Moving the boots

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When I was a very young child, one of the first chores I remember being assigned was moving the boots.

Even though our house was a far cry from a mansion, my mother always wanted us to remove our shoes at the door. Living on a dairy farm, there were all types of debris to drag in . . . she thought a line of boots on the little patch of green and yellow linoleum would keep it quarantined to one area. And in turn extend the life of the shag carpet.

I was taught that every night before bed, I had to move the boots . . . which meant putting them in a tidy row. I think this was the only meticulous thing to happen in that home.

There were always two pairs of boots that stood out . . . because they were gigantic. There was the massive set of dirty, hard-toed work boots my father thoroughly scuffed each and every day. There were also the well-polished cowboy boots, equally large, which were his only “good shoes.” They waited for when it was time to go to town or church.

Dad’s boots were always to be on the outside edge of the line so he could quickly grab them when needed. The rest were arranged from biggest down to the smallest.

When I started this chore, there weren’t that many boots . . . just Dad’s, Mom’s, mine and those of the two little brothers. Over time, more and more boots were added to the arrangement as four sisters arrived. As time went on, Dad’s boots inched further and further from the door . . . eventually earning their own piece of cardboard on which to sit.

I remember thinking that if they had any more kids, there’d never be enough room for all the boots . . . but somehow, there always was.

There were times when I was told to move the boots away from the door completely, glorious times in which they’d temporarily be placed elsewhere. Occasions like Christmas Eve, so Santa wouldn’t trip while bringing in our gifts. And the first day of the county fair, because they needed to be transferred to the show box. Or the day before the folks left for their annual hunting trip in Wyoming, the one day I saw true excitement on my father’s face as he packed for his only days off.

It was a hot fall day in October when my mother told me on the phone she’d be home in a few hours. The 10-day nightmare of my dad’s coma was over . . . and a new nightmare was about to begin.

I remember my aunts sitting on the couch with my siblings. The little ones were crying and my brothers bravely said they were leaving to do chores . . . probably because that was the only thing they could do for our father.

As my teenage mind tried to grasp our reality, I knew I needed to do something too. Instinctively, I went into my usual mode of tasks . . . and started with moving the boots. As I arranged them smallest to largest, I realized my dad’s work boots weren’t there. Tears ran down my face, knowing they were gone forever. He was wearing them when he had his accident and they probably were in the bottom of a dumpster outside the hospital.

But his cowboy boots . . . all polished and ready to go . . . were still there. I stared at them. I couldn’t let my mother see them when she arrived . . . it would be too excruciating, I decided.

So I removed them from the line and buried them deep in the back of their bedroom closet. I suppose it was like burying the pain . . . if you didn’t see it, you wouldn’t feel it.

The row of boots was never the same. It changed over years . . . the sizes of the kids’ boots grew bigger and my mom’s grew dirtier as she took on my dad’s role.

Day after day, we kept moving the boots.

It was a few years later, after my mother passed away, when I started to sort through their things. My dad’s belongings had been enshrined in a corner of a storage room because Mom never had the heart to completely part with them. I found his cowboy boots, still perfectly polished yet covered with dust. I took a deep breath and put them in a box . . . it was time to move the boots and get on with our lives.

Today, that October day again arrived as I remember my father’s life because it is the anniversary of his death. This morning, I had on a pair of old shoes I just threw on to walk the dog. Then I entered the house and took them off because they were wet with dew. As I did so, my memories flashed back to the old line of footwear and I smiled.

I thought about the evolution of the family boot collection, how pairs went away and more arrived.

I also pictured my siblings in their own homes, moving the boots in their own mud rooms and entryways . . . or at least teaching their kids to do the same.

I’m honored I had the task of moving the boots as a kid.

I’m still just a little emotional about how the process eventually changed.

And I’m proud that even though my dad’s boots had to be moved forever, we kept going and growing.

I guess in life we have no choice but to keep moving the boots.

Move the boots we did . . . and still do.

 

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