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Jack’s Mid-Missouri Memories: Barefoot Days

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Summer days are not far away, and if you are like me, they will bring you some memories of when you were young and carefree. No memory I have says that better than when I think about shedding my shoes as a boy for summer vacation. I hope this memory will help you revive those memories of your own barefoot days.

Barefoot Days

In the heat of a summer day when it is so hot you can almost see flames rise off an asphalt road, I think back to the tar streets of my youth. I wonder how it was that as a bare foot boy, I could run across those hot streets and never get a blister.  I suppose it could have been all those calluses I built up during the summer months.  The tar on the streets, like the one that ran by my house on Fifth Street and Emmit Avenue, changed consistency depending on the temperature, from a hard brittle in cold weather to a tacky rug-ruining substance that coated bare feet an inch thick on hot summer days.  Today’s improved asphalt is not supposed to do that, they say.

Running barefoot in those carefree days was not only desirable but economically necessary for most kids in my neighborhood.  Shoes were for school, church or company, but during the summer, everyday shoes were a luxury many families couldn’t afford.  That may seem funny today with secondhand stores and garage sales everywhere, but people usually wore out their own clothes before the 1960s.  I always got a stiff new pair of Spalding Black Dot Tennis Shoes at the start of each school year, but by the final bell of that year, I had put so many rough miles on them that they could hardly be classified as footwear anymore. The tops and soles would have lost most of the stitching that held them together by then, and they only looked like whole shoes when I stood still allowing the two halves to settle back together.  I always discarded those sad looking husks, along with any papers the teachers might have sent home with me, as soon as I cleared school property.

There was a feeling of complete freedom in that simple act, and I could tell my feet appreciated it, too. I could feel them spread out like lazy dogs on a hot afternoon, when I freed them for another summer. My feet would become rock hard during summer vacation, allowing me to run over any surface that happened along my path.  Although I would pick up a nail now and then, as well as bee stings and stone bruises, they could only slow me down for a minute before I was off again to run over rocks, cinders and those tacky tar roads. I remember getting in a lot of trouble when I stuck to one of Mom’s clean rugs or fresh waxed linoleum floors whenever I forgot to scrape it off before entering the house.

The only things that would interrupt my freedom from footwear were Sunday school or company.  Mom kept a pair of leather prisons in the closet for those occasions and would force them onto my poor spread out feet like cruel torture chambers. I was forced to endure their torture until church was over or the relatives finally went home.  The phrase I dreaded the most back then was, “It’s time to shop for school shoes!”  It was like hearing I was being sentenced to nine months at hard labor, because those words meant school days were almost here again.  The man at the shoe store would shake his head at my tar stained callused feet as he shoe horned them into the restrictive cells, and I could see there was sympathy in his eyes, perhaps because he remembered his own barefoot days.

I don’t recall how old I was when shoeless summers were no longer possible for me, but even now as a 70+ boy, when the restrictions of adulthood and work get me down,  I like to walk into the backyard, take off my shoes and feel grass slip between my bare toes. It takes me back to those barefoot days for a little while, and though I can’t run very fast anymore, and I’m not brave enough to venture onto gravel or asphalt roads without shoes, it is tempting to try it sometimes.

Tune in to Jack Miller on Newstalk 1050 KSIS every Monday morning to hear excerpts from his book of Mid-Missouri memories, titled ‘Unhurried Days.’

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