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Bare Feet


Sun, Jul 16th, 2000
Posted in

I did something very daring last night. I walked outside in my bare feet to put a bag of trash in the dumpster. The dew-covered grass felt cool to my hot feet. The sidewalk was smooth and warm in contrast. The different temperatures and textures complimented each other like a hot cup of coffee with pie and ice cream. Then I came to our gravel driveway and started across.

"This is stimulating!" I said out loud to no one in particular. I debated turning around to get some shoes before finishing my chore. Looking ahead on the driveway, I tried to spot a few areas within stepping distance that were less covered with crushed rock than others. In stepping-stone fashion, I managed to reach the dumpster without drawing blood or screaming out loud. The trip back across the sharpened rocks caused no permanent damage. I marveled at how my kids make it look easy. But then, they dont have to deal with as many pounds per square foot, so to speak, as I have.

My feet never got accustomed to barefootedness. My parents were adamant that we wore shoes whenever we left the house. Im sure that I never saw my father outside without shoes or boots. For that matter, he rarely appeared without shoes indoors either.

I never got the impression that this was some "anti-Depression era" backlash on my parents behalf. They never said, to quote Scarlett OHara, "As God is my witness, Ill never go barefoot again". Not to my knowledge, anyway. I think they just thought it was a good idea to keep your feet covered.

That makes a good deal of sense when you live on a farm. You never know what lurks in the grass. Even though we had a large lawn, the machinery often came within twenty yards of the house, and if we were out in bare feet, then there would be no reason to stop at the lawns edge. There may have been nails or broken glass or any number of hazards awaiting us.

We also shared the lawn with a dog, squirrels, and cats too numerous to count. Their presence certainly carried with it the opportunity to step barefooted into something you would rather avoid. In my earliest recollections, chickens also had free range around our house. They seemed to make it a point to pollute well beyond what one would consider a rational amount for an animal that small. I should not forget to mention the occasional cow that would make its way onto the lawn as it traveled to what it considered even greener pastures.

Having four boys in shoes all summer probably seemed like a waste of leather to some people in those days, but we were all shod in high-top leather boots as soon as our feet were big enough to find a pair that fit. They did not make little kids farm boots at that time, but I was big for my age. I cant remember wearing anything but high-top leather work shoes. These were our work shoes and our school shoes. We were careful to wear overshoes in the barn, but I can recall a few times during school when a solid lump of something kind of green would be found on the floor under my desk. That was not particularly embarrassing because the trick was to just kick the clod under the next kids desk and blame him for it. Nobody seemed to care or even notice.

As my brothers and I got older, we occasionally saw the need for steel-toed boots. My older brother, David, saw his whole life flash before his eyes one morning as he and I cleaned out a hog pen. We had just moved a feeder when a large rat jumped out and scurried around our feet. We jabbed at it with our pitchforks until finally I stabbed Davids left foot with my fork. Luckily, the tine bounced off the nail of his big toe and slid between his first and second toes causing no damage to him, but putting me in some danger of losing my life when he got over the shock. He could still run fast enough to catch me.

I dont know what the life span of a pair of boots was in that era. We wore them until they pretty much rotted off our feet. We put on a lot of miles in the summertime, rode those boots hard, and put them up wet. It was time for a new pair only when the soles flapped around looking like a ducks bill. I think my dad tried to ignore the racket and the sight of our exhausted footwear. To get his attention, we tied the sole together with electric fence wire or twine strings so we looked extra pathetic. Worn out boots never meant an extra trip to town. We just wore them that way until the next scheduled trip to the feed store, the implement dealer, or the barber.

My feet have had plenty of blisters and calluses, but never a sunburn. White as the driven snow, soft as a babys behind, covered with leather. As far as I know, thats the way they came and thats the way I prefer to keep them.

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