I may have grown up with Canadian winters, but I’m not going to gush about sloshy, splashy mess that is Toronto sidewalks in the sloppy season. All that water that in summer makes the region so lush, in winter turns to slush. If it happens to freeze, it is assaulted with salt and turns into a shoe-staining muck, and the gutters are galling gulches of sole destruction.
What to do, though? Either trudge in heavy boots – which you may have to keep on inside too unless you carry a spare pair of lighter shoes – or wear comfortable shoes that will soon be soaked through and thereafter caked with baleful salt stains. You’re stuck between a marsh and a wet place. With every step you push through the slush and ask if there is a better way.
And as you swish through it it answers, “Galosh. Galosh. Galosh. Galosh.”
But are you listening? Do you have galoshes? Have you ever had galoshes? Do you know where to get galoshes? Or are you at a losh? I mean a loss?
Surely you’ve heard of them. The word galosh is, granted, also used at times as a simple synonym for a rubber boot. But really galoshes are boots made to go over shoes. They were originally strap-on clogs that could elevate the feet above the muck. The word may come ultimately via Latin from Greek κᾱλόπους kalopous ‘wooden foot’, or perhaps from Latin gallicae ‘Gaulish shoes’, shoes with wooden soles and leather uppers. We’re not sure; we only know we got it from French galoche. But we do know that the wood was put aside once vulcanized rubber was available and Goodyear made the wet season a betterseason.
What we don’t know now – I don’t, anyway – is where we can get galoshes now. You can’t get them at Canadian Tire. You can’t get them at the Hudson’s Bay Company. You can’t get them at Mark’s Work Wearhouse. You can’t get them at Sears. You can’t get them at Holt Renfrew. I’m at a bit of a loss. My mother, who suggested this word (no doubt in hopes that I am keeping my feet warm and dry), says she’s heard you can get them somewhere. But they’re no longer a common item.
Maybe this is because leather shoes are not such a universal thing anymore. Those who do wear them generally have the means to keep their shoes dry: along with better sidewalk drainage and paved streets, we have built a society where it can be possible to spend nearly all your time inside if you want – inside buildings, inside parking garages, inside your car. Canadians, who like to make much of their hardiness, are really mostly urban cave dwellers. You can get across downtown Toronto – or downtown Calgary or Edmonton or Montreal – without stepping outside.
But of course many of us still do step outside. I walk four blocks to catch the streetcar every morning, and cross badly drained corners on my way in to work, and I walk around the city on weekends too, trudging through the salty sludge and gutter pools of slush. My lack of galoshes is my loss.