Growing up on the farm, we pretty much took our shoes off on the last day of school and didn’t put them on again (except for church) until summer ended. I ran through the yard without a thought for bees. Walked across the rocky driveway without flinching. Hopped from rock to rock in Laurel Fork without slipping. (Well, maybe once or twice.) The bottoms of my feet were like rawhide.
At night, Mom sat my brothers and I one by one on the toilet lid and wash our feet with a warm washcloth. It wasn’t always worth the trouble of taking a bath, but she would at least scrape the grime from the bottoms of our feet.
Once upon a time, people in Appalachia went barefoot to save their shoes. They didn’t have 30+ pairs lost in the back of the closet. Even my dad, when he was a kid, had limited shoe resources. But when I was a young it was nothing more than a preference. I remember begging to go barefoot in the spring when Mom would decree it too cold. There was a joyous freedom in feeling soft grass between my toes.
Now I wear shoes to walk across the kitchen tile. I have to work up my nerve to dart barefoot into the yard to fetch one of Thistle’s toys. (I mean, there are bugs and stuff.) I wear “water shoes” to go in the creek and consider wearing flip-flops in any shower outside my own home.
My toes are tender. My heels easily bruised. My nails are pearly pink and my shoes are adorable (especially the ones that chafe.)
And I find myself missing my feet of steel. Longing for the relief of never needing to match my footwear to, well, anything. So here, in the midst of July, I pledge to go barefoot. To brave the grit I like to pretend isn’t on my floors. To let the grass tickle my toes. To dip my feet in the creek. And to honor the passing of summers long gone–those glorious days without shoes.