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Jack’s Mid-Missouri-Memory: Barefoot Days

The last several days have seen the heat rise to the point I remember in Sedalia when I was a boy. In those days a hot day called for the least amount of clothes you could get away with, and no shoes. Every summer I have flashbacks to those days when the McCoy boys and I ran on the dusty streets of Sedalia, and the unpaved road outside of town. It was a time of freedom and we took full advantage of our summer days doing things like fishing, swimming, and just living a boy’s life. It was what I was thinking about when I wrote this Mid-Missouri-Memory called barefoot days.
  Bare Foot 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 Second Hand Stores, and Garage Sales everywhere, but people usually wore out their own clothes in those pre-Sixties days.
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, 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, and 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 Seventy plus boy, when the restrictions of adulthood, and work gets me down,  I like to walk into the back yard, 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.

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