Doing the old soft shoe routine

BEYOND what romantic novelists tell you, there really is something wonderful about running barefoot through the grass. The same applies with soft sandy beaches and thick wool carpets. I seem to remember that, for much of my young life, I went barefoot. In those days, of course, there were not the crystal carpets of glass that seem to pervade many of our city streets and even the countryside and beaches.

Like the rest of us, feet long to have the restriction of clothing cast off and need to experience contact with other feelings, or, if you wish, feel contact with other experiences.

But our feet are destined to be formally and properly clad and are entitled to loving attention it seems, just as are our faces, arms, and legs.

And that's not so bad. When the winter nights draw in close, there is an incredible satisfaction in slipping your feet into a (preferably well-worn) pair of soft slippers, feeling the comfort of enclosure, the equivalent of a hug for each of your 10 toes.

Good shoes, I think, have gone the way of leather seats in limousines, wood-paneled elevators, clean cabs, and flower beds in public parks. The good and the best are still available, but not as a standard or general rule. Modern living has demanded that we compromise substance for expediency.

My father, who found great pleasure in walking his beloved City of London, could never have compromised his best flannels and Sunday shirt with sneakers or Earth Shoes. Instead, he would take his brown leather oxfords from their box at the bottom of his wardrobe and carefully lace them up. It was a ritual that was part of my father's Sunday afternoon walks. He would always say to those who amazingly inquired how he could walk so far that it was a good pair of shoes that did it. I think he was right.

When my daughter was about 8 years old, she came in one day feeling rather irritable. She didn't want to eat. She didn't want to play. She didn't want to read. She didn't even want to engage in one of her favorite pastimes - sitting on her dad's lap to hear a story.

Finally I did manage to get her to my lap, and I held her and asked her what was wrong.

``Oh, nothing,'' she said, looking down at the carpet.

I tried to think what it was that was making this usually happy child so morose.

``Did the Potter kid give you a hard time again?'' I inquired.


``Are you worried about school?''


``Well,'' I went on, ``have you been fighting with your sister again?''

``No, Dad. I don't know. I just don't feel like feeling good.''

I followed her gaze to the carpet, staring at the freewheeling pattern of swirls and designs. I looked at her sneakers, dirty from the day's playing, and the laces all undone. We sat there for a long moment.

Then I said, ``Your shoelaces are undone.''

``Yeah,'' she said, ``they come undone all the time. I keep tripping over them.''

I eased her off my lap and put her down on the sofa. Then I knelt in front of her. I took her laces in my hand and saw that one length was much longer than the other. Looping my index finger under where it crossed from one eyelet to another, I tugged at each loop until I pulled it tight and even, then the next one and the next one until I reached the top of the row of eyelets. Now the laces were even.

Now I looped the lace and crossed the rest of the lace across it and pushed it through, then pulled the whole lace tight.

I looked up at her and she was sitting there watching me tie and tighten her lace with a peaceful, almost rapturous look on her face. There was just a hint of a smile on her lips. I smiled at her and she smiled, more fully, in return.

Then I proceeded to do the same with the other lace. Evening out the lengths, pulling each cross loop across the eyelets, then a double bow at the top.

``How does that feel?'' I ask.

``Good, Dad, really good.''

``How do you feel?''

``The same.''

I knew the feeling. We had had no lengthy talk of how to get on with people, or the importance of improved grades, or growing up. It was a resolution of that background drip of irritation that comes when we walk around all day with a lace undone, or a small piece of gravel in our shoe, or a leaky pair of shoes in the wet grass. Sometimes all that takes place is a very small thing; something adjusted, something simple, something cared for.

``When is dinner going to be ready?'' Sharon asked.

``I thought you didn't want to eat,'' I said, hoping I sounded surprised.

``Well, I have to eat, then I have to read this book, then I want to go and play with Janet, and then I have ...''

I don't remember the rest of her words. I do remember, however, that she was able to stand on the top stair of the front step and take a good jump down to the bottom without tripping up on an undone pair of laces. That, it seems, was enough to make her day.

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