when I was a youngster in elementary school, there was one thing
we used to look forward to in the spring with almost as much anticipation
as Christmas. That big event usually occurred around mid to late
March when wed start shedding our shoes and socks. This
condition of foot freedom was known as going barefooted.
Youll notice that I said barefooted and not barefoot. Going
barefoot is what you do when you go without shoes for a brief
period, such as, walking barefoot through the dew covered
grass to get the morning paper.
barefooted is an entirely different thing. Going barefooted involves
making a commitment. It means that you aint gonna wear no
dang shoes or socks unless you just have to, or somebody makes
early spring transition period was the hardest part of the barefooted
commitment. The first thing you had to do was convince Mama.
think Ill go to school without shoes and socks today.
you out of your mind? It cant be over forty degrees out
there and Im not about to let you go without shoes and catch
your death of a cold. Besides, Im not going to have the
whole town thinking that were raising a bunch of heathens
out here, even if we are.
Mama, it aint that cold out there and besides everybody
else is going barefooted already.
not everybody else and quit saying aint and get those shoes
and socks on right now before I have to put a belt on your butt
and you miss the school bus.
one usually went to Mama.
this wasnt a bad thing. You really didnt want to be
completely shoeless in early spring. All those months of running
around in shoes let your feet get all tendered up. Why, when you
first started out after winter, those little pebbles and clods
of dirt on the parking lot and playground that you didnt
notice at all last fall, hurt like the dickens when you walked
across them, and you sure as hell didnt want to step on
a grass burr or sticker bush left over from last summers
for two or three weeks you were content with just taking off your
shoes at recess and during the play period after lunch. Before
long your feet would toughen up and youd find yourself forgetting
to put your shoes back on before going into class after play.
If you were lucky, a friend would bring them to you, but if not,
youd have to risk making the teacher mad by having to go
back out and retrieve them.
this point you were right on the verge of going barefooted. Before
too long that fateful afternoon would come. Youd hop off
the school bus and wave to all your friends and walk down the
driveway toward the house, all full of plans for the rest of the
day, just enjoying the beautiful spring afternoon and waiting
for school to be out for the summer. You dont even notice
the rough shell of the driveway on your bare feet . . . Omigosh!
Im barefooted, wheres my dang shoes?
that time, Mama, whos waiting for you in her accustomed
spot at the picnic table under the trees beside the driveway notices,
man, where are your shoes?
do you mean, you dont know, those damned shoes cost almost
half of your daddys check, and youre telling me that
you dont know. Get over here!
you walk toward the table, your mind is racing, trying to remember
just exactly where you did leave those dang shoes and trying to
think up a good excuse for not having them on, or at least having
them with you.
where are your shoes?
ont know, I guess theyre at the schoolhouse.
guess? Well, theyd better damned well be at the schoolhouse
and if you think Im hauling your butt up there to look for
them, youve got another think coming. Youll just have
to go to school in the morning without shoes, just like the rest
of those urchins around this town do. Youre sure as hell
not wearing your good leather shoes to mess up and lose. Ill
tell you one thing, young man, if you come wagging your happy
ass in here tomorrow afternoon without those shoes, your daddys
going to whip your butt with his belt.
mam, Im sure theyre at school, and Ill
be sure to remember to bring them home tomorrow.
youre lucky, your shoes will still be at the schoolhouse
and youll remember to bring them home with you tomorrow.
If not, the old man will maybe take pity. After all, the old tennis
shoes were $2.99 specials in Weiners Bargain Bin back in
September and are about worn out anyway.
Besides its going barefooted time! Except for
Sunday school and church and other special occasions, your feet
wont have to see another pair of shoes until at least the
start of school in September. Before long, the bottoms of your
feet will be tougher than shoe soles and the only things you have
to fear stepping on are broken glass and boards with nails in
them. Concrete sidewalks that have been baking all day under the
sun and hot enough to fry the proverbial egg are a little uncomfortable,
but if you go real fast or walk on your heels, you can do okay
for a block or two without burning . . . and thats what
going barefooted was all about!
dont think kids go barefooted anymore. At least the ones
I see around town dont. Theyre all wearing Nikes or
Adidas or some other of those tennis shoes that make you run faster
and jump higher. Bless their hearts, the poor little things sure
dont know what theyre missing.
Harlan has a B.S. from Sam Houston University in Huntsville,
Texas. After spending 4 years in the USAF during the Vietnam era
and 35 years as an itinerant steel salesman, he is now semi-retired,
dabbling in steel sales, and writing. His fiction has appeared
in USA Deep South and DeadMule.com.