I think about this fine old company and the great traditions it carries on in Maine and beyond except, from this perch far up in the high country where northern New England smacks into Lower Canada, “Happy Birthday, way down there in Freeport, down by the sea in Maine,” and by the way, “great boots.”

John Harrigan's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. His address is Box 39, Colebrook 03576. Email him at hooligan@cia.net.


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