One of the first things I remember about growing up is that people would always tell me how much I looked like my dad…especially the brown eyes. I always liked it when people said that to me. But, until I grew up, I did not realize how much we were alike in other ways as well…at least in my mind. Maybe it was more just that I watched my father and came to respect the things he taught me over the years and started putting them into practice, things that he probably did not even realize he taught me. Like, to enjoy the simple things in life.
When I was a young girl, I used to love to run and see my dad when he would come home after working on the farm. He always sat in the same place to take off his work boots, and after he was done, I would climb up on his lap. He would smile and protest that he was too dirty and that he would get me all dirty too.
I’m sure it must have been hundreds of times that I greeted him and watched him take off his Red Wing boots. For the most part, all of those times I greeted him blur into one single memory of him. I do remember one time that I met him at the door at the end of the day quite vividly.
My father was a creature of habit and his daily routine basically always stayed the same. Well, actually, he probably had four different routines, one for each season of the year that dictated to him what needed to be done on the farm.
One thing that always remained the same was his end of the day ritual he had of sitting on his chair inside the kitchen door to free his tired feet from the heavy work boots. The evening that I remember so well has come to represent all of the other times I watched him untie the always double knotted, laces and then release them from the hooks on each side of his ankle boots.
On this particular occasion, the routine varied…oh so little…but, that is probably why it stuck in my mind. I think my dad must have gone through hundreds of work boots over his 82 years of spending hours and hours doing what he loved to do most…farm. Other than his years of service during WWII, he worked on the same farmland everyday.
When he took off the pair of boots that he owned at the time, it looked as if he would do what he always did…He would align them directly in front of him and then place the dirty sock from his right foot in the right boot and the left sock in the left boot.
After my dad had taken off his boots that evening, in the same manner as always, I started towards him to climb onto his lap... my favorite spot as a child. Before I could climb on board, he bent over and picked one of the boots up and flipped it over quickly to show me what was there.
In this case, maybe I should say what was not there. I was looking at a quarter- sized hole that had been worn completely through the once sturdy and thick sole of the boot. He grinned at me and shook his head as he worked his hand down into the boot and managed to wiggle a finger up through the hole at me, making me giggle.
Then, one of the lessons I learned from him began. I’m not even sure he knew all of the things he taught me through example. He was a man of few words and he began to tell me about his boots. He asked, “Annie, do you think it’s time for your ‘ol pa to get a new pair of boots?” I must have nodded vigorously and shouted my answer of, “Yes!” Giving him the obvious answer to his rhetorical question made him laugh at me outright.
My simple grade- school mind must have wondered why the guy would be so happy to have uncomfortable and ugly old boots to wear. I knew that it was his only pair of work boots because I had crawled around and played on the floor of his closet since it was so empty. It was easy to remember the few things that were on the closet floor.
In his closet, he had church shoes, another pair of dressier boots to wear some place like out to dinner, and a pair of slippers that he always wore in the house. I don’t know for sure if it was because he had grown up in the Depression Era or not, but the man lived a very simple and non-cluttered life when it came to possessions. He only bought what he needed and he used it to the end of its usefulness, leaving no waste. He followed that old pioneer saying of, “Use it up. Wear it out. Make do, or do without.”
He then went back to looking at his old boots. It took him another minute or two to finish his thorough examination and make sure there was nothing left of them worth salvaging. When the exam was complete, he placed the boots together in front of him and then moved them to the side of his chair as usual.
The next day, my dad left the house early, as he always did…on farmer’s hours, so I was not awake to see whether it was the church shoes, the slippers, or the dress boots that went out the door with him. I assumed the dress boots won out and that was later confirmed when he arrived back home at noon, for his lunch.
However this time, he was not empty handed. He came in the back door carrying a shoe bag with the Red Wing logo on it. Now, as I said, my father only bought a few things for himself and buying quality work boots was one of those few things.
He sat in his usual chair and picked up the old worn out boots from the side of his chair and give them one final farewell. I remember that he had a look of satisfaction as he seemed to be considering how many hours of farm work he had done in those old boots to completely wear them out.
Then, he would take the news boots out of their box, lace them up, and he put them in place of the old. The Red Wing shoe box then became the final resting place for his old boots before going out to the trash can.
I doubt he ever knew, or would have believed, that something as simple as replacing his work boots, would teach me a lesson…but sometimes, when I have problems and they seem to be weighing me down, the bad feeling will last for while and eventually something will remind me to simplify.
Like, I might “see” the excessive amount of shoes that I have in my closet… most of them I don’t even wear anymore. Then, I remember the boots. My father truly appreciated the one pair of boots that he had at a time. He didn’t have a cluttered life because he truly appreciated each thing he had.
My dad has been gone for a few years now, but I think about him and the things he taught me through example every single day. If parents think that their actions are not having an affect on their kids, they should reconsider that thinking. I mean, who would have thought that by my father finding joy in replacing a pair of worn out boots, it would stick in my mind and help me remember to simplify and find joy in the many little things in life that can bring us contentment and joy.