The joys of going barefoot

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Ah, the joys of going without shoes.It used to seem as if I was the last boy in the whole wide world to be allowed to go without my shoes in the springtime and the first to have to put them on in the fall.
In those days, it was not at all unusual for boys, at least, to go to school barefooted in the warm days of spring or fall.And even if we weren’t allowed to leave home that way, it was no great problem to shed the tennis shoes and socks after we’d get to school.
I used to yearn for the magical day when Daddy would finally sayit was okay for me to leave them off, officially. That would usually be over in April sometime. My, how good the freshly plowed soil would feel between my toes as I’d trot along behind Daddy as he turned the ground with the old Chattanooga slat-wing steel-beam plow. Cool and moist and alive, the ground would be, seemingly eager to give life to the corn or cotton seed we were preparing to put in it.
The bare feet would feel good on old Dan, too, when Daddy would let me ride him. I could feel his muscles smoothly working under his sweaty skin as he’d pull the plow along through the field. I could feel his skin, too, as it twitched and twitched as he’d try to shake off the flies. I’d just ride along up there, my hands on the hames, my bare feet either hanging down or resting on the taut trace chains. I’d kill the horseflies on him whenever I’d get a chance. He seemed to appreciate that.
Later, I’d plow barefooted a lot of the time. That was pleasant most of the time, but there was always the possibility of jamming the toes into a root or rock, or, worst of all, the pointed end of a still unrotted last year’s corn stalk. Bad news. And every once in a while I’d hit the sharp end of a sweep or something with a toe and that would ruin a good part of the day right there. Later I got to where I’d wear last year’s plow shoes with holes cut in the toes to facilitate the kicking out of the accumulated dirt inside.
But back in the earlier days, it was plumb amazing what a difference the simple taking off of shoes could make. With shoes I was slow. Without shoes, my skinny legs could pick up my long, flat feet with remarkable ease. Here we have the same principle in operation as the one at the ball park; where the next batter will swing two or three bats, or a weighted one, around, so that when he actually does bat , his weapon will feel like a feather. That’s the way it was with taking off the shoes, especially for us skinny-legged people. Turner Falkner, for instance, who was rather chunkily built, could dust me pretty good when we both had on shoes; but when we both had them off, there for a few brief summers, man, I was Super Feet. Zoooooom!
` The feet would get tough, like shoe leather. Gravel and hot sand held no terrors at all. Even a briar patch was not too much cause for concern. I’d go off down in the bottom to drive the cows up in the late afternoon without a second thought about stobs and sticks and stuff. I will admit, though, that tough or not, the feet still stayed cut and banged up a lot. This tetanus must not be as powerful as it’s supposed to be, or the germs just wouldn’t accept the challenge. I daily paraded around the stuff in which it’s supposed to flourish, uninoculated, with cuts and scratches galore, unaware of the danger, blithely limping along in life.
There are those, I realize, who think that a little touch of lockjaw  now and then might be good for me. But when I’d stump a toe on a rock that was imbedded in that hard red clay, or on a nail I had driven in it— that later erosion had caused to stick up— Mamma’d just soak my toe in coal oil (wonderful medicine, good for humans and hogs and other beasts) and wrap a rag around it and I’d go on with my chores or playing.
Yep, that was a wonderful time, that time when after Ross and James and all the Reeveses and even Willadine and Wynell, for goodness sakes (it was degrading), had been going barefoot for several weeks, Daddy would finally say it’d be okay for me to leave the shoes off. I’d feel as frisky as a three-week old calf, and that’s frisky.
I still like to kick off my shoes when I get home, although it appears to me that they make rocks and streets  a lot sharper than they used to. Tommy Goff thought it was somehow amusing the other afternoon when he saw me just after I’d gotten in from work and was going out to get the paper and check the growth of the European white poplar with my shoes off— and my tie and coat still on. Doesn’t everybody do that?
Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note. He can be reached at bobbypsanders@gmail.com.

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