Monday, August 23, 2010

Bare Feet - My column from yesterday's paper

When I was a kid growing up in Sloss Hollow, the bottoms of my feet were tougher than the soles of most store-bought shoes. 

That’s because from the middle of May to Labor Day, I never wore shoes unless I went to church or somewhere else where shoes were required, which was rare.

Even when the days got hotter than the devil’s welding torch, and the August sun baked tar bubbles from between the gravel on the paved road, I didn’t wear shoes.

There were times I had to scrape tar off the bottoms of my feet with kerosene and a stick. 

My feet could get really dirty during the day, but they had to be fairly clean before going to bed at night. 

Trying to slip into the sack with dirty feet was useless because my mama had laser scanning capabilities back then. She could be ironing a pair of dungarees in the kitchen and spot a dirty foot headed toward the bedroom, using only the dim light from our old Philco black and white TV set. 

Mama had an old photograph in her picture box that was taken with her trusty Kodak camera. It was a picture of a bunch of kids in front of the house. 

When you looked closely at the picture, you could tell which kids were from up north visiting Alabama for the summer, because they all had on shoes.

The hillbilly kids would poke fun at their Yankee cousins until they shed their shoes and toughened up their feet.

By the time they went home at the end of summer, they had to be reminded to take their shoes with them.

The only tennis shoes I’d ever heard of were Keds, and Converse All Stars, but I didn’t own a pair until I went to high school and needed them for gym class.

A lot of folks said you can run faster and jump higher in tennis shoes, but I never bought into that malarkey. I felt like I could outrun the wind in my bare feet.

The beauty of being barefoot was that you didn’t have to waste time sitting down, untying shoes when you came to a creek. If you were barefoot, you could walk right into the water without breaking stride. Bare feet felt like freedom to me. 

Fast forward to now — since I’ve been without employment, I’ve spent a lot more time barefooted. It still feels great most of the time, but when I walk on anything other than grass, I do this little dance step that looks like a cross between a Native American rain dance and a drunk, doing the Monster Mash dance that was so popular back in the day.

It seems like I’m more connected to the earth when I don’t wear shoes.

Walking in a freshly plowed garden feels especially good to me. You can tell a great deal about the soil when you’re bare footed. You can tell if the moisture content is right, you can tell if the soil has too much or too little clay, or if you need to run over the plot one more time with the tiller.

Of course, you can buy soil test kits that would probably be more accurate, but you’d lose that connection to the earth. 

Some might say I’m a little too old to go shoeless and that I might look a little goofy when I walk on rough surfaces, but this is a small price to pay for that feeling of freedom.


  1. I grew up in California and went barefoot except when I was in school. My mother used to get mad at me because we'd get to the grocery store and there I was with no shoes one.

  2. I grew up in S Indiana and in the summer did not wear shoes except to church and town. I could walk on gravel without a problem. Now, I can't walk on a cement walk without it hurting, though indoors at home or work I am shoeless. In the winter I wear socks.

    I don't think there is anything wrong with going barefoot until we die. Heck, you think God has a dress code?

  3. I guess I thought going barefoot was a southern thang.

    Hey Charlene, I feel quite sure She won't have a dress code :)

  4. Barefooting isn't just a Southern thing, I promise, although it's more common in the South. I remember not wearing shoes playing outside in the summer but once school started, we wore shoes because it was too cold otherwise!


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