Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Barefooted

Newt Harlan


Back 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 we’d start shedding our shoes and socks. This condition of foot freedom was known as going “barefooted”. You’ll 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.”

Going barefooted is an entirely different thing. Going barefooted involves making a commitment. It means that you ain’t gonna wear no dang shoes or socks unless you just have to, or somebody makes you.

The early spring transition period was the hardest part of the barefooted commitment. The first thing you had to do was convince Mama.

“I think I’ll go to school without shoes and socks today.”

“Are you out of your mind? It can’t be over forty degrees out there and I’m not about to let you go without shoes and catch your death of a cold. Besides, I’m not going to have the whole town thinking that we’re raising a bunch of heathens out here, even if we are.”

“Aw Mama, it ain’t that cold out there and besides everybody else is going barefooted already.”

“You’re not everybody else and quit saying ain’t 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.”

Round one usually went to Mama.

Actually, this wasn’t a bad thing. You really didn’t 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 didn’t notice at all last fall, hurt like the dickens when you walked across them, and you sure as hell didn’t want to step on a grass burr or sticker bush left over from last summer’s crop.

So 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 you’d 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, you’d have to risk making the teacher mad by having to go back out and retrieve them.

At this point you were right on the verge of going barefooted. Before too long that fateful afternoon would come. You’d 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 don’t even notice the rough shell of the driveway on your bare feet . . . Omigosh! I’m barefooted, where’s my dang shoes?

About that time, Mama, who’s waiting for you in her accustomed spot at the picnic table under the trees beside the driveway notices, too.

“Young man, where are your shoes?”

“I ont know.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know, those damned shoes cost almost half of your daddy’s check, and you’re telling me that you don’t know. Get over here!”

As 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.

“Now, where are your shoes?”

“I ont know, I guess they’re at the schoolhouse.”

“You guess? Well, they’d better damned well be at the schoolhouse and if you think I’m hauling your butt up there to look for them, you’ve got another think coming. You’ll just have to go to school in the morning without shoes, just like the rest of those urchins around this town do. You’re sure as hell not wearing your good leather shoes to mess up and lose. I’ll tell you one thing, young man, if you come wagging your happy ass in here tomorrow afternoon without those shoes, your daddy’s going to whip your butt with his belt.”

“Yes ma’m, I’m sure they’re at school, and I’ll be sure to remember to bring them home tomorrow.”

If you’re lucky, your shoes will still be at the schoolhouse and you’ll 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 Weiner’s Bargain Bin back in September and are about worn out anyway.

Besides it’s going “barefooted” time! Except for Sunday school and church and other special occasions, your feet won’t 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 that’s what going barefooted was all about!

I don’t think kids go barefooted anymore. At least the ones I see around town don’t. They’re 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 don’t know what they’re missing.

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Newt 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.

© Newt Harlan

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012