In Presho the other evening for a Lyman County event, I got to talking about the past winter with a rancher who took me back to my childhood when, in the conversation, he measured the snow and rain in terms of five-buckle overshoes.
Say that to some people today and I suppose they'd give you a funny look. I knew immediately what he meant, because there was a time in this part of the country when everyone measured things that way - snow, rain, mud, barnyard muck, didn't matter. We all knew about how deep it was by how tall our overshoes had to be to wade through the stuff.
And, especially as a youngster, everyone I knew had a pair of overshoes like that. Well, not quite like that. Most of the kids going to school with me had three-buckle overshoes. The name tells you exactly what I'm talking about. The rubber boots reached far enough up a person's lower leg to accommodate three buckles. Four buckles was a taller overshoe. Five buckles, well, I didn't know any kids who owned those, although it seems to me my dad had a pair of those babies for wading through the feedlot during the spring melt and the summer downpours.
I felt indescribably cool the time my folks let me buy a pair of four-buckle overshoes one year. I felt so good about myself that I immediately set out with those four-buckle overshoes and found the biggest puddle of five-buckle water I could. "How in the world did you manage to get your socks and feet so completely soaked?'' my mother exclaimed when I unbuckled my overshoes and slipped them off at the back door.
She was just saying that for show, of course, mildly exasperated that her middle son didn't know any better than to venture into water so deep it ran over the tops of his boots and soaked his jeans almost to the knees. She knew exactly what I'd done. The only mystery about it was whether I had found a deep pool of rushing water somewhere near the grade school or foolishly made a short-cut across the water-filled gulch east of the house instead of following the city streets the long way around.
I loved that old gulch. It wasn't much to look at, but the steep sides were ideal for sledding in the winter, the creek that ran through the small cottonwood and willow trees in the bottom was the perfect place for splashing games of tag in the spring and the leaves that covered the valley floor made the most outrageous racket when a kid stomped through them in the fall. (I didn't know it in the summer. We were always out at the farm then.)
My dad had both four-buckle and five-buckle overshoes, if I recall. He also had a pair of what you might call "dress'' overshoes. Those were about the height of three-buckle overshoes, but instead of buckles, they had zippers. That way he could wear them over his good shoes and zip the bottoms of his suit pants into the overshoes when he went to church or some other dress-up meeting in rainy or snowy weather. Somehow the zippered overshoes looked more formal. He could have worn them with a tuxedo if he'd ever had occasion to wear a tux, which to my knowledge he never did.
Here's an odd thing. About the time I was 15 or 16, I quit wearing overshoes. I'd slip and slide my way to school in penny loafers and let the shoe leather and my socks dry out as I sat in classes. On the farm, I'd slog my way through the barnyard in my work boots, usually an inexpensive pair of cowboy boots. I'd kick the mud and muck off at the back step and leave the boots on the mat next to the door in the mud porch.
It's been awhile since I've owned buckled overshoes, but driving home from Lyman County and looking at the many lakebeds brimming with snowmelt and spring rain, I got the urge to buy a pair and go splashing through the land where I grew up.