Over the weekend I did something that I have not done in a few years. Actually, it has been almost five years. I went out and bought a new pair of boots. When I say boots, I mean cowboy boots, or western boots if you prefer. No, I do not raise cattle and I do not ride a horse, but cowboy boots were the workwear of choice for my dad when I was on the farm. Eventually, I just followed suit. As I sat in my living room enjoying that new leather smell, a lot of thoughts started crossing my mind.
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I think that you can tell a lot about a person from their boots. Whether they are work boots or cowboy boots, they still do the same job. They are almost mirrors or our lives but on an accelerated timetable. They bear the scars of hard work, challenges, and even triumphs.
My dad’s boots bore witness to just about everything he did on that farm, that was not done in the winter. They had scuffs from kicking mud off the tillage equipment. They bore the oil stains of working on the tractor or the family vehicles. They were scratched from clearing the grove for fuel for his woodshop in the winter. Yes, I am sure there were even discolorations from the hot August days when we butchered chickens. I also know for a fact that there many types of manure that caked into the treads.
Dad wore his boots no matter how hot, cold, dry, or rainy it was. I don’t think I saw him in sneakers very often. Except for maybe when he would wash the cars every Sunday afternoon while listening to a Twins or Vikings game. He even had boots just for wearing to town. Dad loved a good pair of boots. I think he was most proud of a pair of caiman alligator boots that he put a little money aside for from each load of hogs sold over the course of a year. He said the color was “butternut.” Mom said they looked more like calf scours. Dad wasn’t your typical farmer either. That man loved to be impeccably dressed when he went out. Yes, my father built a whole wardrobe around his alligator boots. He had the dark blue wranglers, a belt that matched the boots, and a matching leather sport coat that he would wear over his sleeveless black tee-shirt. The first time he wore that outfit to a function, a friend nicknamed him “Ron Johnson.”
It wasn’t just the alligator boots that dad loved. He had rattlesnake, ostrich, and another pair of lizard boots that he bought only a month or two before he died. He bought them with the inheritance he got after his dad passed away six months before him, and he wanted something he could keep forever. I can guarantee he is keeping them forever because those are the boots we buried him in. Mom felt that he should take those with him, for the same reason he bought them. Something he could have to remember his dad by. That and they had to be the ugliest of all his boots.
But dad also took care of his boots. Even the ones he used for working on the farm. It may have been his time in the guards that taught him how to take care of his boots, but he always cleaned them, shined them, and conditioned the leather. The boots I remember most of all were his brown Red Wing cowboy boots that he got before I was even born. I think he still was rotating them before he died. He was meticulous with them and they lasted forever. That care you give your boots is just as important at giving someone a glimpse into the kind of person you are.
I have had boots come and go in my lifetime. I only have 5 pairs that I wear with my new additions. I have my exotics too. I have a pair of black shark boots that I love more than the rest, and the stingray boots I had custom made for my wedding. These boots are telling my story. From chopping ice off the deck to walking in the fields of Minnesota and Iowa, my boots show the details of my life.
It makes me a little proud to know that my son wants his own pair of boots as well. Because dad’s shoe size was significantly smaller than mine, there will be a time when his grandson will be able to pull on those calf scour colored alligator boots.
Yesterday, I had to do that time-honored task of taking my shark boots in to get new soles put on. That is the only difference between a well-worn, well-loved pair of boots and their owner. The boots can get a new sole. However, I find it odd that they refer to the bottom of the boot as the sole, because all of its stories, life, and character is on the top side.