Boots carry stories in their well-worn solesI dug through the stuff under the basement stairs the other day and found a couple of really old friends. Way back under the steps, behind the ice chests and coolers, past the leaf bags, Thermos bottles and work gloves and around the corner where things get really dark, I found a pair of western boots I’ve owned since the summer after my freshman year in college.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
I dug through the stuff under the basement stairs the other day and found a couple of really old friends.
Way back under the steps, behind the ice chests and coolers, past the leaf bags, Thermos bottles and work gloves and around the corner where things get really dark, I found a pair of western boots I’ve owned since the summer after my freshman year in college.
That was 1963, which makes this pair of Justin boots 47 years old. When I was still a newspaper reporter, I sometimes joked to new members of the Capitol press corps that I had saddle shoes older than they were. If I’d been thinking of this pair of boots, I could have used that line on some pretty seasoned reporters.
These Justins aren’t anything special. They probably cost $35 or $40 dollars new. I suppose that was quite a lot back in the day, since I planned to wear them mostly to stack hay and drive tractor and work cattle. Even with a fresh coat of polish, they wouldn’t get a second look from anyone interested in fine footwear. They haven’t seen polish for most of a quarter century, maybe longer. I had them re-soled at least once and had new heels put on, too. I took them to a guy who passed for a cobbler in Chamberlain once to sew up a long tear in the instep of the right boot.
The rip occurred out in the alfalfa field while I was stacking hay. In those days, we used four steel posts to mark a loose rectangle on the ground. I was supposed to keep the hay within the general confines of that area. The posts didn’t have to be pushed far into the ground, just enough to hold while we got a stack going. I’d drive them that far by jumping on the metal anchors. I misjudged a jump, my right foot kind of missed the top of the anchor, and I ripped the right boot. I doctored the gash in my foot myself with a piece of gauze and length of medical tape, but I took the boots to an expert to have the rip sewn up.
In my college days, I wore those boots to class when snow covered the campus green, and I wore them to keg parties and other meetings with nature. I doubt if I once thought of giving them a coat of polish. I rather liked the weathered look, which is the same thing I say around the house these days when talk turns to re-sealing the deck.
My Justins acquired a great deal of character over the years, but I wasn’t aware of that until the condition of the boots nearly kept me out of a big meeting between some officials from President Nixon’s White House and a group of American Indian Movement members at Frank Fools Crow’s place on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
As I walked past a couple of AIM people who were limiting entry to the meeting, one of them asked what I was doing there. I was a news reporter. He shook his head. Pointing at my feet, he said, “Reporters wear new boots.”
I convinced him eventually, but as I thought about it, I realized he was right, in a way. A number of the big-city reporters who flocked to the reservation for the Wounded Knee story showed up with new western boots and blue jeans still creased from the package.
Our son, Andy, probably wore my boots last. His high-school pal Ryan Scarborough asked him to help work cattle on their spread west of the river. Our kid owned several pairs of Air Jordans, but he’d never had a pair of actual boots in his life. He borrowed mine for the day, and he gave them a good workout. Until Andy got home that evening, I’d forgotten how much stuff a guy can get on a pair of boots just hanging around a corral.
Just remembering, I felt like going out and branding some calves. Instead, I slipped the boots back under the steps.
Terry Woster's columns are published on Saturdays and Wednesdays in The Daily Republic.