If my feet could talk, they would be the narrators of my childhood summers. Not that anyone would ever want to interview them à la Larry King ("What were you thinking when you waded into that salmon-infested lake?") or Barbara Walters ("What tree would you choose to be, if you could?") or James Lipton of "Inside the Actors Studio" ("What is your favorite sound?").
Summer, in its essence, is really all about being barefoot. Carefree. Unconfined. Starting out soft and tenuous and gradually toughening up, becoming more adventurous and daring. My feet experienced what I experienced and felt what I felt - sometimes more painfully, sometimes more effortlessly, but always enthusiastically.
If they could talk, they'd tell you about those magical Michigan summers when, after a nine-hour drive (six of us and a dog in a Buick station wagon), we'd finally arrive at the cottage in the woods. Off would go the PF Flyers. Soft, uncalloused skin would hit the cool kitchen linoleum, cross over the bumpy, braided area rugs in the dining and living rooms, and skitter over the concrete patio onto the tangle-weeded sandy path that led down to the beach. No matter that the sand had become rocky from the past winter's freezes and thaws. My tender feet were too excited to notice.
The first few days of wading in and out of the rocky shallows always were memorable - squeals of pain interspersed with peals of laughter. And as I got older and could venture into deeper water, I found that the sharp rocks were succeeded by their more permanent, rounder, and slimier cousins. At that point I wasn't sure which was worse: pain or slime. When I was finally old enough and tall enough to reach the raft, I discovered that, out there, the bottom of the lake was sandy! Age and height did, after all, have their advantages.
In contrast to our rocky- bottomed shoreline was the softness of the sand on the windblown "climbing dunes" nearby. So fine were the grains that I felt as though I were running through sifted powdered sugar. And if it ever got too hot on the surface, digging down just a few inches would expose the dark, damp sand whose sole purpose seemed to be the cooling of hot feet.
Even indoors, barefootedness was the order of the day. At the annual square dances, we'd all leave our shoes on the porch and make the Yacht Club's old wooden floor bounce under our "do-si-dos" and "allemande lefts." I danced so hard that I'd wake the next morning with blisters on the balls of both feet - solemn reminders of a foot-stomping evening, and always worth it.
Inevitably summer would end, and the feel of unpainted docks and aluminum canoes underfoot, as well as campfire-warmed toes would be behind me. Our nine-hour ride would be repeated.
Perhaps as a final toast to summer's freedom, I'd walk into the house barefooted, across the cool brown-and-white squares of linoleum in the front hall, and up the incredibly quiet wall-to-wall carpeting of the stairs into my bedroom. There, the familiarity of the soft pale-yellow carpet reminded me that school would soon be starting - and shoes awaited.
In no time at all, my fearless feet would find themselves confined and softening in stiff leather loafers. They'd spend the next nine months booted, sneakered, and slippered until, finally, that glorious day in June would come when I could once again kick off my shoes and let my feet run over the rocks, squish in the sand, and be free.