The Dilemma of Bare Toes
I’m sitting here now looking at a sixty-seven year-old portrait of Dad, Mom, my brother, Sam, and me that was made in Shamrock, Texas only a hour or so before Dad left to go overseas in World War II. The year was 1943.
In the portrait, Dad wore his Navy blues, his three stripes showing proudly on his sleeve. Mom, wearing a black coat with a white blouse, sat next to him, and I stood next to her. Dad held Sam, who was about one at the time. With the exception of Sam, we all wore sailor hats.
For the next two years, like hundreds of thousands of families with no husbands or fathers, we went about the job in our small town of keeping the country running until the men came home.
Those years when I was seven through twelve stand out as the carefree days of summer should, idyllic and filled with adventure.
Our spring and autumns were a mixture of chores and school. The summers brought more chores, but also allowed us the freedom to roam the small town.
With the ending of school came the annual shedding of footwear and a summer of unrequited freedom. Of course, we suffered stubbed toes and bloody cuts until our bare feet had toughened to the hardpan roads and simmering hot asphalt streets.
Who can forget the agony of stepping in a glob of hot tar and bouncing around on one foot while trying to scrape it off the other?
There were numerous advantages to going barefoot. First, no shoes or socks. Hop up and out bed, into your pants and shirt, gobble breakfast, and head out for another day of play.
It’s hard to forget the delicious feel of running your toes through cool sand or grass. The only feeling better was sitting in the shade of a giant cottonwood dangling your sizzling feet in the icy water of a bubbling creek.
And among us boys, it was a given fact you could run almost as fast as Superman in your bare feet. Bare feet gave better purchase when balancing on a log over a creek.
Of course there were disadvantages.
Tree roots, rocks, and any other a number of unmovable objects played havoc with our bare toes. As soon as the skin healed back over the bloody toe, you’d invariably smash it again.
While the picture show would let you in barefoot Saturday afternoon, you had to wear shoes at night. Another disadvantage was riding bicycles, for back then the pedals came apart at the slightest bump, and instead of a flat pedal to propel yourself, you were forced to clamp your arch around a six-inch long cylinder.
And you never got used to that.
Another disadvantage were the grass burrs and goatheads. Grass burrs have heads with hundreds of tiny stickers, which, while they will stick, are fairly soft. Goatheads are about the size of a pea with one point projecting from each side-and that point won’t break. Our summer toughened feet could handle grass burrs without too much pain, but goatheads were the dickens itself to a boy’s foot.
Back then, you just couldn’t avoid grass burrs and goatheads. They were everywhere. When we came to a patch we had to cross we’d screw up our courage and on the count of three, take off. Once running, you didn’t dare stop. I don’t know why, but racing across a patch, we picked up only a few stickers, nowhere near as many as if we tried picking our way across step-by-step.
When we went out to milk the cows or slop the hogs, we always slipped into rubber boots. Not even our leathery feet could tolerate what the cow lots had to offer.
Yeah, looking at this old color picture in the original plastic Deco Art frame, brings back wonderful memories.
I just hope my children can look back over sixty-odd years of their life with their own wonderful memories.